Author Topic: Ted Nichols February 2014 Report to NJ Fish & Game Council  (Read 6584 times)


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Ted Nichols February 2014 Report to NJ Fish & Game Council
« on: March 14, 2014, 07:08:11 PM »
Ted, as always an excellent report to the Council.  Thank You and to Alfred Ivany for all the February Council Meeting reports


Ted Nichols, Principal Biologist
Waterfowl Monitoring Programs (Job IV-A)

Mid-Winter Waterfowl Survey

T. Nichols conducted the New Jersey portion of the 2014 Mid-Winter Waterfowl Survey (MWS). Priority was given first to Atlantic brant and American black duck wintering areas on the Atlantic Coast and Delaware Bay.  All Atlantic coastal marshes and over 80% of Delaware Bay marshes were completed January 4-9.  Remaining survey units on upper Delaware Bay and inland sections were completed January 10-20.  Half of the days during the survey period were lost due to inclement weather including wind, rain and fog. 

The MWS was completed using a US Fish and Wildlife Service (Service) aircraft and pilot-biologist (Steve Earsom) as well as the division’s aircraft contract vendor.  T. Nichols served as the primary observer. Paul Castelli (retired NJDFW), biologist at Forsythe NWR, served as the second observer on key survey segments in coastal and Delaware Bay marshes.  The literature acknowledges the value of consistent observers through time in aerial surveys when conducting trend analyses.  Nichols and Castelli have served as primary observers in New Jersey since 1994. Service aircraft were used in sensitive areas near the Oyster Creek and Salem nuclear power plants as well as in wetlands near the metropolitan centers of Philadelphia and New York.  Additionally, the Service aircraft (Kodiak), equipped with a turbine engine and pontoon floats, was used when surveying large open water and marsh survey segments.  Use of the Service aircraft and pilot came at no expense to the division. 

The MWS is designed to track long-term trends of waterfowl species that winter in the Atlantic Flyway.  Presently, the MWS is the key survey for measuring population parameters for Atlantic brant, black ducks and tundra swans.  These trends are an index to the abundance and distribution of each species in the Atlantic Flyway when viewed over the long term. 

In 2014, 518,000 waterfowl of 29 different species were estimated.  This total is similar to both the past 10-year average and 2013 MWS. In an average year, about 15% of the total waterfowl in the Atlantic Flyway are estimated in New Jersey. Important species where a significant portion of the Atlantic Flyway total is generally counted in New Jersey include: Atlantic brant (40%), black ducks (40%), snow geese (25%), Canada geese (25%), bufflehead (25%), mute swans (20%), mallards (20%), and scaup (10%). The 2014 MWS count in New Jersey for these major waterfowl species with comparisons to their latest 10-year (2004-13) average were as follows: Atlantic brant 48,535 (-28%), black ducks 113,695 (+27%), snow geese 79,300 (-24%), Canada geese 124,885 (-19%), bufflehead 56,965 (+161%), mute swans 1,531 (-17%), mallards 23,070 (-10%) and scaup 41,410 (-10%). 
During December 2013 winter temperatures were about average.  At the onset of the MWS, the coldest temperatures in 20 years gripped New Jersey for several days but were quickly followed by near record warm temperatures.  As a result, ice covered over 80% of most coastal marshes and back bays during early January followed within 72 hours by a complete lack of ice.  Below average temperatures returned during the second week in January which froze most waterways in northern survey segments. 

Generally, duck species were above average with the number of total ducks (264,400) and total dabblers (144,405) the 5th and 4th highest count, respectively since 1984.  The black duck count (113,695) was the 3rd highest count ever recorded and only the fourth time the count exceeded 100,000 black ducks.  Gadwall (1,680) was the highest count ever recorded and the American wigeon estimate (1,850) was the highest observed since 2002.  The bufflehead count was also a record high. 

On the other hand, the Atlantic brant estimate was the 3rd lowest observed since 1984 and only the 3rd time where the estimate was below 50,000 brant. This year, a ground count for brant was conducted in the vicinity of Newark Bay and Upper New York Bay.  These areas have not been surveyed during the aerial portion of the MWS since 2009 due to safety concerns and congested air space.  The ground count revealed 1,185 brant which was 2.4% of the MWS brant total in New Jersey.

The Canada goose estimate was below average due to frozen conditions in northern areas of the state which typically hold significant numbers of wintering geese during winters with temperatures closer to average.

