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Atlantic Brant Telemetry Progress Report March 2003

Problem Statement:

The study goal is to clarify migration routes and timing, use of staging areas in relation to current and historical distribution of eel grass and other submerged aquatic vegetation beds (SAV), clarify boundaries of the breeding range, and search for previously unknown breeding colonies of Atlantic brant (Branta bernicla). These efforts were aimed at identifying critical habitats for both protection and for improving production forecasting. In addition, this study will provide pilot information for a subsequent study of the home range and habitat use by wintering brant.

2002 Summary:

During January-March 2002, 34 Atlantic brant were marked with standard VHF radios at 7 separate locations in 3 states, New York (15 brant), New Jersey (16 brant), and Virginia (3 brant). In addition, 10 brant were marked with satellite transmitters, in New York (3 brant), New Jersey (6 brant), and Virginia (1 brant). The latter were important to provide continuous information on movements; comparisons to the movements and locations of VHF radioed brant, and to inform the arctic searches for VHF radioed brant. We are indebted to Richard Malecki (USGS) for his assistance in licensing our satellite radios and developing an appropriate attachment harness for our telemetry units. Susan Sheaffer (Cornell University) provided data interpretation for satellite radio locations.

During the first week following attachment of the radios in NY and NJ, telemetered brant were located and observed to identify any negative radio effects. No negative effects were noted. After the first week, VHF radioed brant in NJ were monitored once per week for the remainder of the winter period to detect spring migration movements and provide pilot information for design of a larger study of the home range and habitat use of wintering Atlantic brant. VHF radioed brant in NY and VA were monitored bi-weekly.

Twenty-four VHF radioed brant were re-located during spring migration or while on the breeding grounds. Between 28 March and 21 May, 2002 seven aerial surveys were conducted along the Atlantic coast from Virginia to Maine to obtain periodic locations of VHF radioed brant. Important staging areas were identified and aerial counts were made at major concentration areas. Jamaica Bay, which is adjacent to John F. Kennedy International Airport and entirely within the New York City limits, was the major spring staging area within the US. At least one Virginia VHF radioed brant has also been detected in Jamaica Bay during fall migration. Historic staging areas along the New England coast held few brant during the spring 2002 migration. One VHF radioed brant and no satellite radioed brant were found in New England during the spring 2002 migration.

Signals from the satellite radioed birds showed the major movement north from James Bay to the breeding grounds in the Foxe Basin took place during the last week of June 2002. This was considerably later than usual, and was surprising given that conditions on the breeding areas were reported to be excellent. The spring 2002 migration was believed delayed by at least two weeks, in part due to cold wintery conditions present throughout southern Canada up to about 61oN latitude, but also possibly related to a declining abundance of eel grass in James Bay. In contrast, light-bellied brant of the Eastern High Arctic populations, also being tracked in 2002 by satellite, were present on the breeding grounds by June 17. By the final days of June, all the radioed Atlantic brant were present on the breeding areas. Satellite-marked birds were present on North Spicer, Prince Charles and Coats Island, and on the Great Plain of the Koukdjuak, Baffin Island.

From 29 June - 3 July, we flew surveys by Twin Otter over most of the coastline of the mainland and islands lying within the Foxe Basin, at altitudes ranging from 1000 to 5000, depending on the topography of the area. A total of 18 VHF radioed birds were located on North Spicer, Prince Charles, Airforce and Southampton Islands, as well as on the Great Plain of the Koukdjuak. This represents a significant increase in sample size of breeding brant locations over the 7 satellite brant known to reach the breeding grounds.

During fall 2002, NJ Division of Fish and Wildlife staff flew a total of 5 telemetry monitoring flights, 1 between Cape Charles, VA and Norwich, CT and 4 between Cape May, NJ and Great South Bay, Long Island, NY. A total of 17 VHF radio contacts were made during these flights. In addition, 9 radioed brant recoveries have been reported. To date, 2 satellite and 7 VHF radios, including one brant carcass with the radio attached have been obtained.

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