Waterbird survey gives hunters food for thought

The usual wait for Richard Kingsford’s report from the Aerial Survey of Wetland Birds in Eastern Australia continued this year with only a preliminary ready for the start of duck hunting season setting meetings. The draft report summary outlined four key findings.

The first result was that May to September 2016 was the wettest on record across much of South-eastern Australia, with September also being the wettest on record for NSW. It was the wettest September on record for the Northern Territory, while also ranking second-wettest for Victoria, third-wettest for Queensland and fourth-wettest for South Australia.

Secondly, much of Queensland remains drought declared despite heavy falls in May and September in parts of the channel country in South-west Queensland. Third, overall waterbird abundance was low, one of the lowest on record; extensive wetland habitat has increased dispersal and resulted in low densities. Finally, overall breeding abundance, breeding species richness and wetland area rose sharply compared to the previous year. However, despite these increases, there were continuing long-term declines in total waterbird abundance, wetland area and breeding species richness.

For the duck hunting community, two key graphs available in the preliminary report were the ‘Breeding Index’ and the ‘Number of Species Breeding’. These graphs are a good indication of waterbird responses to Australia’s ‘bust or boom’ environment. For those hunters who have not followed weather conditions over the past six months, there has been substantial rain and flooding across the country and that was reflected in the preliminary report’s findings.

Lots of rain and flooding influences duck habitat and breeding. Any person with some idea of Australian waterbird ecology should understand that the recorded lowest waterbird abundance on record was a result of birds simply being elsewhere, not near extinction due to some catastrophic environmental event. Acknowledgement of dispersal to freshly flooded and productive areas outside the survey area should be a no-brainer. It does concern me that there are so-called bird experts who can’t acknowledge this or display such an extreme level of concern regarding the abundance recorded in the survey that they believe there should not be a season.

In South Australia, the local on-ground duck and wetland survey indicated waterfowl abundance was less than one-sixth the number counted at the same time last year, leading to the lowest density of ducks since surveys began. Should we be worried? Not at all... They are all spread out at the moment and when waters recede they will come flocking back.

Both 2017 and 2018 are shaping up to be good seasons and if there is an additional top-up rain from the Tropics this summer, we certainly have some good times ahead.

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