Pilot biologist flight logs

Follow the pilot biologists as they survey waterfowl breeding grounds.

Eastern and Northern OntarioEastern and Northern OntarioNorthern Saskatchewan, Northern ManitobaNorthern Alberta and Northeastern British ColumbiaAlaska, Yukon Territory and Old Crow FlatsMaine and Atlantic CanadaMaine and Atlantic CanadaSouthern Quebec and Southeast OntarioWestern Ontario and Northcentral QuebecWestern Ontario and Northcentral QuebecWestern Ontario and Northcentral QuebecWestern Ontario and Northcentral QuebecSouthern Manitoba and Southeastern SaskatchewanSouthern SaskatchewanSouthern and Central AlbertaWestern Dakotas and Eastern MontanaEastern DakotasPilot Biologist Region MapPilot Biologist Region Map

Survey of Northwest Territories Finished

Northern Alberta, Northeastern British Columbia and Northwest Territories
Written by Fred Roetker
Wednesday, June 19, 2013

Photo of Fred Roetker.Mark Koneff and I finished the Northwest Territories today. After one the latest springs in years, ice break-up happened fast and birds seemed to immediately occupy the smaller wetlands as they became ice free. The larger lakes were slower to thaw as usual, however birds were taking advantage of shoreline habitat during our survey. After waiting for the ice to leave, the weather mostly cooperated during our effort. Most of the survey was flown under ideal conditions with light winds. Duck numbers appeared strong.

Habitat Conditions in Maine and the Atlantic Provinces Variable

Maine and Atlantic Canada
Written by Mark Koneff
Tuesday, June 11, 2013

Photo of Mark Koneff.Across the Maine and Atlantic crew area it was a fairly normal winter with snow pack running about average or just below average. As for much of the northern tier of the U.S., spring was slow in coming to Maine, particularly in the higher elevations and across northern parts of the state. Flying conditions during the late winter and early spring where poor, with reduced ceilings and visibilities and high winds, though curiously little precipitation. A couple of weeks of fair skies and warm temperatures in late April advanced the spring phenology and waterfowl breeding efforts in the southern portions of the crew area. At the time of the survey in Maine, wetland habitats across the state were suffering from lack of spring precipitation, particularly so in western and northern regions. Drier than normal conditions also prevailed across the Canadian Maritime provinces during the survey period. Heavy rains during May recharged wetlands and caused local flooding, which may have destroyed some nests. Habitat conditions throughout Newfoundland and Labrador where generally good. Spring was early, but prolonged periods of rain and snow, especially in western Newfoundland and Labrador, may have taken a toll on early nesting efforts. Aircraft maintenance issues prevented us from surveying the Canadian portion of our crew area; fortunately, however, we routinely combine survey data collected by the USFWS and Canadian Wildlife Service to produce population estimates for this crew area and we still have access to our Canadian partners’ data. While this will not provide us as complete a picture of waterfowl populations in the crew area this year, we should have adequate sample coverage to bridge this year until we can return to full operational strength next season.

Batting .400

Western Ontario and Northcentral Quebec
Written by Stephen Earsom
Friday, June 07, 2013

Photo of Stephen D. Earsom.As the story goes, Ted Williams had been out duck hunting on December 7th, 1941, the day of the Pearl Harbor attack. Williams had just finished a baseball season for the record books. His batting average going into the final day of the season was .39955, which was high enough to be rounded up to .400. He could sit out the final double-header, protect this amazing hitting feat, and be assured of All-Star if not Hall of Fame status.

Have Plane, Will Travel!

Southern and Central Alberta
Written by Jim Bredy
Monday, June 03, 2013

Photo of Jim Bredy.The FWS pilot biologists have a tight-knit fellowship. We always work together to get the job done. Some years are more challenging than others, and this year has been a doozy so far.

Late and Slow - But Pushing On

Western Ontario and Northcentral Quebec
Written by Jim Wortham
Monday, June 03, 2013

Photo of Jim Wortham.Steve Earsom and I continue to sit through one weather system after another in eastern Canada. We have been surveying southern Ontario and southern Quebec.

Manitoba Survey Completed—Looks Good in General

Southern Manitoba and Southeastern Saskatchewan
Written by Sarah Yates
Sunday, June 02, 2013

Sarah YatesWe finally got the two days of good weather we needed and completed the survey on June 2nd. The last survey day was quite enjoyable, with clear skies and little to no wind. In total we counted and identified 14,678 ducks. The habitat looked good throughout southern Manitoba and southeastern Saskatchewan and improved during the survey with all the rain from the low pressure systems blowing across the upper U.S. Only a small area near the Manitoba-Saskatchewan border and most of stratum 38 was considered fair to poor in 2013. Stratum 38 just doesn’t have a lot of great habitat in general due to the high proportion of agriculture throughout that southeastern portion of Manitoba.

Survey’s a Wrap in Eastern Dakotas

Eastern Dakotas
Written by Terry Liddick
Sunday, June 02, 2013

Terry LiddickWell. After a long battle with Mother Nature, the Eastern Dakota’s Breeding Population Survey was completed on June 2nd. It may not have been the first time in history that the survey was completed in June, but it was a first for me. The rain would just not stop! We endured 5 days of rain in Minot ND where we did not fly at all, and another 2 mornings where fog and mist prevented us from taking off before 10:00 a.m. Because our SOP requires us to quit counting by noon, that made for two pretty short mornings! That being said, there wasn’t a whole lot of complaining because the Dakotas certainly needed the rain! It was a battle against the elements from the time we entered North Dakota.

RIP, Captain Bob

Southern and Central Alberta
Written by Jim Bredy
Friday, May 31, 2013

Photo of Jim Bredy.This survey for me is more than just about counting ducks. I have forged some life-long friendships from some of those I’ve met. As I sit here in Edmonton with my plane undergoing a mandatory inspection, I began to reminisce about all of the people that have come, and gone in my life. It has been like an ever going tide, some come in and stay, and some go. As I write this with a tear in my eye, one of those persons that stayed and is now gone, was Bob Heath.

A Tale of Two Stories

Eastern Dakotas
Written by Kammie Kruse
Friday, May 31, 2013

Photo of Kammie Kruse.Whew, this was the latest I have been out counting ducks for the ground crew in my 12 years on the survey, but we finally finished the last Air-Ground transect on May 31 on a cold and dreary day.

Manitoba Crew Finishes

Southern Manitoba and Southeastern Saskatchewan
Written by Marc Schuster
Thursday, May 30, 2013

Photo of Marc Schuster.After numerous weather days and delays for both the ground and flight crews, the Manitoba ground crew was finally able to finish on Thursday, May 30. Checking back through my records for the past 15 years, there was only one other time when we finished this late. That was on June 1, 2004. That year, a late spring blizzard hampered our efforts -see pictures below from that year. This year, an unusually late spring slowed us down. That being said, habitat conditions were good throughout most of the survey area, with only some slightly drier conditions in the western parts of Stratums 40 and 39. Overall, 2013 appears to be a normal year for water conditions in this part of the survey area. The abnormality came in the weather delays we experienced. Pilot Sarah Yates speaks to that in her posting, but I concur that we are not used to seeing inclement weather hanging around for as long as it did this year. The old saying “If you don’t like the weather, wait five minutes”, certainly didn’t come into play this year!

Fighting With the Weather...

Southern Manitoba and Southeastern Saskatchewan
Written by Sarah Yates
Thursday, May 30, 2013

Sarah YatesWow, this is not normal prairie weather. From what I’ve been told, systems blow through here in a day. Most years, you’ll have a weather day every once in a while. Well, this year, and especially the last week, we’ve really had to the fight the weather to get any surveying done. If it’s not gusty winds from the east (we’ve had easterly winds since we arrived in Brandon--which is never a good sign), it’s low ceilings and low visibility and fog brought on by the stagnant low pressure systems that seem to linger here for days. It’s all part of the same weather system that’s causing all the tornadic activity throughout the mid-western United States. We’ve had almost two weeks of marginal weather, and while we’ve flown some mornings, we’ve been turned around almost every day due to low ceilings, low visibility, and fog. While yesterday (May 29th) was a full survey day, we still had to fight with low visibility on a few lines, meaning some segments were missed or only partially completed. We were able to finish up all our air-ground segments after 6 hours of flying, and we’ve now completed all but Stratum 37. So, we have two days of flying left. It’s just a matter of when the weather will allow us to fly.

