With about 90 percent of New Zealand’s wetland lost over the past 150 years, Fish & Game NZ realises there’s a compelling need to assess the role that ponds play in successfully managing waterfowl.
Ponds have been established across the New Zealand landscape for various purposes including stock watering, irrigation, storm water capture, effluent ponding, waterfowl habitat and simple aesthetic values. Currently, there’s little scientific information on what, and how big a role these ponds play as habitat for waterfowl populations.
The aim of this ‘citizen science’ project is to determine what pond habitat features provide good breeding for waterfowl, and promote good pond management practices for breeding these birds. Fish & Game has launched an appeal for people who want to monitor waterfowl populations on ponds around their area. The aim is to establish a network of ponds to be closely monitored over the breeding season.
You don’t have to be a scientist! All volunteers will be given a set of simple instructions on how to go about monitoring. Fish & Game will supply a manual with simple instructions on how to run their surveys – so everyone round the country is tackling the project the same way, and volunteers gather the best data possible.
If you’re keen to help with collection of data and are prepared to monitor a pond, a fun and fulfilling project that will help New Zealand’s waterfowl and other native water dependant birds, this project is for you. Don’t forget – we are keen to hear from a wide range of people, including youngsters. Kids – depending on your age, you may need to line up support from mum and dad, a friend or relation.
Your help in this project will not only provide data to drive management decisions, but will give waterfowl enthusiasts, hunters and landowners a unique opportunity to get involved and make a real hands on contribution to our efforts to manage waterfowl – and keep their numbers up!
Having their own water feature right in front of their home is a rewarding and entertaining result for hard work for Steve Clarkson and Lyn Watson.
Several years ago they built their attractive home that sits right on the edge of their main pond, and now after years of toil they have a grand vista as a backdrop to their everyday living.
Just last year they acquired two Mute Swans. The pair settled in well, and add another interesting touch to the scenery. With luck there will be more than two white swans on that pond.
Steve and Lyn also run a few black and coloured sheep and Lyn takes full advantage of using their wonderful wool to make a variety of garments and useful items.
When I was a kid (and that was a while ago), there was a stream a couple of gullies away from our place with freshwater crays (koura) living there. They were not big but they did taste good.
On a camping holiday at Taupo there was the opportunity to head off to the lake outlet and dangle tempting tit bits on string and pull up a few koura, and they were slightly bigger than the ones at home.
So it was with interest that recently I read about a South Island forestry company who decided to stock their fire-fighting ponds with fresh water crayfish. What a smart idea. They now have 400 ponds.
Takes a while for the little koura to get big enough to provide a good meal, and I don’t know how they would co-habit with ducks, but for those with a good sized pond/lake it just might be a new idea.
It seems their distribution is shrinking through loss of habitat. So this could be an interesting venture or hobby it you have the right sized water area. The Department of Conservation regard them as a threatened species, so if you lean more toward conservation than a good meal, this could be an opportunity to do a bit for their survival.
Koura may possibly prefer free flowing water so a quiet pond might not be their home of choice.
But don’t be in a rush to eat them – it takes a while for them to reach eatable size. Feeding them might help. Oh - and you do need a permit if you consider farming them as a commercial venture.
Southland has long been recognised for its duck population and the associated buzz around the district during the first weekend in May!
However, the combination of several poor mallard breeding seasons in a row and in response to hunters concerns about the struggling North Island population, the Southland Fish and Game Council funded a national mallard research project. I was fortunate to have my Master’s research funded as part of this wider project.
The Southland Council had expressed concern about continual dairy conversions and the associated changes in pasture management that might affect duckling survival. Consequently, for my research I focused on female habitat selection and factors that may impact duckling survival.
In terms of pasture management, I found that duckling survival is comparable between dairy and sheep/deer pastoral grazing systems. This is good news for mallards in Southland, as we readily see our landscape convert to dairying systems. However, first and foremost, broodrearing females in Southland are selecting for ‘unmanaged habitat’ i.e., everything that is not pasture (hedgerows, shelterbelts, rank grass). This may not seem like an unexpected result, but alarmingly, these types of habitat are associated with lower duckling survival.
In our landscape, these habitats are typically thin and linear in configuration, creating ideal travelling corridors for predators. While broods may feel safe and protected tucked up in a hedgerow, predators that rely on their olfactory sensory system to track prey can easily run along the downwind side of these strips and pick up the scent of a sitting duck.
Additionally, I found that duckling survival is reduced for broods that spend their time closer to houses and roads, with both being structures that tend to be associated with a higher predator presence. Over the two year study period, 15-25 percent of our breeding females were killed on the nest by predators. To put this figure in context, this is similar to the proportion that we, as hunters, shoot each year. Further, an additional 30 percent of nests last season were abandoned or destroyed due to predators. At necropsy (post mortem examination), many of these females had evidence suggesting both mustelids and cats were the main perpetrators. While more research is needed, these results suggest that predators are having a much bigger impact on our mallard population than we originally suspected. Luckily, predator abundance is a factor that we can all influence. Further, in reducing the predator guild, you may be surprised in what other wildlife you attract!
