Partridge Forever Society
Volume 20 – Fall 2001
November 30, 2000
P.O. Box 89
Bay Roberts, NF
It’s been a busy season for the Partridge Forever Society, not because of the great numbers of birds, but rather due in part to their scarceness. We all realize that the ptarmigan population cycles in numbers over a seven to eleven year period, but when reports are as low as have been the case this season, concern for the species and what we should do to help rises.
With this in the forefront, we have had several meetings and much discussion with various officials of the Wildlife Division. Mike McGrath, Small Game and Fur Bearer Biologist, has written an article for us addressing this issue later in the "News Wing" and I believe that you will find it both informative and interesting.
Another matter, which has highlighted the Partridge Forever Society in the media, is our $15,000.00 grant to Memorial University. This is, as you know, to initiate long term study on ptarmigan. It is through this research that we hope to find answers to such questions as:
- What effect does hunting have on the ptarmigan population cycle?
- Is there an optimum time for the hunting season to take place in order to best conserve the resource?
- Can we do anything to prevent the population cycle from falling to levels that we have experienced this year?
Dr. W.A. Montevecchi, Professor and Chair of the Bio-Psychology program at Memorial University has written an article in this "News Wing" outlining how our contribution has been received and how academic interest has been raised on this subject as a result. We feel confident after talking with Dr. Montevecchi that the long term research need in this field will now take place.
At our "Wing Tip" Dinner on November 6, 2001, our guest speaker, Mr. Keith Healey, CA, Assistant Deputy Minister with the Dept. of Tourism, Culture and Recreation read a letter from Hon. Kevin Aylward, Minister of his department. The letter announced that, in recognition of the efforts by the Partridge Forever Society, they too would be contributing $15,000.00 towards the completion of the ptarmigan research program. It is certainly gratifying to have the efforts of the Society acknowledged in this way and I have written Mr. Aylward to thank him for his needed and muchly appreciated donation to our cause.
Also at our "Wing Tip" Dinner, I had the honor of signing a Memorandum of Understanding, (M.O.U.), on behalf of the Partridge Forever Society with the Wildlife Division. This M.O.U. dubbed "The Partridge Accord" is to ensure that a long term research program on ptarmigan, the Official Game Bird of Newfoundland and Labrador, does take place, and that it is supported and directed by Memorial University, Wildlife Division, and the Partridge Forever Society. Such an undertaking will be an ongoing endeavor with our Society and I believe that compliments the purpose for which the Partridge Forever Society was formed.
Finally, as this issue of the "News Wing" will be reaching most readers in December, let me wish everyone in the Partridge Forever Society and their families a Merry Christmas and a Happy and Healthy New Year to come. My Christmas wish on behalf of all members is for more birds in the new year.
Yours in Conversation
2) Notes on Ptarmigan Abundance to the Partridge Forever Society – Mike McGrath
As we all know by now, ptarmigan populations on the Island have declined substantially as compared to the previous few years. Our spring population estimates had documented significant population declines in Fair Haven (closed to hunting), Witless Bay Line, Gaff Topsails and even in the southern Long Range Mountains, and area that receives a minimal amount of hunting pressure. Recent reports from the few hunters that travel to remote hunting areas on the west coast, as well as the more accessible hunting areas on the Topsails and the east coast have all indicated that the ptarmigan population has declined.
In this province and throughout North America, willow ptarmigan tend to cycle in abundance with numbers peaking and declining over 7 – 11 year periods. These increases, peaks and crashes in ptarmigan abundance have been recorded in this province ever since these trends have been monitored since the 1950’s and from newspaper articles since the 1800’s. Complaints from ptarmigan hunters about the scarcity of birds are not new. Some newspaper excerpts from St. John’s: The Standard, Sept. 23, 1876: "Many of our gallant sportsmen have been ranging the hills in every direction but we cannot learn of any bags being secured. It is apparent that partridge is becoming very scarce… And it might be a prudent suggestion of ours in recommending an armistice for at least one year to enable a little recuperation…" A decade later from The Standard, September 13, 1884: "…local nimrods have been ranging the woods in this direction in search of game. Their labors have not however been crowned with much success; experienced sportsmen say that they have never seen ptarmigan so scarce as it this season." These century old quotes sound very similar to the comments currently being made about the scarcity of ptarmigan today.
There is no single explanation for these cycles that is presently accepted by all scientists, and research into this phenomenon continues. Recent research in other areas of North America have however, indicated that when snowshoe hare numbers are high, predators (i.e. fox, coyote, great horned owl, goshawk, marsh hawk) also become abundant. These predators also prey on ptarmigan and have been shown to depress ptarmigan numbers when snowshoe hares are abundant and especially so when hare numbers start to decline. Snowshoe hares have been abundant in Newfoundland over the past few years and preliminary indications are that they have declined over this past summer, causing the predators to look for alternative sources of prey. The decline in numbers of ptarmigan is therefore likely related to increased predation pressure associated with the recent peak and subsequent decline in snowshoe hare abundance. The theory that predation is limiting ptarmigan numbers in this Province is further substantiated by research in the Fair Haven area in the late 1980’s where extremely high mortality rates due to predation were documented in a sample of radio-collared ptarmigan in that area. These natural cycles in abundance may, however, be masking the potential influence (if any) of hunting, and the role of un-hunted refuges on ptarmigan abundance and clearly more research is needed in this area.
