Lake St. Clair Initiative

Lake St. Clair is a cross-roads for millions of waterfowl in the Mississippi and Atlantic Flyways with ducks, geese, and swans returning twice per year to feed and rest as they travel between their wintering and breeding habitats. However, like many areas in the lower Great Lakes, drainage, filling, and development have decreased wetland availability by >90%, potentially limiting the capacity of the region to provide adequate feeding and resting areas for waterfowl. The habitat that remains in threatened by additional conversion, in addition to stress from invasive species, industrial development (i.e., wind turbine development), and human population growth. Furthermore, these wetlands are experiencing increased use by wintering waterfowl due to the expanding number of birds wintering at more northern locations than in the past.

Despite the threats to waterfowl habitat and the potential for increased future use, little is known about how waterfowl use the remaining habitat and the impacts on their survival during autumn, winter and spring. Therefore, Long Point Waterfowl has developed a Lake St. Clair Initiative focused on providing conservation planners and area managers the necessary information to understand how environmental stressors may influence carrying capacity, habitat use, and survival of waterfowl during the nonbreeding seasons.

Phase I of our initiative involves gathering existing information and datasets on waterfowl use, wetland ecology, wetland drainage, invasive species, and agricultural trends. The information is being interpreted and developed into a report entitled “Waterfowl and Wetlands of the Lake St. Clair Region: Present Conditions and Future Options for Research and Conservation”. The limitations and options identified in this document are being used to develop a 5-year research program which is being conducted by Long Point Waterfowl’s scientific staff and graduate students. We anticipate that one of the biggest limitations identified will be habitat loss, food availability and invasive species. The detailed planning and assessment document and subsequent research papers and reports will be instrumental in attracting attention to and developing conservation/research planning strategies and support for the Lake St. Clair Region. We feel that the development of this unique and informative report will provide an encompassing educational tool for all people interested in the Lake St. Clair region and it will provide the direction and impetus for our upcoming Lake St. Clair Research Program. Copies of this report will be provided to all local school and conservation agencies.

Phase II includes a PhD project which is being completed by Matt Palumbo, Long Point Waterfowl Graduate Student. Matt is estimating waterfowl use and foraging strategies in different habitat types and how this use is influenced by land management practices. As a model species Matt will be studying Mallards. Harvest information supports that Great Lakes Mallards need to be managed separate from Mid-continent Mallards because they are subject to different environmental conditions, habitat types and population drivers. Also, research suggests that the Great Lakes Mallard population may be sensitive to non-breeding season survival.

Matt will capture and equip Mallards with Global Positioning Satellite backpack transmitters. This technology will provide accurate locations of both day and night use of habitats, allowing Matt to assess daily habitat use and estimate survival of each duck during the autumn and winter. He will also be able to accurately assess when individuals arrive at, and depart from, the Lake St. Clair region. Assessing habitat use by Mallards can provide area managers with important information on how best to manage the remaining waterfowl habitat.

The Rondeau Bay Waterfowler’s Association (RBWA) is supporting LPW’s continued research in the Lake St. Clair area by being the first to donate $1,000 to the Mallard Tracker Program, which will give the club the opportunity to follow the movements of their sponsored bird on our website via regular updates. Their duck will be known as Rondeau Rhonda. RBWA believes this is important research, said Mike Moynihan, who is in charge of public relations for RBWA. “There is a direct correlation between what goes on at Lake St. Clair and what goes on at Rondeau Bay in terms of waterfowl, where they rest, where they migrate,” he said. He added that the Mississippi and Atlantic flyways, a crossroads for millions of migrating waterfowl, both converge over Lake St. Clair and Rondeau Bay. This research “is going to have a direct impact on what we’re going to learn about Mallard migration,” Moynihan said.

This Mallard Tracker Project will provide LPW with some very important information about Mallard movement patterns around the Lake St. Clair landscape, particularly in protected areas such as the St. Clair National Wildlife Area, flooded corn fields and bait ponds. We will also be able to determine where the birds that stage on Lake St. Clair go to breed and where they spend the winter.

A volunteer Long Point Waterfowl committee has now been established in the Chatham area, with the purpose of organizing a fundraising dinner in October 2014, with all proceeds going to support Long Point Waterfowl’s Lake St. Clair Program.

If you are interested in getting involved as a volunteer or donating to the Mallard Tracker program please contact:
Scott Petrie – spetrie@longpointwaterfowl.org

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