Ground Survey Complete For Southern Saskatchewan

Southern Saskatchewan
Written by Jean-Michel DeVink
Wednesday, May 29, 2013

Photo of Jean-Michel DeVink.The last stretch seemed like it would never end, even though we only had three days of transects left to complete. Once back in Saskatoon, we were down for a day waiting for weather that the pilot could survey in. Normally two full crews hit the Peterson ground segment just east of Saskatoon before we head further east, but a break in the weather and the fact that our pilot Phil Thorpe also had to complete a few transects in neighbouring Manitoba allowed a window to finish our most easterly transects, so we headed to Humboldt to stage. Once we got those done, we headed back to Saskatoon to finish up Peterson. It was looking like we’d get everything done by the 27th, but two days of foggy mornings meant that low-level flying wasn’t possible and our air crew was grounded. That gave us a couple days to organize and start verifying all the other transects we had completed to date.

Survey Completed and Conditions Improve in Northeastern Montana

Western Dakotas and Eastern Montana
Written by Rob Spangler
Wednesday, May 29, 2013

Rob SpanglerWe were happy to end the survey on a better note and see some more water with basins at 50-75% of capacity. Recent rains have helped conditions quite a bit, but the water has come a little too late to make a big difference in eastern Montana. We observed large aggregations of gadwall in particular, similar to what we observed to the south. That said, we saw more waterfowl breeding pairs than we have during the entire survey here which was encouraging. The best conditions lie from just north of Malta, Montana running east to the border of Montana and North Dakota. The Medicine Lake Wildlife Refuge was holding good numbers of waterfowl, including canvasback and a lot of gadwall, northern shoveler and of course, mallard. This refuge was established back in 1935 to preserve wildlife and includes over 28,000 acres of habitat, and was definitely the bright spot for this year’s survey.

Hitchcock/Bredy Team, Signing Off

Southern and Central Alberta
Written by Jim Bredy
Tuesday, May 28, 2013

Photo of Jim Bredy.In a previous report, I noted how the survey gremlins returned this year with a vengeance. However, Mr. Hitchcock and I overcame their interference and successfully completed the Southern and Central Alberta survey portion on May 27. I feel fortunate to have had such a competent Crew Member again this year. He is one of those persons who looks at adversity as a challenge, not as a problem. Rest assured, Jay ALSO knows his ducks. I hope I have the good fortune to be able to work with this fine waterfowl man and gentleman in the coming years.

Aerial Survey Finished!

Southern Saskatchewan
Written by Phil Thorpe
Tuesday, May 28, 2013

Photo of Phil Thorpe.Another BPOP complete! The morning started with fog, but it quickly lifted and Stephen and I were able to fly the remaining three transect lines in the northeast part of the survey area. The CWS ground crew should be able to finish the two remaining air-ground segments on Wednesday. We were lucky to be in a good weather pattern and got away with only three weather days during the survey. Other crew areas are working on 8-10 weather days and counting!

Weather Delays with Only One Day Left!

Southern Saskatchewan
Written by Phil Thorpe
Monday, May 27, 2013

Photo of Phil Thorpe.Day two of fog. We are hoping to fly tomorrow, Tuesday, but the forecast is calling for more fog. We only have one more day of surveying left, so waiting on weather is very frustrating. Patience is required.

Windy Days in Manitoba

Southern Manitoba and Southeastern Saskatchewan
Written by Sarah Yates
Saturday, May 25, 2013

Sarah YatesWe’ve had a good run in southern Manitoba. So far we’ve completed Stratum 39, 35, and 38. We’ve flown seven survey days, and had a few weather days too. One thing I’m learning about the prairies is that it can be extremely windy! There has been but maybe one day without winds gusting up to thirty knots by the time we get back to our base in Brandon. The survey standard operating procedures (SOP) requires that we begin our surveys not more than an hour after sunrise and transect flying is to be completed by 12:00 noon local time each day. This means some really early mornings for us; especially when we have to cruise for an hour to get to our first lines of the morning. This means a 4:00 am start to check weather, talk with a local weather briefer about current and forecast conditions, file a flight plan, and pre-flight the airplane before takeoff. We try to be in the air around 6:00 to 6:30 am. Wind and visibility conditions are better earlier in the morning, and after fighting the late morning and early afternoon winds for over a week now, I understand the importance of early starts in the prairies. Regardless of some windy days in the prairies we are observing lots of birds. After 31 hours of flying we have counted and identified 10,777 ducks, 797 Canada geese, and 976 American coots! Mallards top the list making up 30% of our observations, followed by: northern shoveler (14%), blue-winged teal (12%), gadwall (9%), canvasback (7%), northern pintail (7%), redheads (6%), American green-winged teal (5%), American wigeon (4%), and small numbers of scaup, bufflehead, ruddy ducks, ring-necked ducks, mergansers, goldeneye, and scoters. You never know what you might see in the prairies and the abundance of ducks to count and identify makes survey days go by in a flash!

Work in Manitoba

Southern Saskatchewan
Written by Phil Thorpe
Friday, May 24, 2013

Photo of Phil Thorpe.We started the morning by flying two air-ground comparison segments in Saskatchewan to keep our ground crew moving. We then stopped for fuel in Yorkton, and headed over to Manitoba to complete a stratum to help get the Manitoba crew one day closer to finishing. When they finish, Sarah Yates will hand over the keys to Fred Roetker so he can fly the Cessna 206 amphibian float plane up to the Northwest Territories and work on getting that survey area competed.

By the Numbers

Western Dakotas and Eastern Montana
Written by Pam Garrettson
Friday, May 24, 2013

Pam Garrettson.We finished the last of our air-ground transects on May 24th. That last air-ground, in northeastern Montana, had more water than the other areas we had covered, but it wasn’t great. Stock dams were typically at least half full, with quite a few ducks, but there were no small wetlands, so there was a lot of crowding on what was available. We did count quite a few pintails, and the upland cover was in better shape for them than the desolate pastures in the southern part of the crew area.

Plenty of Vacancies, Ducks Welcome!

Eastern Dakotas
Written by Terry Liddick
Friday, May 24, 2013

Terry LiddickWell, after a long five-day delay in Jamestown due to weather and maintenance, we got going again and finished stratum 46 which encompasses the southern half of North Dakota. After all the rain we received the past four days, the landscape looks quite a bit different. We are once again seeing sheet water, and some of the seasonal wetlands that for the most part have been dry now have a little water in them. That’s the good news. The bad news is, it is all new water and most of it is vacant. Many more wetlands are vacant than occupied by ducks, a result of the rain maybe coming a little too late. It will be great for the long term drought but maybe not so beneficial for this years’ breeding effort.

Survey Gremlins Return, Again

Southern and Central Alberta
Written by Jim Bredy
Thursday, May 23, 2013

Photo of Jim Bredy.The survey gremlins are always out there, just waiting for a chance to bite you. We had an incredible start, flying 10 of 11 days. But in my 26 years of flying surveys up here, I have never failed to get bitten by at least one gremlin every year. It was just a matter of time… until we were attacked by a wolf-pack of them last Saturday. It started with stiff throttle cables, which a mechanic was able to lube and fix. Then it was food poisoning for both of us. And now an unsettled weather pattern has set in with winds gusting to over 30 knots the last several days, with no immediate relief in sight. We do not fly with strong winds for a multitude of reasons, primarily because it just is not safe to do so while flying low to the ground.

Manitoba Ground Crew Reaches Half-Way Point

Southern Manitoba and Southeastern Saskatchewan
Written by Marc Schuster
Thursday, May 23, 2013

Photo of Marc Schuster.After a late start to the survey this year, the Manitoba ground crew has hit its stride and arrived in Regina today. This marks the halfway point of our survey. So far, we have observed close to normal conditions in Stratum 39 and southeastern Stratum 35. compared to the drier conditions that prevailed last year. The heavy snow pack that these areas experienced this past winter are not in evidence now as the moisture has been soaked up by the dry soil. What’s left are ideal conditions for breeding waterfowl, and also for landowners. It seems to me that the wetland conditions we are seeing make for a happy medium. There is little or no flooding, which allows farmers to access their fields, but the wetlands are full or nearly full, which is good for ducks. The only exception to this is the western part of stratum 35 near Regina, which is drier than last year. The crew is now off to the Yorkton area to complete the Southeastern portion of Saskatchewan, after which we will return to Manitoba to complete the survey.