Small game hunters are relied upon to provide the information they gather during the hunting season to effectively manage ptarmigan in this Province. Three (3) ways that you as conservationists can provide this information are (1) through the completion of the license return, (2) periodic questionnaires, and (3) along with the provision of a properly labeled wing from each bird harvested. At present, less than 5 percent of small game hunters actually bother submitting their license return, while the big game license return rate is around 75 percent. The provision of this important information from small game hunters provides for estimates of harvest rates, population trend and brood survival.
The staff of this Department looks forward to many more years of cooperation and support from the Partridge Forever Society in the research and management of our cherished wildlife resources. We can and will work together to make conservation a priority.
3) Partridge Research at Your University – Dr. Bill Montevecchi
The Partridge Forever Society has long-standing interests in Partridge hunting and conservation in Newfoundland and Labrador. On the basis of these interests and owing to concerns about inadequate understanding and research on Partridge or Ptarmigan in the province, members of the Society participated in a workshop on Ptarmigan at the international BIRDS 2000 Conference that Memorial University hosted during August of 2000. Activities at the workshop led to further discussions with scientists at Memorial and elsewhere on the development of ideas for joint ventures on Ptarmigan research and conservation in the province. As the Official Game Bird of Newfoundland and Labrador, there is widespread interest in developing comprehensive long-term research programs focused on local Partridge for local, national and international audiences.
At the past Annual General Meeting of the Partridge Forever Society, members decided to make a cash contribution to Memorial University of Newfoundland as seed money to promote a long-term research program with the goal of insuring "Partridge Forever." That contribution has been very responsibly received by the University, and its intent very well appreciated by Memorial administrators, including President Axel Miesen. Following on the Society’s donation, the university sought out expertise and accepted a full-time student to engage in a Master’s of Science project in The Biopsychology Programme. Ms. Ellen Jedrey earned her Bachelor’s degree at the University of New Hampshire in her home state. Ellen has research and working experience on a massive wildlife project on Ruffed Grouse out of Virginia Tech. She also has experience working with the U.S. fish and Wildlife Service in Massachusetts assisting with research projects on Piping Plovers, terns and gulls. While at Virginia Tech, Ellen worked with Mr. Darroch Whitaker of Portugal Cove who has previously earned a Master’s of Science degree in the Biopsychology Programme. Darroch’s thesis research focused on the effects of forested buffers along water-bodies on the diversity of forest birds. His Ph.D. research at Virginia Tech is directed at Ruffed Grouse ecology, and he has developed considerable expertise in the uses and limitations of radio telemetry in wildlife studies. Also as a result of the initiative shown by the Partridge Forever Society, Darroch has prepared a comprehensive research proposal on dispersal of Ptarmigan with emphasis on considerations of possible "source" habitat and population areas supporting much larger areas of ptarmigan range. This proposal will be submitted in November to the Natural Sciences and Engineering Research Council (NSERC) for possible funding for a two year period.
In developing ideas for her research, Ms. Jedrey has gone hunting with Mr. David Moores and Mr. Bob Noseworthy who were generous in giving her four of the six partridge that they bagged on the Burin barrens on opening day. Ellen has also been assisted considerably and generously by Mike McGrath of the Newfoundland and Labrador Wildlife Division who has provided her with data on hunter returns and other basic aspects of Ptarmigan ecology. Currently, for a project in a statistics course, Ellen is analyzing population trends of Willow and Rock Ptarmigan from logbooks prepared by two Wildlife Officers in western Newfoundland who have hunted and keep extraordinary records of the Partridge in their hunting area on the Long Range barrens for 26 consecutive years! Also since the last annual meeting of the Society, members of PFS Executive, including President, Mr. Ray Anthony and Mr. David Moores, representatives from the Newfoundland and Labrador Wildlife Division, including Mr. Jim Hancock, Mr. Shane Mahoney and Mr. Mike McGrath, and from Memorial University of Newfoundland have been meeting regularly to discuss scientific research and conservation of Partridge. These meetings are ongoing.
So, I hope that you feel that the donation that the Partridge Forever Society made to Memorial University of Newfoundland for research has already gone a long ways and is creating the basis for long-term studies of Partridge in the province. Hopefully long-term means forever. So stay tuned. Keep looking up and keep looking out.
4) Editor’s Note
Ellen has advised the Society that she will need some volunteer help in the spring as she starts her fieldwork. Please call any executive member if you are willing to help her in her work. We should compile a list of names that she can call for field assistance.
5) Christmas Gift Ideas – R. David Moores
Now that we all are slowly but surely getting into the Christmas Spirit, I would like to remind members and their better halves about the items that we sell as part of the Society’s fund raiser efforts. We have a supply of caps (blaze orange, tan, beige with green bib), Society lapel pins, sweatshirts, blue denim shirts, and Mr. Lloyd Pretty’s reproduction of The Partridge. Please give me a call to discuss your requests. The sweatshirts and the blue denim shirts are embroidered with the Society’s crest. The blue denim shirts are new and are very attractive.
Also, we have access to Mr. Andrew Wells’ beautiful stone carving of "The Partridge."
All of these items make excellent gift idea. Please give me a call for details. (work) 786-9093 (home) 596-6468.
6) Editor’s Note
As you well see below, we have a new corporate advertiser for this "News Wing." We thank North Atlantic for their support and encourage all members to use their excellent Newfoundland made products.
We are always trying to attract new members. In members there is strength!!! As you know the membership fee is $10.00/year. Our Society’s mailing address is
Partridge Forever Society Potential New Member:
P.O. Box 89 Name: _____________________________________
Bay Roberts, NF, A0A 1G0 Address: ___________________________________
Registrar: David Moores Phone number: ______________________________
Phone numbers: 786-9093 (work)
Please cut and pass this new members form along to your family members and friends.