Postseason Black Duck Banding Program
The Division and other Atlantic Flyway states and refuges are partnering with the Black Duck Joint Venture in the fourth year of a 5-year pilot project to assess the potential of a 2-period (pre- and post-hunting season) banding program to estimate seasonal survival rates. A 2-period banding program will provide data to estimate survival during the summer/fall (August–January) and winter/spring (February–July). The overall goal of this effort is to improve our ability to model black duck population dynamics and identify limiting factors that can be mitigated through habitat and harvest management. The program objectives are:

1. Implement a 5-year pilot effort to test field and data analysis protocols. Resulting banding and recovery data will be used to evaluate success of field operations (i.e., meeting banding quotas), assumptions, data quality and applicability (i.e., precision and utility of seasonal survival rate estimates);

2. Use data from the pilot effort to estimate the required post-season banding sample needed to assess the hypothesis that post-season survival is density dependent;

3. Revise protocols and make recommendations for operational implementation of a 2-season banding program for American black ducks.

Postseason banding began in mid-January in Delaware Bay marshes after closure of the South Zone and in select areas closed to hunting in the Coastal Zone (i.e.: Forsythe NWR and Shark River).  The banding program intensified in late January when banding stations on Atlantic coastal marshes were initiated after the Coastal Zone duck season closed on January 25.  To date, program personnel and cooperators have banded about 475 black ducks.  The banding period will continue until March 20 or until warmer temperatures thwart banding efforts.

Waterfowl Ecology and Management (Job IV-B)

Atlantic Flyway Resident Canada Goose Population Model
T. Nichols commented on the first revision of a manuscript entitled: “Survival of Atlantic Flyway Resident Population Canada Geese in New Jersey” which was resubmitted to the Journal of Wildlife Management. University of Delaware (UD) Postdoc Julie Beston is lead author.  Coauthors include Nichols, Paul Castelli (Retired, NJDFW; now at Forsythe NWR) and Chris Williams (UD).

Atlantic Flyway Council Technical Section   (Job IV-C) 

T. Nichols prepared for the Atlantic Flyway Council Technical Section (AFCTS), Black Duck Joint Venture and Atlantic Coast Joint Venture meetings. These meetings were held February 23-28 in Hershey, PA. 

As part of Canada goose committee responsibilities, T. Nichols spent considerable time coordinating 2014 personnel needs for the Atlantic Population Canada goose banding program on the Ungava peninsula of northern Quebec.

2015 Game Code

T. Nichols participated in a meeting with the Game Committee of the Fish and Game Council to discuss changes to the current Game Code.  Several proposals for migratory bird regulation changes were drafted.

Extension Services

Tuckahoe WMA NAWCA Grant
T. Nichols, Laurie Pettigrew (Land Mgmt), Dave Golden (BWM and Land Mgmt), Kathy Clark (ENSP), Chris Smith (Freshwater Fish), and Pete Sokorai (Cape May County Mosquito Control) met with Ducks Unlimited biologists Nick Biasini and Jade Phillips concerning implementation of a $1 million North American Wetlands Conservation Act (NAWCA) grant to restore 6 waterfowl impoundments at the Tuckahoe WMA.  Partner roles, a timeline of events, and preliminary management objectives were discussed at the meeting. Engineering work will begin in early March.  These impoundments total about 1,500 acres and were largely designed and built by Lester G. MacNamara during the 1940’s.  Given the older age of these impoundments, most have limited functionality in manipulating water levels which is needed for effective management.

T. Nichols conducted a radio interview for ESPN Rack and Fin Radio concerning the light goose conservation order.

T. Nichols conducted a phone interview with the Philadelphia Inquirer concerning ecology and management of Canada goose and snow goose depredation to agricultural crops.

T. Nichols and G. Garbaravage assisted a farmer in Hammonton who shot a Canada goose during the hunting season with an address of Copenhagen, Denmark inscribed on the band.  Nichols had a contact in Denmark who indicated that this bird was banded as a gosling in southwest Greenland during July 1997.  Although this is not the first report of a Canada goose from Greenland being observed or shot in New Jersey, it is truly a novel band report.



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Re: Ted Nichols February 2014 Report to NJ Fish & Game Council
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Re: Ted Nichols February 2014 Report to NJ Fish & Game Council
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