How Do You Like Your Steak?

Western Ontario and Northcentral Quebec
Written by Stephen Earsom
Wednesday, May 22, 2013

Photo of Stephen D. Earsom.As the saying goes, what a difference a year makes! Last year my observer and I finished our surveys in southern Ontario and Quebec on 19 May. This year, due to some aircraft issues, we didn’t even start until 19 May. Unfortunately, that meant we arrived too late to collect data in some of southern areas of Ontario. In Strata 52, 53, and 54, the trees have unfurled their leaves, making it impossible to see into many of the smaller streams and wetlands where we often “pull out” singles and pairs. Unlike in some parts of Canada, the spring did not come late to southern Ontario, and we’ve been seeing a lot more kayaks and BBQ grills than ducks in those areas.

Where There Were Two There Is Now One

Southern Saskatchewan
Written by Jean-Michel DeVink
Wednesday, May 22, 2013

Photo of Jean-Michel DeVink.For the last three days we’ve been running transects in western Saskatchewan. Our air crew was able to fly one day in western Saskatchewan, on the 21st, before taking a required day off after flying straight through for six days. We headed out to complete our ground transects near Kindersley, Saskatchewan, before returning to Saskatoon and awaiting the air crew to get back in the air. After a day break, we headed a bit further north based out of North Battleford along the North Saskatchewan River to complete two days of transects in the area. With a big low pressure system moving in, we were getting out earlier than usual to take advantage of the calmer winds in the morning to stay within the Standard Operating Protocol. We fought with winds, but got’em done. After a long day on transects on the 24th, we’re headed to the northeast part of our survey area before finishing up in the northcentral area near Prince Albert, Saskatchewan.

Big Sky Country

Western Dakotas and Eastern Montana
Written by Pam Garrettson
Tuesday, May 21, 2013

Pam Garrettson.Montana is big sky country, and for a couple of east-coasters (Brent’s from Maine; I’m from Maryland), it can feel both freeing and disconcerting. We’re surveying 200m on either side of an east-west line, and often can see far beyond that. From a high bluff at the end of a segment east of Miles City, we guessed we could see a couple hundred miles. At home, well, you can’t see the forest for the trees. In this mostly treeless landscape, wildlife often make do without. We had puzzled over the number of great-horned owls we’d seen, then Brent came upon a nest on the ledge of a cut-bank stream (see photo). It wasn’t a great spot, because one of the chicks had fallen to a lower ledge, but it appeared fine and a parent was tending it. Surveying the occasional wooded stream can be very exciting; migrating warblers and sparrows often just pile in, lacking alternatives.

Six Days Straight...

Southern Saskatchewan
Written by Phil Thorpe
Tuesday, May 21, 2013

Photo of Phil Thorpe.Good flying weather has kept us counting every day for the last 6 days. We finished the grasslands survey strata on Monday and will start on the Aspen Parklands survey units on Wednesday, May 22. I’m down for a required rest day today and have tallied some of the preliminary numbers for the grasslands. Since I’ve had several different observers in recent years, I looked at just my uncorrected counts. I compared this year to the previous 3 years in the larger of the two grasslands strata that I fly. My impressions and my callused recording thumb have proved to be correct and this year my uncorrected counts rank number one for total ducks counted. I’d guess that once the visibility correction factors are applied and the numbers are expanded we will still have a very good estimate from Saskatchewan, at least from the grasslands. The Parklands had above- to well-above average precipitation last summer and after a drier fall the area received well-above average winter snowfall. We are expecting abundant water on the landscape in this region and hopefully abundant ducks too!

Southeastern Montana Completed and the Dry Conditions Continue

Western Dakotas and Eastern Montana
Written by Rob Spangler
Tuesday, May 21, 2013

Rob SpanglerThe habitat in southeastern Montana is very dry this year - similar to the western Dakotas. Basins are averaging 20-30% of capacity and there are many that are dry altogether. We are also starting to observe larger groups of birds (males and females) that could be skipping breeding this year instead of flying north into Canada for better conditions. Ducks do not breed very well when they are crowded into the few ponds we are finding. When crowding conditions occur breeding success is often lower due to stress of interaction and lack of suitable nesting areas. Lack of water also concentrates cattle on vegetation around available water, destroying nesting cover. Based on the increased numbers of waterfowl that our biologists are observing just to the north we are hopeful that many of these birds wised up and set up camp in Canada this spring.

It Is Wet Out There!

Southern and Central Alberta
Written by Garnet Raven
Tuesday, May 21, 2013

Photo of Garnet Raven.The Alberta ground crew has finished its portion of the survey for another year. Over the last few days we have moved from the Hanna area up through the eastern prairie parklands of Alberta. Weather did not slow us down at all and we were able to complete the survey in record time. Yesterday we completed the Cucumber air-ground northeast of Edmonton, the last of our transect segments in stratum 26.

Survey Halted - But For Good Reason

Eastern Dakotas
Written by Terry Liddick
Monday, May 20, 2013

Terry LiddickWell, the Eastern Dakota’s crew has come to a screeching halt. We were making pretty good progress, only losing one day to weather as we completed South Dakota. We moved from Mitchell to Aberdeen on the 11th of May. We sat for a day in Aberdeen due to high winds, but quickly resumed and completed South Dakota on the 15th. Conditions improved slightly as we moved north, but despite record snow over the winter and particularly during April, South Dakota remains dry. The coteau regions of the state are pretty good and should produce ducks, but production will be minimal in the drift plain, where it is very dry with most seasonal wetlands void of water.

Wetlands Good; Ducks Average

Southern Saskatchewan
Written by Jean-Michel DeVink
Monday, May 20, 2013

Photo of Jean-Michel DeVink.All our ground effort today is focused on one transect southeast of Saskatoon in some of the best nesting habitat in the province. Here we have rolling hills with more permanent ponds that almost always hold water. There also are lots of pasture and hay lands in the Allan Hills, which provide good nesting cover and usually mean lots of ducks. Wetland conditions were good today, but total indicated ducks were only about average along the transect. This area is usually a great region for divers, but there were fewer scaup, redheads and canvasbacks on the transect than in the last two years. One thing that we did notice was an abundance of snipe. After this transect, two of our crews are headed west to get into Kindersley country to finish up a couple transects before we start to head North.

Oil and Water

Western Dakotas and Eastern Montana
Written by Pam Garrettson
Sunday, May 19, 2013

Pam Garrettson.I never thought I would say the words “traffic jam,” and “North Dakota” in the same sentence, but that’s what happened to us last week as we traveled south on what was once a very remote stretch of highway 22 that runs through the badlands between New Town and Dickinson. Oil and gas production has changed the area dramatically; in places it looked like pictures of the Middle East. The rugged buttes are still breathtaking, when you can see around the highway widening operations that teetered on the edge of sheer drops. Brent deftly dodged streams of huge trucks carrying oil or the water used to pump it out of the ground, and I just marveled at how so much had changed since I was last out here in 2007.

Home Field Advantage

Southern Saskatchewan
Written by Jean-Michel DeVink
Sunday, May 19, 2013

Photo of Jean-Michel DeVink.We’re based out of Saskatoon for a couple days, which is “home base,” and a nice break from hotels. Our ground segments today are just south of Saskatoon in some very good nesting habitat for waterfowl. One transect worked by two tandem crews has over 540 ponds, which makes for a lot of busting out ducks. The best part of getting out in the field, much like those early mornings in the fall, is the opportunity to see things most people miss, like a skunk searching the edge of a wetland for a duck nest or two.

Southern Saskatchewan Complete

Southern Saskatchewan
Written by Jean-Michel DeVink
Saturday, May 18, 2013

Photo of Jean-Michel DeVink.The Saskatchewan ground crews finished our last transects in the south today out of Swift Current and Regina. After this morning, we head north to work several transects out of Saskatoon. The south has been interesting, with many areas a bit dryer than last year, but some areas with really good moisture. The ducks are in the south in good numbers and the water is there to provide good nesting conditions, but not quite at the same levels as last year. There also isn’t quite as much moisture in the fields to prevent seeding in large areas, which provides good nesting cover for ducks, but we should still see a good nesting effort in southern Saskatchewan.

