Fill­ing the gaps in bluew­ing shov­eler knowl­edge

Zool­ogy stu­dent Ali­son Cash has just spent a third year on the ground as­sist­ing with Field & Game Aus­tralia’s head and wing re­search, which has sparked an in­ter­est in wa­ter­fowl and the pos­si­bil­ity of do­ing sci­en­tific re­search into the dis­tri­bu­tion and beh

Field and Game - - SHOVELER RESEARCH -

The noted pres­ence of blue-wing across south-east Aus­tralia dur­ing the open­ing weeks of Duck Sea­son has drawn a lot of com­ment from hunters and many ques­tions about why they were ex­cluded from the bag in Vic­to­ria, South Aus­tralia and Tas­ma­nia in 2017.

As­so­ci­ate Pro­fes­sor Gra­ham Hall, a lead­ing fig­ure in game man­age­ment and par­tic­u­larly Aus­tralian wa­ter­fowl, has been ask­ing him­self the same ques­tion. “If you know any­thing about blue-wing shov­el­ers, you know that you can’t count them from the air be­cause their pre­ferred habi­tat is thick, veg­e­tated swamps, so if you zoom over at 150 knots in an air­craft of course you are not go­ing to count large num­bers,” he said. “That’s why hunters are con­fused, be­cause they are on the ground, they are look­ing un­der the tree canopy, they are look­ing in the lignum swamps and they are see­ing shov­el­ers. Like them, I don’t doubt that there are plenty of shov­el­ers about but the flawed way we try to count them in­di­cates there are few around.”

In the early 2000s a PHD study into the shov­eler’s diet and range was started in South Aus­tralia but it was aban­doned be­fore any mean­ing­ful data was gath­ered.

Assoc. Prof. Hall be­lieves the time is right for a PHD can­di­date to take up shov­eler re­search and he’s en­cour­aged Ali­son Cash, a zool­ogy stu­dent at the Univer­sity of New Eng­land, to con­sider the op­por­tu­nity.

“I think there’s a great study wait­ing to hap­pen with shov­el­ers: they are a big enough bird to put some satel­lite tags on them and find out where they are and where they are go­ing,” he said. “We’ve never done any sur­vival stud­ies on Aus­tralian ducks. You look at a lot of the North Amer­i­can stud­ies, and they can tell you what the sur­vival rate is from

>> hatch­ing to 30 days, which is where most of the mor­tal­ity oc­curs, but we’ve never done that for Aus­tralian ducks. “In the case of the shov­eler, what is the sur­vival rate, where are they nest­ing, is it in thick cum­bungi and dead logs as Harry Frith said 30 years ago, do they move to nest and then dis­perse and how can we ac­cu­rately mon­i­tor and count them?”

Nine years of data from head and wing sam­ples col­lected by FGA mem­bers shows that even when shov­eler is in­cluded in the bag, the take is very low. “Hunters don’t take many at all: black­ies, Wood duck, Grey teal, some year’s pinkies and some year’s hard­heads would be the five main species taken. Ch­est­nut teal, shov­el­ers and Moun­tain ducks are the least com­mon birds in the har­vest,” Assoc. Prof. Hall said.

Ali­son is ex­cited by the prospect of shov­eler re­search pri­mar­ily be­cause so lit­tle is known.

“I’ve got a pretty strong in­ter­est in wa­ter­fowl gen­er­ally, that is what has brought me back for the past three years to help with the head and wing re­search,” she said. “As an ac­tive sci­en­tist, you want to pur­sue new knowl­edge and so some­thing like the blue-wing shov­eler, which has so lit­tle data gath­ered on it, is ripe for a re­search project. “We know of the shov­eler, but we know so lit­tle about it, so it is ex­cit­ing as a sci­en­tist to chase that knowl­edge, learn about it and put that in­for­ma­tion out there.”

Ali­son said Field & Game mem­bers had a hunger for knowl­edge on ducks and could play a role in the re­search.

“The re­search could look at their travel pat­terns, where they are go­ing and when and, just as im­por­tantly, where they are not go­ing. You can learn so much just from get­ting data about their lo­ca­tion in re­la­tion to life cy­cle, weather and pre­vail­ing habi­tat. “What we know at the mo­ment is ob­ser­va­tional; we have no hard and fast data to tell us ex­actly what is hap­pen­ing.”

Assoc. Prof. Hall said the FGA ground counts were very good but a lot more citizen sci­ence needed to take place, es­pe­cially with a shift to an adap­tive man­age­ment model in Vic­to­ria.

He also cited the need for a seis­mic shift in hu­man be­hav­iour. “In Aus­tralia the way we do wildlife man­age­ment is unique: in­stead of all agen­cies and in­ter­est groups work­ing to a com­mon agenda to bet­ter man­age the re­source, we are so damn con­fronta­tional,” he said. “How do we change that cul­ture? Per­haps an adap­tive man­age­ment model will achieve that but in any model the par­ties have to ac­cept a de­gree of risk be­cause it in­volves an ac­cep­tance that you don’t al­ways have per­fect knowl­edge. “At the mo­ment we are say­ing with­out per­fect knowl­edge we can’t do any­thing but un­der an adap­tive man­age­ment model you ac­cept you will never have per­fect knowl­edge and that there is an el­e­ment of risk.”

An ex­am­ple would be to in­clude blue-wing shov­eler in the bag ev­ery year; un­der­stand­ing the dy­namic wild pop­u­la­tion will fluc­tu­ate and so will the take. “Some years that take will be high and other years low, but with data you can adapt to a point where you find the sus­tain­able sweet spot and that might be a con­sis­tent bag of 10 birds per day with a limit of two shov­el­ers,” he said.

“We know of the shov­eler, but we know so lit­tle about it, so it is ex­cit­ing as a sci­en­tist to chase that knowl­edge, learn about it and put that in­for­ma­tion out there.”

Ali­son Cash

Work­ing with Field & Game has sparked Ali­son Cash's in­ter­est in wa­ter­fowl re­search

Newspapers in English

Newspapers from Australia

© PressReader. All rights reserved.