A brace of birds

The Compass - - OPINION -

Jedry the­o­rized that some of the rea­son for the de­crease in rock ptarmi­gan on the LaPoile bar­rens on the south coast may have been the ar­rival and ex­pan­sion of the east­ern coy­ote.

A cousin of the wil­low ptarmi­gan, the rock ptarmi­gan is limited in its range through­out the is­land to the high­est, most rocky ridges and bar­ren hills of the Long Range Moun­tains, Buchans Plateau, the Gaff Top­sails and some spo­radic ar­eas along the south coast. The two species are hard to tell apart but the “ rock­ers” have a more pro­nounced gray brown chest and head than their cousin. It is also a lit­tle smaller than the wil­low and has a more slen­der bill. And, dur­ing win­ter “rock­ers” ex­hibit a black mark run­ning from the bill to the eye.

In July, 2004, the rock ptarmi­gan made front page news when Queen’s Uni­ver­sity bi­ol­ogy pro­fes­sor Bob Mont­gomerie re­leased re­search sug­gest­ing the rock ptarmi­gan of Gros Morne Moun­tain was in dan­ger of dis­ap­pear­ing. Mont­gomerie stated the rock ptarmi­gan of New­found­land was ge­net­i­cally dis­tinct from all other rock pop­u­la­tions due to its iso­la­tion and that this is the most southerly place the birds oc­cur.

In an at­tempt to im­prove ptarmi­gan habi­tat, the Pro­vin­cial Govern­ment con­ducted ex­per­i­men­tal pre­scribed burn­ing on the Fairhaven bar­rens dur­ing the late 1980s.

Bi l l Power re­ported in The Tele­gram (De­cem­ber 1989) that the burn­ing was be­gun in 1988, in an at­tempt to re­store par­tridge habi­tat that had be­come over­grown by scrub fo­liage. In the first two years of the study a to­tal of 660 hectares, or 6.6 square kilo­me­ters, were burned. The burn­ing method was known as the aerial drip torch, in which a 45-gal­lon drum of gel sus­pended from a heli­copter was driz­zled over the area. Of course, while the area was be­ing burned, it was closed to par­tridge hunt­ing.

How­ever, the five years of burn­ing on Fairhaven ground ap­par­ently did lit­tle to im­prove par­tridge den­si­ties. Ac­cord­ing to the Com­mu­ni­ca­tions Branch for the Depart­ment of En­vi­ron­ment and Con­ser­va­tion,“One year af­ter the burn there was no dif­fer­ence in ptarmi­gan den­si­ties in the ex­per­i­men­tal and con­trol ar­eas. Three years af­ter burn­ing, the num­ber of breed­ing pairs on the burned area was only slightly greater than on the con­trol area. The pre­scribed burn­ing ex­per­i­ment did not sub­stan­tially im­prove the breed­ing den­si­ties of wil­low ptarmi­gan.”

Avid par­tridge hunter Craig Piercey of Con­cep­tion Bay South told me he used to take part in par­tridge counts in Fairhaven. Hunters would bring their set­ters and they would split up and cover dif­fer­ent sec­tions of the burn. As the dogs lo­cated birds, the gun­less hunters would record the num­bers of birds. Craig told me that it was mainly sin­gle birds and a few pairs he used to see. His opin­ion was that it didn’t hold a lot of par­tridge.

The Fairhaven Bar­rens were re­opened to hunt­ing for the fall 2010 sea­son by Min­is­ter of the En­vi­ron­ment and Con­ser­va­tion Char­lene John­son. It re­mains to be seen how hunters will fare this year.

Dar­rin McGrath is the author of eight books in­clud­ing The New­found­land Coy­ote and Moose Coun­try. He writes for mag­a­zines such as Out­door Canada, Cana­dian Wildlife and Amer­i­can Bea­gler. He won a Gold Medal at the 2007 Na­tional Mag­a­zine Awards. Reach Dar­rin­m­c­grath­dar­rin@ya­hoo.ca­mailto:mcgrat hdar­rin@ya­hoo.ca,> , or leave a mes­sage at The Com­pass.

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