Counting Lots of Ducks and Ponds

Southern and Central Alberta
Written by Jim Bredy
Friday, May 17, 2013

Photo of Jim Bredy.This is the 26th season I have been flying surveys for the FWS. The days and the years seem to have blended into one long journey. It reminds me of some words in the final scene in the movie “A River Runs Through It” where the narrator states: “Eventually, all things merge into one”. I am extremely fortunate this year, in that I have the distinct pleasure of working again with one of the finest young waterfowl persons of my career as my crew member, Jay Hitchcock. Jay flew with me last year up here. It gives me a tremendous amount of pleasure to see fine young men like Jay, who are beginning to take charge of this great waterfowl resource I love so dearly. He is a certified “duck-head”, loves to work around ducks, can count ducks accurately from the air, and is just one of those pleasurable persons anyone would like to be around. We started the aerial surveys on May 9 near the Montana border. We have been extremely fortunate in that we have had decent enough weather to have been able to fly portions of at least eight straight days. Today the aircraft engines are undergoing an oil change and a “50 hour” preventative maintenance inspection. It is time to catch up on data transcribing and reports. We are currently based in Edmonton Alberta, and have one flight day left to finish the Southern Alberta portion of the survey, strata 26-29. After completing the area just north of Edmonton, it will be time to migrate up to “The Peace” country between Grande Prairie and Peace River, Alberta.

Dakotas Completed and the Dry Conditions Continue

Western Dakotas and Eastern Montana
Written by Rob Spangler
Thursday, May 16, 2013

Rob SpanglerWe’ve finished stratum 43 in North Dakota and conditions continue to be really dry. Wetland conditions improved around Bismarck and Dickinson, but overall they are still poor with many basins dry or at 20-30% capacity. I am very fortunate to have Jon Klimstra, my observer, with me this year and this is the driest he has seen it over the past few years. Additionally, the vegetation is still behind from the late winter and many of the ponds that exist are vacant or have low waterfowl densities. It is possible the birds kept flying north to nest in the excellent conditions found to the north in Canada. Oil and gas development has really taken off with many oil drilling rigs, pumps, tanks and roads spreading like wildfire across the landscape and we can’t help but wonder what the long term effects will be.

Back on Track

Southern Saskatchewan
Written by Jean-Michel DeVink
Thursday, May 16, 2013

Photo of Jean-Michel DeVink.Today we finished our wind-delayed transects. Conditions improved greatly and we’re back on track. The beginning of one of our transects has been invaded by oil and gas development. I counted five oil rigs drilling within sight of the beginning of our transect, and the gravel grid road the survey follows has been built up and improved, likely to accommodate heavy truck traffic. A few new wells are within the transect boundary, and some well pads and approaches have decimated a few smaller ponds. Conditions in the southcentral portion of the province are again good, but not excellent. Wind seems to have played a part in the distribution of snow on the landscape, as some sections are full of water while ones nearby look quite dry. Farmers are taking advantage of the dryer weather we’ve had for several weeks to treat and seed fields for hopefully another bumper year of production. It’s always good to have happy farmers when one goes to ask permission to hunt their fields in the fall, and a bumper crop year usually goes a long way to help with that.

Eastern Dakotas Ground Crew Making Good Progress

Eastern Dakotas
Written by Kammie Kruse
Wednesday, May 15, 2013

Photo of Kammie Kruse.The ground crew for the Eastern Dakotas crew area is off and running. We have one more transect to go in South Dakota and then we move on to North Dakota. I (Kammie Kruse, Wildlife Biologist with the Central Flyway in Denver, CO), am returning for my 11th survey on the Eastern Dakotas ground crew. I am joined this year by Joe Sands (Wildlife Biologist, Portland OR), James Hoskins (Biological Technician, Buffalo Lakes NWR, Texas) and Terry Quesinberry (Fish and Wildlife Biologist, Pierre, SD). Due to the late spring winter storms, the survey got a later start than expected, because cold weather and snow in the Dakotas and Canada delayed the spring migration. My first impression is that the wet conditions we have been experiencing the past few years seems to be tilting toward much drier conditions this year. Let's hope the habitat conditions are better in North Dakota.

Is It Too Windy? Yes, It Is

Southern Saskatchewan
Written by Jean-Michel DeVink
Wednesday, May 15, 2013

Photo of Jean-Michel DeVink.Today, we were in the southcentral part of the province on some more rigorous transects that traditionally hold lots of water. Unfortunately, we had high wind conditions that pushed the Standard Operating Proceedure (SOP) limits. We received a text at 5:45 this morning from our pilot, Phil Thorpe, indicating that winds were exceeding his limits, so he wouldn’t be flying. However, we had hope that the winds were lighter further south, where yesterday, Phil flew transects that we need to ground truth this morning or tomorrow morning at the latest. Our SOP gives us a maximum of 48 hours to run our ground surveys on any transects counted by air. If by chance we had two days of bad weather that prevented us from running our ground transects, the pilot and observer would have to fly the transects again. So, we headed out, hoping the weather gurus were correct that things were better south of Regina. As we arrived at our transects after a 1.5-hour drive, the wind hadn’t let up. After a few checks and double-checks with our handheld anemometer (see picture), and some discussion with other crews, we made the call that it was too windy. We’ll have to come back tomorrow.

Better Late Than Never!

Southern Saskatchewan
Written by Jean-Michel DeVink
Tuesday, May 14, 2013

Photo of Jean-Michel DeVink.We’re into our second day of the ground surveys in Southern Saskatchewan after a one-week delay from normal to account for the very late spring melt this year. It’s the complete opposite from what occurred last year and our very early start. On Day 1, we ground-truthed our southwestern transects, which were looking fairly decent with water in many ponds, but others being dry. We saw fairly decent numbers of birds in the southwest. Day 1 is always interesting as we get our minds and legs back into survey mode and test out the greenhorns. Conditions in the southwest were ahead of the rest of the province, with leaves already out on most trees. Farmers are also a bit ahead of the rest of the province, with seeders going full tilt.

Southern Manitoba Survey Begins-Stratum 39 Almost Complete!

Southern Manitoba and Southeastern Saskatchewan
Written by Sarah Yates
Tuesday, May 14, 2013

Sarah YatesWe made it into Brandon, Manitoba, (our base for the next couple of weeks) on May 15th. We had some weather delays in Maine and it took a couple of windy days ferrying to Brandon from Maine. So, this is definitely the latest start in this survey area to date. However, the late winter in this region delayed the birds as well, so all is in good order. In fact, we were still seeing snow piles on our flight to Brandon from western Ontario, and western Ontario is still covered in ice! We did a short recon flight on the way into Brandon on the 15th to check our transect width and have a look at a few birds along the way. Seeing mostly pairs of birds made us feel a bit better about the late start. Later that day we took a drive to see more on the ground…again lots of paired up birds, so another good sign. We officially started the survey yesterday (May 16), flying three lines in stratum 39 and four air-grounds. It felt good to get my first survey day in the left seat out of the way. Today (May 17th) we almost completed stratum 39 and if the weather holds we’ll have one more day to complete 39 and move into southeastern Saskatchewan. Habitat conditions in Stratum 39 are mixed. We have observed good conditions along most of the lines. The northern lines of 39 seem to have a higher percentage of dry basins, but according to ground crew leader Mark Shuster, this is normal. There is no sheet water on the landscape, but major rivers and basins are full if not flooded.

From Average to Awesome!

Southern and Central Alberta
Written by Garnet Raven
Tuesday, May 14, 2013

Photo of Garnet Raven.The Alberta ground survey crew has been able to complete stratum 29 and 28 in southern Alberta and is close to finishing stratum 27. Weather has cooperated and temperatures have been well above average for most of the last few days, allowing our pilot Jim Bredy and observer Jay Hitchcock to survey each day since we started on May 9th.

