In addition to getting excited about dove and teal seasons, we are excited about the fall migration of ring-necked ducks that should start soon. Fall is when we will recover breeding and northern migration data from our radio-marked ringers. The transmitters we use collect location data at all times, but they can only transmit the location data when they are near a cell phone tower. The northern breeding sites of ringers are conspicuously lacking cell towers. Accordingly, we used the advanced electronics in our transmitters to establish a “geofence,” which is simply an electronic marker fence to tell each transmitter not to try contacting a cell tower. So as soon as a bird got north of the green geofence line on the map below, its transmitter saved battery power by ceasing its search for cell towers. The transmitter still collected and stored location data. When the ringers migrate back south of the geofence, then they should contact a tower and dump all the data from this summer.
During the spring and summer, the transmitters should have recorded data on four major activities: migration, nesting, brood rearing, and molt. For many ducks, we know of major molting sites where sometimes hundreds of thousands of birds (especially males) molt their flight feathers. For ringers we do not know of such locations, so that is another reason to be excited to see the data from this summer.
The map below shows prior years’ breeding locations and this spring’s migration tracks prior to the transmitters temporarily going offline. Most of those tracks suggest what we have seen in the prior years — that southern Atlantic Flyway ringers are primarily western breeding birds. That is important, because the western population has been on a steady increase, while eastern breeding ringers are stable at best and fluctuate more than western birds (see the population graph below).
Thanks to your partnership and good science, we’ve made some landmark discoveries over the past couple years. However, plenty work remains to complete one more year of tracking (albeit farther north up the East Coast), and most importantly, to see this new discovery through to appropriate application in the harvest management and planning process.
The harvest model driving Atlantic Flyway regulations is currently based solely on eastern ringnecks (plus wood ducks, green-winged teal and common goldeneyes), which our data show to be incomplete. Adding the western ringneck data to the model can only help maintain appropriately liberal hunting regulations — longer seasons and higher limits for the Atlantic Flyway. We need one more year of data from ringers that winter in regions of the Atlantic Flyway outside the Red Hills Region of Florida and Georgia. Then we will formally present the data to the Atlantic Flyway Council and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.
Your partnership and Delta’s future advocacy for appropriate changes to the Atlantic Flyway harvest model will certainly benefit eastern waterfowlers by maintaining appropriately liberal hunting regulations.