Author Topic: Ted Nichols February 2015 Report to the Division Fish & Game Council  (Read 3583 times)


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Ted Nichols, Principal Biologist

Waterfowl Monitoring Programs (Job IV-A)

Mid-Winter Waterfowl Survey

Ted Nichols conducted the New Jersey portion of the 2015 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 and Delaware Bay tidal marshes were completed January 10-16.  Remaining survey units on upper Delaware Bay and inland sections were completed January 17-23.  Half of the days during the survey period were lost due to inclement weather including wind and precipitation. 

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 (Downstown Aerocrop).  Ted 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 2015, 449,500 waterfowl of 29 different species were estimated.  This total is 17% and 13% below the past 10-year average and 2014 MWS, respectively. In an average year, about 15% of the total waterfowl in the Atlantic Flyway are observed 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 2015 MWS count in New Jersey for these major waterfowl species with comparisons to their latest 10-year (2005-14) average were as follows: Atlantic brant 43,115 (-33%), black ducks 108,825  (+18%), snow geese 39,335 (-63%), Canada geese 128,966 (-14%), bufflehead 37,865 (+44%), mute swans 1,367 (-23%), mallards 18,960 (-24%) and scaup 50,395 (+6%). 
                                          RUDDY   SCOTERS   LONG-TAILED   TOTAL    BRANT   SNOW   CANADA   TUNDRA   MUTE   COOTS   TOTAL   TOTAL   TOTAL   TOTAL   TOTAL   TOTAL   TOTAL
Prior to the 2015 MWS winter temperatures were about average.  At the onset of the MWS, the coldest temperatures of the winter gripped New Jersey for several days resulting in significant ice coverage in most coastal marshes and back bays during the survey. 

Generally, duck species counts were about average.  The black duck count (108,825) was the 4th highest count ever recorded and only the fifth time the count exceeded 100,000 black ducks.  The gadwall count (1,520) was only the fourth time the estimate exceeded 1,500 birds.  The bufflehead count was the 3rd highest count recorded with the past 3 years containing the highest counts on record.  The mallard estimate was only the 3rd time since 2000 where the estimate was below 20,000 mallards.

For geese, the Atlantic brant estimate was the 2nd lowest observed since 1984 and the third consecutive year where the count was below 50,000 brant.  The low brant counts were expected.  November 2014 surveys of Atlantic brant flocks in the Atlantic Flyway contained only 9.4% young birds.  Although the percentage of young in the fall flight for arctic nesting geese (i.e.: brant, Ross geese, snow geese) is characteristically variable and sometimes very low, 2014 was the third consecutive year where the Atlantic brant fall flight age ratio was less than 10% young, including 2013 which was near bust and less than 5% young.  It is unprecedented in the time series going back to 1976 to have 3 consecutive years with less than 10% young.  Researchers from the Canadian Wildlife Service and the University of Delaware are currently investigating the role that light geese and/or other arctic geese (Cackling geese) might play in the observed decline in Atlantic brant production.

The snow goose estimate was the first time the count was below 40,000 birds since 2001 and was attributed to the heavily frozen marshes observed in Delaware Bay marshes during the course of the survey.  Snow geese are expected to return to these marshes when the ice breaks.

Postseason Black Duck Banding Program
The Division and other Atlantic Flyway states and refuges are partnering with the Black Duck Joint Venture in an ongoing 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.

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 24.  To date, program personnel and cooperators have banded over 200 black ducks.  The banding period will continue until March 20 or until warmer temperatures thwart banding efforts.

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 22-27 in Rehoboth Beach, Delaware. 

As part of Canada goose committee responsibilities, T. Nichols spent considerable time coordinating 2015 personnel needs for the Atlantic Population Canada goose banding program on the Ungava peninsula of northern Quebec.

T. Nichols began planning for the meetings of the Black Duck Joint Venture Technical Committee, Management Board, and Adaptive Harvest Management Working Group which will be held in New Jersey during November 2015.

Extension Services

Wildlife Action Plan:  As a member of the Bird Taxa Team, T. Nichols participated in an exercise and follow-up meeting concerning ranking bird species into tiers using Conservation Need and Management Capacity or Feasibility.

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

T. Nichols prepared materials for the 2015 Light Goose Conservation Order for the Division web site.

T. Nichols drafted several potential versions of New Jersey 2015-16 migratory bird season dates.  These variants of season dates will be discussed with representatives of key waterfowl groups in New Jersey during the late winter and presented to the Fish and Game Council in the spring.

T. Nichols answered numerous questions concerning migratory bird hunting and the proposed Sunday hunting bill in the NJ Legislature.

T. Nichols staffed the Division beaver/otter check station at the Tuckahoe Office.


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Re: Ted Nichols February 2015 Report to the Division Fish & Game Council
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