Operation duck pond
After chasing ducks through the 2014 breeding season, staff noticed definite differences in ponds that were used by ducks and broods. Consequently, over the 2015 breeding season, we deployed 21 game cameras on ponds throughout the region that captured images every five minutes during daylight hours. If you do the math, that means I have roughly 250,000+ photos to wade through! As a result, I have not quite made it through all these photos to run the analysis. However, I can make a few comments on factors that seem to have an impact on the ponds I have made it through thus far.
Typically, the shallower ponds with plenty of feeding bottom (at least 43cm deep) have had hundreds of headless, ‘bums-up’ photos. Another example is a pond that only has water in it during the breeding season. These seasonal bodies of water tend to be the most productive in terms of invertebrate presence, and this may flow through into brood use. In last year’s study, I found that the presence of ephemeral water (short-lived bodies of water) during the first 10 days of a ducklings life, had a huge impact on survival. For Southland, cumulative duckling survival to 30 days of age without ephemeral (lasting only a short time), water present was only 11 percent for broods raised by yearling females compared to 26 percent for broods raised by adult females. However, with the presence of ephemeral water, duckling survival dramatically increased to 28 percent for broods raised by yearling females and 46 percent for broods raised by adult females. Initially, ducklings require a high protein food source, which is readily available in ephemeral water, particularly in the form of earthworms that are forced to the surface. Hence, this may be why Southland is recognised as a duck factory, and as duck enthusiasts, we shouldn’t be complaining about the weather! Consequently, management of pond water levels to mimic a seasonal body of water might be one way to encourage duck use of ponds.
Another observation that might be important to brood use is the degree of exposure of the pond to the elements. The more barren-like ponds lacking any edge, bank, or overhead cover tend to have very limited use by any mallards, and none by broods. It will be interesting to see what factors come out of the data, but my gut feeling is pond use by broods is a combination of factors that create a sheltered, food-laden haven…. Watch this space! After chasing ducks through the 2014 breeding season, staff noticed definite differences in ponds that were used by ducks
The NZ Game Bird Habitat Stamp programme and the Game Bird Habitat Trust Board play an important role in the protection, enhancement and creation of game bird habitat in New Zealand. While the major focus has been on wetlands, upland game bird habitat is also included. In addition, any improvement of wetlands is also of benefit to a wide range of other wetland birds and fish.
The NZ programme was initiated in 1993 and was based on the programmes operating in Canada and the USA. DUNZ actively supported its establishment. The programme is ably administered by Fish and Game NZ who process the funding applications and provide the secretarial support for the Trust Board.
Board members are appointed by the Minister of Conservation on the recommendation of Fish and Game (4 members), Ducks Unlimited (1 member) and a member nominated by the Director General of Conservation.
Current members are:
Andy Tannock – Chairperson (Manawatu), Ian Hogarth (Canterbury, formerly Northland), Mark Sutton (Southland), Steve Cragg (Gisborne), John Cheyne, DU representative (Hawke’s Bay), Susan King, DOC nominee (Malborough).
The functions of the Trust Board are set out in Section 44D of the Wildlife Act 1953. The Board’s primary focus is applying funds obtained from the Habitat Stamp programme as grants to applicants for the protection, restoration, improvement, creation, or procurement of game bird habitat.
The Board can also:
NZ Game Bird Trust Stamp
Funding for the Trust comes from the $3 Game Bird Habitat Stamp, recently increased from $2, from every game bird hunting licence and a proportion of the external sale of stamps to collectors and prints of the annual bird painting. The money raised each year from game bird habitat stamps is transferred from Fish and Game Councils to the Game Bird Habitat Trust. Currently this is approximately $100,000.
The Trust Board is working with wider community interests in implementing a wetland management plan involving a small number of large projects in both the North and South Island. This has included the Para Wetland near Blenheim and Taikitakitoa Wetland near Dunedin
It is currently considering how to help with the JK Donald Block on the north-eastern edge of Lake Wairarapa and the Underwood Wetland near Dargaville. These projects are ranked highly by the Habitat Trust Board for development of a sponsorship package on the basis of game bird and other wildlife habitat enhancement potential.
DU received significant financial assistance from the Trust in developing the Wairio wetland.
Applications for grants from the Trust close on 30 June each year and are open to anyone with support from the landowner and a recognised habitat referee. Information and forms are available from the Fish and Game NZ website.
This year (2017) the Trust has received 30 applications and these will be considered by the Board when they meet in the Wairarapa 24-25 August. They will also be visiting Wairio wetland during their visit.
Supplied by John Cheyne.