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Waterfowl numbers 'look encouraging' for game bird season

Waterfowl numbers 'look encouraging' for game bird season

Eastern Region Fish & Game officers are cautiously optimistic for the coming game bird hunting season – after completing their spring survey of nesting waterfowl.

Fish & Game officers have carried out brood counts (mothers with their young) on a series of selected drains across the Bay of Plenty’s coastal plains, that provide habitat for various species of waterfowl.

The brood counts involve travelling along set routes and counting the adults and various age classes of the juvenile birds.

Senior Fish & Game Officer Matthew Mc Dougall says the numbers are up an estimated 22% up on this time last year, with the latest figures the second highest recorded in the past five years.

“The waterfowl population which include ducks like mallard rises and falls in cyclical patterns and we believe we’ve reached the bottom of a trough, and are beginning to see an upward trend,” he says.

Mr Mc Dougall says they are cautiously optimistic for bird numbers because the population has been found to be on a 9.7 year cycle, and last year represented the lowest levels for about eight years, with a large number of juveniles recorded.

“If the population is starting to turn around we can expect hunters to have a better game bird season,” he says.

He says the network of drains provides an important habitat for not only waterfowl, but endangered species such as New Zealand dabchick, and whitebait.

Fish & Game has been working with the Bay of Plenty Regional Council to try and improve drain management for the benefit of both organisations, he says. Officers have planted more cover along one of the drains, to give more protection against predators such as hawks and pukeko and also provide a source of food. “We’ve planted mainly low tussock species as ‘edge cover’ for waterfowl.”

It’s still too early to gauge the results of these trials, he adds.

Mr Mc Dougall notes that more research is carried out on waterfowl numbers as officers move into their trapping and banding programme in February. This work provides another measure of the birds’ productivity.

The data gathered from both brood counts and banding is used to set regulations for the coming season, including how long it runs for and what the bag limits should be.

Meanwhile, Fish & Game officers have also been attempting to gauge pheasant numbers in the lead up to the hunting season.

Officers headed out into the Kaingaroa Forest in the first week of November in the early morning to count cock pheasants by the calls they make to mark their territory.

The officer drives along a pre-determined route with a five minute listening stop every couple of kilometres to count the individual pheasants he can hear.

Mr Mc Dougall says there was an average number of birds at the 30-odd sites, although fewer than in the previous two springs.

He says the counts don’t necessarily provide a good indication of how well the breeding season is going, as there may be fewer calls for a variety of reasons, and the season still has some time to run into the new year. Monitoring upland game birds populations is difficult because they mainly live in pine forests.

The game bird hunting season begins on the first Saturday in May.


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