Alberta Ground Crew Begins Survey

Southern and Central Alberta
Written by Garnet Raven
Monday, May 13, 2013

Photo of Garnet Raven.The Alberta ground crew for the waterfowl breeding population and habitat survey gathered in Medicine Hat, Alberta, on Wednesday, May 8th. During the drive down from Edmonton we witnessed some good wetland conditions through the parklands. Conditions were variable further south, in the prairies. Although Alberta received good snowpack over the winter, it appears that much of the melt water is quickly getting absorbed by the thirsty soil. Our air crew, pilot Jim Bredy and observer Jay Hitchcock, was able to survey the two southernmost transects on the 9th so our ground crew was also able to begin the 2013 survey. Our Manyberries transect was about average for ducks and wetlands, while the Pakowki transect was quite dry.

Dry, Dry, and Almost Noth'n But Cow Pies

Western Dakotas and Eastern Montana
Written by Rob Spangler
Friday, May 10, 2013

Rob SpanglerWe’ve just finished stratum 44, and cow pie numbers are up and duck numbers are down. As ground crew leader Pam Garrettson already mentioned in her first report, water is scarce this year with drought conditions continuing this spring. Conditions in western South Dakota are poor at best. Many streams are dry, with a few puddles and basins holding about 0 to 30% of their capacity. Ponds that are holding water have very little vegetation for nesting cover, either because the moisture is not there or the vegetation has been grazed and trampled. We predict a bust year for stratum 44.

On Your Mark, Get Set...

Southern Saskatchewan
Written by Phil Thorpe
Friday, May 10, 2013

Photo of Phil Thorpe.We spent today driving south of Regina and tallying all ducks that we saw. After a few hours, the sample size got big enough that we could get an idea of species composition and social groupings. We came up with all species accounted for and early nesting species like mallards and pintails split with about 50% lone drakes and 50% pairs. This split is one of the indicators that we use to determine survey timing. Other indicators that we look for are presence and social groupings of blue-winged teal and gadwall. Blue-wings were present in good numbers and were common on our drive into the Missouri Coteau. This area is more of a breeding area for local ducks rather than some of the larger water bodies frequented by northern migrants. We observed most of the blue-wings in pairs and “spares,” meaning a pair and an extra lone drake. This is normal for them at this time since they nest a little later than mallards and pintails. Gadwall were also present in pairs and small groups. They are another late nester and many times can be seen in larger groups, along with wigeon during the early part of the survey. Their presence in the Coteau also indicates that these were probably local breeders. The survey sample that we collected along with observations taken during two reconnaissance flights all indicated that we should start the survey even though some of the habitat was still 2 weeks behind normal. Our plan is to start on May 11th.

Spring Comes Late to the Prairies

Western Dakotas and Eastern Montana
Written by Pam Garrettson
Thursday, May 09, 2013

Pam Garrettson.We started the ground survey portion of the Western Dakotas\Eastern Montana crew area on May 7th, about a week later than normal. Delayed starts are typical of the prairie crew areas this year, where a cold and snowy spring kept wetlands frozen, and set back duck breeding behavior. Survey timing is based on duck activity and should not commence until early-nesting species have settled on territories. Hence the later survey starts. This crew area tends to run about 3-7 days earlier than others. My colleague Brent West and I are set to survey portions of the much larger transects that the air crew will fly. This provides a correction factor for waterfowl not seen from the plane. We’ll keep you posted on how things are looking here; be sure to check for updates from other crew areas to get the big picture.

It's Been a Long Winter

Southern Manitoba and Southeastern Saskatchewan
Written by Sarah Yates
Wednesday, May 08, 2013

Sarah YatesIt’s been a long winter up here in northern Maine and an even longer winter in Manitoba this year. At this time last year I was already surveying southern Saskatchewan as Phil Thorpe’s observer (best observer he’s ever had). It was one of the earliest springs they’d had in in more than fifty years. This year, we are predicting one of the latest starts to the survey. I believe, according to Canadian Wildlife Service (CWS) ground crew leader Marc Shuster, May 13th is the latest start date on record in southern Manitoba. This year, a May 12th start is anticipated, but it may be later. So we may tie or surpass the record. I’ve attached a picture of snow cover in Manitoba on April 27th, the landscape still covered in a foot or more of snow (Figure1). I’ve also attached a recent photo of snow cover from May 8th (Figure 2). According to multiple CWS sources scattered throughout the prairies, they are a month behind schedule northeast of Saskatoon, with an abundance of arctic birds still passing through (JM Devink, CWS). I was planning on leaving from Maine with John Bidwell (retired Biologist-Pilot) today, May 8th. However, we’ve been delayed again due to survey logistics. For now, I wait for the word.

N705 Is Back in Home Territory

Western Dakotas and Eastern Montana
Written by Rob Spangler
Wednesday, May 08, 2013

Rob SpanglerAfter a hiatus of a few years, N705 returns once again to fly the hills of the Western Dakotas and Eastern Montana for the Waterfowl Breeding Population and Habitat Survey. Both the former Chief, Jim Volzer, and Pilot/Biologist Ray Bentley flew N705, a turbocharged, retractable gear 182 built by Cessna in the year I graduated from high school. I met up with my aerial observer, Jon Klimstra, to test our computer system and tune up our duck ID and transect width. Jon has flown the survey the past few years and he will be a great help to me as I am new to this crew area. We spent a day with our ground crew, Pam Garrettson and Brent West, to go over logistics and track the breeding chronology. It looks like conditions are perfect to start. The divers and geese have moved north and we are seeing pairings of mallard, gadwall, shoveler, blue-winged teal, and northern pintail.

Survey Planning - Spring Is Delayed

Southern Saskatchewan
Written by Phil Thorpe
Wednesday, May 08, 2013

Photo of Phil Thorpe.The coordination and planning for my 16th waterfowl breeding population and habitat survey (BPOP) in Southern Saskatchewan began about a month ago in earnest. Talks with the Canadian Wildlife Service (CWS) biologists that I work with centered on how late spring phenology was, the amount of snow and ice on the landscape, and the lack of our main survey participants – the ducks! In mid-April the CWS ground crew biologists started to survey selected transects each week to determine species composition, abundance and social groupings. By late April things were still 2-3 weeks behind “normal.”

2013 Breeding Population and Habitat Survey Begins!

Eastern Dakotas
Written by Terry Liddick
Sunday, May 05, 2013

Terry LiddickWell, we are off and counting. The Eastern Dakotas crew met in Mitchell, SD, on May 5th. This year the aircrew is once again Terry Liddick as the pilot and Dave Fronczak as the observer. This will mark the 3rd consecutive year we have been the aircrew for the E Dakotas. Kammie Kruse is once again the ground crew leader and this year she is joined by an all new crew consisting of James Hoskins, Joe Sands and Terry Quesinberry.

Nearly Ready to Begin

Southern and Central Alberta
Written by Jim Bredy
Saturday, May 04, 2013

Photo of Jim Bredy.The long winter of 2012/2013 slowly dissipated during the month of April, with some communities in Southern Alberta recording temperatures in the low 20 C range towards the end of the month. However, the last few days of April saw winter return with a vengeance (see http://www.theweathernetwork.com/news/articles/damaging-wind-storm-forces-evacuations-in-alberta/5633/ and http://www.theweathernetwork.com/news/articles/heavy-snow-whiteout-conditions-hit-the-prairies/5671/). This slowed down the already rapidly advancing waterfowl breeding activities. My departure for the surveys was delayed as this same storm system moved through parts of the US. I finally departed Albuquerque, New Mexico, in the early morning of Friday, May 3. It was a smooth ride as I rode through the trailing edge of a high pressure system. I made a fuel/lunch stop in Cody, Wyoming. As I continued north, I crossed a cold front south of Great Falls, Montana, and chose to spend the night there.

Southern and Central Alberta Habitat Preview

Southern and Central Alberta
Written by Jim Bredy
Thursday, March 07, 2013

Photo of Jim Bredy.The habitat conditions during the May survey of 2012 were drier than the previous May survey of 2011.

