Sale Field & Game is working with American wildlife biologist Dr Brian Hiller on an important project that will establish the science of locating nest boxes in Gippsland.
Sale has a great network of volunteers who erect, maintain and monitor nest boxes on local wetlands, which is what attracted Dr Hiller to take a sabbatical from Bemidgi State University in Minnesota, USA and spend some time in Victoria.
So far more than 400 boxes have been individually numbered, their exact location and details of the surrounding habitat recorded.
“This is an ongoing project that Sale Field & Game has been working on for a long time, but my interest is in how we get more information out of the nesting project,” Dr Hiller said.
“They have boxes scattered throughout the lakes specifically designed for waterfowl, but a lot of other things use them: possums, parrots and other stuff. My question to the group was, what is really coming out of them?”
Dr Hiller said the scale and diversity of the nest boxes and the fact that Sale Field & Game has an army of willing volunteers able to monitor and update data for each box would eventually provide a much clearer picture of waterfowl behaviour and nesting success.
“There wasn’t a really clear data set they could use to say this is how this particular box is working, this is how many eggs were produced, or anything like that,” he said.
“My question to them was how could we improve the data and keep track of what is coming out of them, are there particular areas that are more productive, are there areas that are totally unproductive?
“The concept then was to formalise the data collection and make it consistent. “They’ve done a wonderful job over time putting up boxes and maintaining them, making sure they are cleaned out every year, but in terms of working out how to be the most efficient and productive, we need to collect the data.”
Over time the data collected will give an insight into which boxes are being used by which species and the degree of success.
“It will be interesting for me to know what drives that — is it the box closest to brooding habitat that gets the most use and produces the most eggs or is it something else driving that,” Dr Hiller said.
“We will start off by collecting that data for the first few years and see where it goes from there.
“It is a lot of work and a huge investment in time and money, but it will give us a really good indication of what is going on because there are many types of habitat with boxes, and over time we will start to see if boxes work better or worse in different habitat.”
The hatchings from each box can be established by emptying the contents and counting the membranes present, which Dr Hiller said would provide a good indication of how many birds were being produced out of the nest boxes every year.
Dr Hiller said the example set by Sale Field & Game followed the historical pattern around the world of hunters driving conservation and research. He said the restoration of Heart Morass as a viable wetland for all species, the nest boxing program and pest animal management demonstrated how hunters see the bigger picture.
“Sure, they want to hunt and maintain their culture and take home food for the family but they also want the environment to be healthy,” he said.