Long Point Aerial Waterfowl Surveys

Long Point Aerial Waterfowl Surveys

By David Beamer, Niagara Restoration Council

Long Point Peninsula is located in south-eastern Ontario on the north shore of Lake Erie. It is home to Long Point Provincial Park, and is recognized as a “World Biosphere Reserve” by the United Nations Educational, Scientific, and Cultural Organizations (UNESCO). It is also the focus of the Long Point Waterfowl and Wetlands Research Fund (LPWWRF). Established in the late 1980’s, LPWWRF was founded by conservation-enthused members of the Bluff Club (a private hunting and conservation organization concerned with the well being of waterfowl at Long Point). Projects of the LPWWRF have included studying contaminant acquisition by Scaup staging on the lower Great Lakes, and the ecological impacts of exotic waterfowl, eg. mute swans, on the southern Great Lakes Basin. In addition, a long enduring task of the LPWWRF is to survey migratory waterfowl in the Long Point region, and elsewhere throughout the lower Great Lakes.

Nowadays, there are many different methods of inventorying and collecting data on wildlife populations. Typically, the more tools we have, the more complete a picture we are left with. In 2004, I ecstatically accepted an invitation to fly along with Dr. Scott Petrie and Dr. Shannon Badzinski to perform their aerial waterfowl surveys of the Long Point Peninsula. These surveys have been conducted over several years and therefore provide excellent data to determine changes in populations of several waterfowl species. Also, the data collected can subsequently indicate changes in aquatic habitat along the migratory routes on which waterfowl depend.

In 1968, the Canadian Wildlife Service (CWS) began conducting fall and spring aerial surveys in the lower Great Lakes region. Long Point was immediately recognized as one of the most important areas for migratory waterfowl in Eastern Canada. The CWS continued their surveys until 1988. In 1991 the LPWWRF was empowered with resuming the task of performing the Long Point surveys. LPWWRF now also coordinates and conducts a “Lower Great Lakes survey” in early January of each year that includes the Canadian and American shorelines of lakes St. Clair, Erie and Ontario. Counting and identification of birds while flying in an airplane is a daunting task; however, estimation is usually done by sub-dividing a large flock into smaller blocks and then approximating numbers. Computer programs that display configurations and densities of different flocks help surveyors practice their estimation skills before utilizing them in the field.

These surveys have shed a lot of light on wildlife populations at Long Point and elsewhere, such as the full impact of rising populations of exotic mute swans (which continue to rise) and the correlation between the rise and fall of zebra mussels to the rise and fall of scaup populations.

Results of the surveys are publicized and compared with those of the CWS surveys taken from the early 1970’s to 1988. The information that is gathered is further utilized for management purposes, studying and researching the ecological requirements of waterfowl and monitoring trends of distribution and abundance.

The LPWWRF is administered by Bird Studies Canada but funded primarily by Bluff Club members. Support is also received from organizations such as Ducks Unlimited Canada, the Waterfowl Research Foundation, the Sydenham Conservation Foundation and the Ontario Federation of Anglers and Hunters, as well as from concerned individuals and interested corporations.

For more information:
David Beamer, Niagara Restoration Council
250 Thorold Rd.W. 3rd Floor,Welland, ON L3C 3W2
PH: (905) 788-0248 • E-mail: niagararestoration@becon.org



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Images courtesy of Steven Huyser-Honig,
West Grand Boulevard Collaborative, & Yellow Dog Watershed Preserve.