Atlantic Population Canada Goose Survey in the Bag

Ungava Peninsula
Written by Mark Koneff
Wednesday, June 20, 2012

Photo of Mark Koneff.We departed Kuujjuaq on the Ungava Bay side of the Peninsula on June 17 and surveyed our way across to Purvirnituq on the Hudson Bay side. During the transit we also surveyed an experimental transect across previously un-surveyed interior regions. The Atlantic Flyway, Canadian Wildlife Service, and US Fish and Wildlife Service are utilizing the 20-year time series of information we now have for this goose population to improve the stratification of the survey. The experimental interior line, as well as several experimental lines in sparsely surveyed areas on the Hudson Bay coastline, will provide data on goose breeding densities in these areas and ensure they are aligned with the appropriate survey strata. Goose breeding densities are considerably higher along much of the Hudson Bay coast than in the interior or along the Ungava Bay. The region from Akulivik south past Purvirnituq and on to Inukjuak is a particularly important breeding area. Habitat conditions at the time of the survey were good; however, spring along the Hudson Bay coast was considerably colder than in the east, causing snow and ice to persist longer. Consistent westerly winds while we were on the Hudson coast caused morning fog and chilly, damp conditions during our brief stay. Despite this, we had decent flying and on June 20 we completed the survey and started home, arriving back in Bangor on June 21. Now the process of data error checking and estimation begins, and final decisions on survey re-stratification must be made. It will be a couple of weeks before final estimates are available to inform hunting regulations decisions.

Finished with the Ungava Bay Side

Ungava Peninsula
Written by Mark Koneff
Saturday, June 16, 2012

Photo of Mark Koneff.Today we finished up surveying the eastern portion of the Atlantic Population Canada Goose survey area on the Ungava Peninsula, Quebec. Habitat conditions across the east were good and geese were well distributed on breeding territories. Groups of geese were observed in southern portions of the survey area. These birds are believed to be molt-migrant resident geese from the U.S. Ice and snow were a bit more persistent (as usual) in the northeastern part of the survey area around Quataq. Interesting observations today near Quataq were several muskox and 3 beluga whales offshore. The observation of muskox was the furthest north ever during this survey. Muskox were released from captivity in Kuujjuaq in the 1980s and their population has expanded on the Ungava, so much so that a limited hunt is now allowed. Storms now prevent us from moving to the west side (Hudson Bay) of the peninsula to continue the survey, so we are back in Kuujjuaq. Next we’ll survey across the peninsula and move our “home base” to Purvirnituq on the shore of the Hudson Bay. The survey gets more interesting at that point, as goose densities are much greater on the Hudson Bay side of the survey area than on the Ungava Bay side.

Atlantic Population Canada Goose Survey

Ungava Peninsula
Written by Mark Koneff
Tuesday, June 12, 2012

Photo of Mark Koneff.Long-time biologist-observers Bill Harvey (Maryland), Jean Rodrigue (Quebec) and I arrived in Kuujjuaq, Quebec, on the southwest shore of Ungava Bay on June 12. Bill and I left Bangor, Maine, on June 11, met up with Jean, and over-nighted in Sept-Iles, Quebec, since we were unable to secure lodging for the 11th in Kuujjuaq. We flew a few survey transects south and east of Kuujjuaq on the way north and arrived in Kuujjuaq to very uncharacteristically hazy, hot, and humid conditions. We had some unwanted excitement while trying to secure our Quest Kodiak Amphibian on the ramp in Kuujjuaq in a thunderstorm and associated microburst. Thankfully, the plane and crew came through safely so we can continue the survey of this important goose population. Around Kuujjuaq, spring phenology appears advanced from 2011, with leaves already appearing on willows and other deciduous shrubs and all wetlands free of ice cover.

Western Ontario and Eastern Quebec Completed

Western Ontario and Northcentral Quebec
Written by Jim Wortham
Friday, June 08, 2012

Jim Wortham.This year I have the most patient observer in the survey. Between waiting for me to attend a funeral , filling in on some harbor seal surveys, and waiting for our aircraft to undergo a mid-survey mechanical inspection, Scott Boomer has been very gracious in remaining focused and dedicated to the survey while being away from his family.

Foggy Mountain Breakdown

Northern Alberta, Northeastern British Columbia and Northwest Territories
Written by Walt Rhodes
Thursday, June 07, 2012

Walt RhodesThe loss of two music icons this year has left a huge void in the bluegrass world, and I couldn’t help but hum one of their songs as I watched the weather in the far north. Earl Scruggs, while paired with Lester Flatt, made the instrumental “Foggy Mountain Breakdown” famous with the banjo, but to hear Doc Watson pick it on the guitar was equally pleasing to the ear. The far north isn’t rugged in a Rockies sense, but the Mackenzie Delta is bounded by 5,500-foot peaks and the tundra outside of Inuvik, Northwest Territories, is rolling with as much as 1,000 feet of relief. Nearing the end of the survey with sea fog rolling overhead, mountains invisible across the Delta, and no reporting stations nearby, I could only surmise that the tundra bumps were shrouded as well. Since daylight isn’t an issue in the Land of the Midnight Sun, it was merely time to sit back and hope updated satellite shots and maybe a pilot report from a high-flying cargo hauler would reveal the fog was breaking down.

The Cost of "Green" Energy

Western Ontario and Northcentral Quebec
Written by Jim Wortham
Tuesday, June 05, 2012

Jim Wortham.We are now in northern Quebec, our Stratum 69 which encompasses those areas north of the boreal and sandwiched in between Labrador to the east and the Hudson and James Bays to the west. This area is scarred by glaciers, leaving a broad rocky landscape characterized by thousands of small lakes and string bogs. This is caribou country and the herds traverse this landscape annually leaving many well-worn trails in the lichens. Here we expect to find “black and white” ducks including scoters, oldsquaw, goldeneyes, and mergansers, but this area is rich in black duck habitat as well.

Final Thoughts on the 2012 BPOP

Eastern and Northern Ontario
Written by Stephen D. Earsom
Saturday, June 02, 2012

Photo of Stephen D. Earsom.My part of the 57th annual breeding population and habitat survey is now complete. We covered almost 9,000 miles in 17 days of flying, overnighted in 13 places and nearly shook our eye teeth loose in the process. While clouds and precipitation did little to slow us down this year – I even had to take a mandatory rest day because the string of good weather we had – there was no shortage of winds and turbulence. We had to discontinue surveys a couple of times due to winds, and even changed our destination one day due to unfavorable conditions at our planned landing site. Generally, though, we contended with shakes and bumps that, while uncomfortable at times, were still safe and within our operating procedures.

A Salute to My Dad

Eastern and Northern Ontario
Written by Stephen D. Earsom
Wednesday, May 30, 2012

Photo of Stephen D. Earsom.If there’s one thing I’ve learned in adulthood, it’s to be thankful for the good upbringing my parents gave me, and to appreciate every moment I spend with them on the phone and in person.

“There It Is! Hello Old Friend!”

Southern and Central Alberta
Written by Jim Bredy
Tuesday, May 29, 2012

Photo of Jim Bredy.After finishing flying the duck surveys in our respective crew areas, due to a plane malfunction, FWS Biologist/Pilot Rob Spangler and I were asked to fill in and fly the Northern Manitoba spring duck surveys. As we were flying along a transect near Cross Lake, we broke off line and flew north to the Cross Lake Narrows. We searched a bit, and as we got closer, I finally shouted out in excitement: “THERE IT IS!!” “It” is a 12’ X 12’ trapper’s cabin, where I spent the month of August in 1993 and 1994 trapping and banding ducks. They were some of the most challenging, and yet enjoyable, times I have had with the FWS in my 25 year tenure with this wonderful outfit.

North for the Final Push; May 23-30

Northern Saskatchewan, Northern Manitoba
Written by Mike Rabe
Monday, May 28, 2012

Mike RabeAfter all the troubles we had early in the survey, we finally hit our stride this week. The plane ran great on the ferry north, the weather cooperated, and we had little trouble with the remaining transects. Spring has just sprung in Northern Saskatchewan; the ducks are paired up and the ice has disappeared from the smaller waters. This is the land of black and white ducks: scaup, goldeneye, and bufflehead mostly. So what was that single drake pintail I counted on the last day doing there? I am sure his hen was in the weeds nearby. The insects are just beginning to come out (we can tell that from how dirty the windshield gets by the end of the day). Only the bigger lakes still had ice and it was going out fast. Our last stop was Stony Rapids, where we finished the last transects in record time. Kevin and I were glad to head back south on May 29 and even then, things went well. Smooth air and tailwinds followed us all the way to Bismarck. This year’s survey proved the advice my grandfather gave me years ago--persistence is the only quality that guarantees success in every endeavor.

Pilot Paparazzi

Northern Alberta, Northeastern British Columbia and Northwest Territories
Written by Walt Rhodes
Monday, May 28, 2012

Walt RhodesWhen you fly an orange airplane, especially a big one on floats, you tend to attract a lot of attention. It’s a rare day if we land at an airport, no matter how remote, and no one comes up and wonders what we’re doing. Caleb is great about answering everyone’s questions, which allows me to tend to fueling or securing the plane. But no matter how popular everyone tends to make us feel, you have to remain humble, because there are always others who are larger. As AC DC sang, it’s a long way to the top.

It's Not About the Plane

Northern Alberta, Northeastern British Columbia and Northwest Territories
Written by Walt Rhodes
Friday, May 25, 2012

Walt RhodesOne of the most fortunate aspects of this job is being able to aerially observe waterfowl across all of the habitats in North America over their entire annual cycle. As exciting as that seems, there’s additional perks to the job. What I like is meeting all of the different people. Everyone has a story if you take the time to listen, and the folks I have come across are as diverse as the waterfowl and the habitats we survey.

Northern Alberta Complete

Northern Alberta, Northeastern British Columbia and Northwest Territories
Written by Walt Rhodes
Friday, May 25, 2012

Walt RhodesWith an early spring on the prairies, it was a little disconcerting to be sitting home while the other crews were busy afield. But when you fly in the north you have to resist the urge to begin surveying and give the birds time to arrive. Caleb Spiegel and I met in Minneapolis on 16 May, and started flying north the next day. We had a fuel stop in Devils Lake, North Dakota, and grabbed some lunch with the eastern Dakota crew, who had finished their crew area that morning. That afternoon we cleared customs in Saskatoon, Saskatchewan, and visited with the southern Saskatchewan crew. They had one day of surveying remaining when we arrived. There’s that disconcerting feeling again.

Done, But Not Done

Southern and Central Alberta
Written by Jim Bredy
Friday, May 25, 2012

Photo of Jim Bredy.Jay Hitchcock and I finished the survey area yesterday morning. It was a total joy and pleasure working with this dedicated wildlife biologist and avid waterfowl man from White River National Wildlife Refuge in Arkansas. I have described my impressions of the survey and habitat conditions with the previous posts and photographs. In summary, there are significantly fewer ponds than last year. Several spring storms assisted in maintaining water levels in ponds, which will be beneficial to nesting waterfowl. Our raw duck count showed more ducks than last year, in part due to good 2011 production, and a lower than expected harvest during the last hunting season. Other neighboring habitat areas are also dry, making the returning birds more concentrated on the present water. The production and fall flight will be dependent in part on the continuing spring storms and the quality of the wetlands throughout the summer brood rearing period.

Saskatchewan Ground Crew Survey Summary

Southern Saskatchewan
Written by Jean-Michel DeVink
Thursday, May 24, 2012

Photo of Jean-Michel DeVink.Well, another May breeding waterfowl population survey in southern SK has come and gone. This year was very different than last year for several reasons. First, spring conditions in SK started out very advanced through late winter and into early spring, and that meant the earliest scheduled start date for surveys in our crew area. Arrival dates of most waterfowl were weeks ahead of normal and paired ducks and geese were settling on nesting ponds soon after the official start of spring. Things always have a way of changing in a hurry on the prairies, though, and by mid-April we saw cooler weather bring most things, like bud burst on trees and insect emergence, back on track. The second difference was that CWS implemented changes to the level of effort for the ground comparison segments of the survey in the Prairies. In southern SK, our reduced effort meant that we were running our surveys with smaller crews. Instead of the previous 3 crews of 3, we had crews of 2, 2 and 3. While this occasionally resulted in eliminating a transect, it often resulted in smaller crews running transects that were previously done by a crew of 3. It also meant that there were fewer people for data entry once back at the hotel after transects, so everyone rolled up their sleeves and focused on getting it done. The third reason things were quite different from last year: water. I should say, rather, the lack thereof. By the end of the winter, many in the prairies were throwing around the dreaded “D” word. Precipitation maps were certainly indicating drought conditions over the last six months. The end of winter and early spring did bring some much needed water, though. During surveys many of our transects in the Southeast and Northeast had decent water, thanks to some late winter/early spring precipitation, but much of the western portion was still relatively dry. Some of the western transects had very disappointing pond counts with as high as 80% of pond basins being dry.

Heading Home - Conditions Generally Good

Maine and Atlantic Canada
Written by Mark Koneff
Tuesday, May 22, 2012

Photo of Mark Koneff.We wrapped up the Maine and Atlantic Canada crew area today in Labrador and ferried halfway home, stopping in Sept-Iles, Quebec for the evening. Snow and ice still cling to the higher elevations in Labrador, particularly above 2000 feet MSL. The thaw is well underway, however, and some local flooding of wetlands was observed throughout Labrador. In general, conditions are good for breeding waterfowl. I think we completed the survey of this crew area in record time this year…started April 29, finished May 22, including a return trip to Bangor for a 100-hour aircraft inspection. I’ll take it after taking 6 weeks to complete the survey during the wet/cold spring of 2011! Now I’m headed home to Bangor tomorrow, where I’ll prepare to survey the Canada Goose Atlantic Population on the Ungava Peninsula in northern Quebec in June. Stay tuned for that…

Almost Done

Southern and Central Alberta
Written by Jim Bredy
Tuesday, May 22, 2012

Photo of Jim Bredy.I echo Phil Thorpe’s (Southern Saskatchewan Crew Area) recent narrative about weather delays becoming harder to deal with towards the end of the survey. With only 15 segments left to fly (an easy morning’s flight), we are grounded in Grande Prairie, Alberta, due to rain, low ceilings and wind. It has been a long haul this year, due to unscheduled aircraft maintenance, a mandatory preventative maintenance inspection (for you airplane enthusiasts, the “100 hour”), several days of snow, rain and wind. The good news is that we are still alive. Flying in inclement weather kills pilots every year. As much as we love what we do, I echo the most memorable quote of my 25 year tenure with the FWS Pilot fraternity. The quote was by retired FWS Flyway Biologist, Jim Goldsberry, as he was mentoring me and advising me of the importance of getting the job done. “Remember, they are only ducks. They are not worth risking your life over.”

You Take Mine and I'll Take Yours

Northern Saskatchewan, Northern Manitoba
Written by Mike Rabe
Tuesday, May 22, 2012

Mike RabeIn aviation, you always have a plan B (and C, and D). After consulting with Jim Wortham (Aviation Branch Chief for FWS population surveys) Kevin and Jim come up with plan B. We will return to Bismarck and pick up Terry Liddick’s plane. Terry finished his survey in the Dakotas last week, so his plane is ready and proven. Even though this is not really a safety issue, it could become a problem should we continue north of Fort McMurray with our current airplane. Our next stop, Stony Rapids, has no mechanic to fix a broken alternator belt. Being stuck in Stony rapids waiting for a mechanic to fly in and fix the plane would not help speed along the survey effort. So this is the right decision.

Groundhog Day?

Northern Saskatchewan, Northern Manitoba
Written by Mike Rabe
Saturday, May 19, 2012

Mike RabeNorth (and west) to Fort McMurray Alberta, May 18 - I love basing out of La Ronge, but like all good things, it has to end. Our third stop is Fort McMurray, Alberta; gateway to the tar sands. Known as “Fort Mac” to the locals, this is a boom-town full of new construction and filled up hotels. If you don’t plan this arrival, you could end up sleeping in the plane. Fortunately, like most pilots, Kevin is a compulsive planner and we have rooms waiting when we get here. We don’t have any survey transects to fly in Alberta, but Fort Mac is in eastern Alberta, near the western end of our survey area in Saskatchewan and a convenient base of operations for this leg. We park the plane at McMurray Aviation, which has a well-equipped shop. The mechanic works nights keeping their fleet going, and since the plane is due for an oil change, Kevin schedules it for that evening. This is perfect; the plane gets maintenance at night and we survey by day. In the morning, they inform Kevin that the mechanic found the alternator belt was flipped upside down on its pulley and he replaced it. This is a bit disconcerting to Kevin, since he had alternator belt issues getting to Bismarck and he is worried. I’m not. I am counting ducks in northern Saskatchewan in spring and flying every day. My wife tells me it is over 100 degrees in Phoenix; it is only getting into the mid 60s here. Life is good.

2012 Survey Finished—Ended with a Fizzle

Southern Manitoba and Southeastern Saskatchewan
Written by Rob Spangler
Saturday, May 19, 2012

Rob SpanglerWe have now completed the 2012 Southern Manitoba and Southeastern Saskatchewan BPOP survey, and were rewarded with mostly good weather. Most days were eat, sleep and fly; eat, sleep and fly—and then try to keep up with data and computer issues that cropped up along the way. One day we put on over 1,100 miles, covering a diverse array of habitat. Unfortunately, instead of finishing the survey with a bang, we ended with a fizzle. Our last two strata, 37 and 38, were the driest with only 15-25% of the basins wet. The areas west of Lake Winnipeg will likely suffer the most with a prediction of poor waterfowl production.

Eastern Dakotas Wrapped Up

Eastern Dakotas
Written by Kammie Kruse
Saturday, May 19, 2012

Photo of Kammie Kruse.We wrapped up the ground survey for the Eastern Dakotas crew area today in the northwest part of North Dakota. It was interesting because part of the transect was drier than it has been in past few years, but then we got to the middle of the segment and suddenly there was a lake across the road. In my 10 years of conducting the survey on this Air-Ground, we have never been flooded out in this area! Once we got around the flooded area and came in from the west side, we encountered lots of diving ducks, gadwalls, pintails and mallards, that must have been attracted to the flooded wetlands that actually had expanded over cropland. It just goes to show that is why we do these surveys every year, because the habitat and duck distribution are always changing. My overall impression from this year of counting ducks from the ground is that we counted a lot of ducks, but in fewer wetlands than in the past couple years. I could not believe how many ducks some of these small wetlands were holding….blue-winged teal galore.

Southern Saskatchewan Survey Complete!

Southern Saskatchewan
Written by Phil Thorpe
Friday, May 18, 2012

Photo of Phil Thorpe.Sarah and I finished up the 2012 survey today. The forecasters were a little optimistic on their printed forecast and some weather early on required some in-flight planning and re-routing, but we got the last transects done. We had ideal survey conditions with cloud cover (clouds help eliminate sun glare that can make species identification difficult) and calm winds.

Survey Begins in Western Ontario/Northern Quebec

Western Ontario and Northcentral Quebec
Written by Jim Wortham
Friday, May 18, 2012

Jim Wortham.Our crew consists of Jim Wortham, Chief of the Migratory Bird Surveys Branch and Dr. Scott Boomer of the Population and Habitat Assessment Branch. We have been flying surveys in Ontario and Quebec for the past eight years and have seen many changes in yearly habitat conditions and bird response to these areas.

Eastern Dakotas are Complete

Eastern Dakotas
Written by Terry Liddick
Friday, May 18, 2012

Terry LiddickWell, after a rainy and windy start, we were able to complete the eastern Dakota’s survey area on May 17th! Since our last blog, when we were moving from Aberdeen, SD, to Jamestown, ND, we only lost one day to weather and flew 11 out the past 12 days! That is the upside, well, that and the fact that we are finished with the survey. The downside is North Dakota continued to be as dry as we first witnessed as I flew from Aberdeen to Jamestown. Habitat conditions in North Dakota are not as good as South Dakota, and they weren’t great in South Dakota!

A Day in the Life

Northern Saskatchewan, Northern Manitoba
Written by Mike Rabe
Friday, May 18, 2012

Mike RabeOn a typical day, we base out of a town close to the survey transects, leave every morning and return in the evening. Every night we listen to the recordings of the ducks we saw that day (we record ourselves counting out loud) and transcribe those into a file that the statisticians can read and analyze at a later date. The memories from last year’s survey come flowing back. I recognize some of the lakes and landscape we flew over last year and rewire my brain to work the transcribe program. The boreal forest is huge. We sometimes fly an hour without seeing any roads or any signs of human activity. Moving through this country on foot, or even by ATV, would be almost impossible in spring and summer. Below the black spruce (stunted in many areas because the ground is saturated) are miles and miles of muskeg. Trying to hike through this would be pretty miserable. I can see game trails where moose, woodland caribou, or bear have moved through. The trails have all become small rivulets, filled with water. The “solid” ground between lakes is like a huge saturated sponge and is pretty flat. The rivers are all low-gradient affairs, winding along with minimal flow. This is not the American West I grew up in—there are no rapids here. Most people only venture into this country in winter when the ground is frozen. It belongs to the water, wildlife and mosquitoes in summer. I am glad we are 150 feet above it, moving too fast for the mosquitoes to find us. Ducks like it, though, and we see enough to keep us busy. I see more divers in a day here than I see in a whole season of duck hunting back in Arizona. Guess ducks really do like water…

La Ronge Waterbase

Northern Saskatchewan, Northern Manitoba
Written by Mike Rabe
Thursday, May 17, 2012

Mike RabeWe finished the transects north of Prince Albert and moved north to La Ronge, Saskatchewan. Because there is a water base in La Ronge, and we are in a float plane, we end up docking the float plane at the water base each evening. This way, instead of having to rent a car to get back and forth, we have a 5-minute walk to the dock in the morning and the same in the afternoon. The exercise is welcome after a day of sitting in a bouncing airplane looking down for hours, scanning for ducks. Survey is mentally taxing but you don’t get much physical exercise. Your eyes are moving constantly but the rest of your body just sits (or bounces, depending on turbulence). I do get some exercise pumping the floats dry every morning. Pilots analyze and worry about weather, examine the plane every day for airworthiness, plan survey routes, fly, and count ducks. Observers clean windshields, pump floats, and count ducks. Pumping floats is a small price to pay for water landings. Not everyone likes small airplanes, but if you do, it is hard to beat landing and taking off in a floatplane. I love it!

Done for the Year—Not as Good as 2011

Western Dakotas and Eastern Montana
Written by Shawn Bayless
Thursday, May 17, 2012

Shawn BaylessJon and I finished the last transect today and are headed home tomorrow. Habitat conditions since we arrived in central Montana have been poor to fair. All temporary and seasonal basins are dry, most type III and type IV wetlands are only half full, and most stock ponds are, at most, only half full. As one would expect, we counted ducks on existing water, but I think it is safe to say production here will be less than normal. Additionally, many CRP fields have been sprayed and/or burned preparatory to tillage, which obviously does not bode well for any upland nesting birds.

Another Weather Delay

Southern Saskatchewan
Written by Phil Thorpe
Wednesday, May 16, 2012

Photo of Phil Thorpe.We planned on starting the last survey stratum today, but winds once again have delayed us. The ground crew is in the northwest survey area with calm winds, which is good. We needed to go east and winds in the east are gusting to 30 knots. Curse the SOP. It seems that weather delays near the end of the survey are harder to deal with than the ones at the start of the survey. Wind delays are especially difficult to handle since you can be looking at a clear blue sky and calm winds where you are based. Rain is in the forecast for the next few days, so we are crossing our fingers that the forecast is wrong, or at the least, the rain is scattered.

Done on the Ground in Alberta

Southern and Central Alberta
Written by Garnet Raven
Wednesday, May 16, 2012

Photo of Garnet Raven.The Alberta ground survey crew was able to finish our last transect today. While surveying the parklands we found fewer ponds than last year, but more ducks. That was actually the trend throughout most of the survey. Although it was significantly dryer than last year, the ducks were still around in good numbers. As expected, good production last year combined with decent habitat conditions this spring has set the table for another good fall flight. All we need now is enough moisture throughout the rest of the spring and summer to provide adequate nesting and brood-rearing habitat.

Make Mine a Black and Tan

Eastern and Northern Ontario
Written by Stephen D. Earsom
Wednesday, May 16, 2012

Photo of Stephen D. Earsom.Some folks like amber, others nut brown, but in this part of Ontario you’d better like black and tan. The coniferous forests here exude tannins into every water body; small creeks, lakes and large rivers that would otherwise be crystal clear all have a dark brown hue to them. And the ducks, well they’re all variations on black: from the scoters to the scaup, bufflehead, ring-necks, the occasional long-tail and of courses black ducks…on some days even the mallards start looking a bit monochromatic. It’s all good though, as we continue to see habitat that ranges from good to occasionally excellent with most duck and goose species showing an increase from last year.

Southern Alberta Survey Portion Completed

Southern and Central Alberta
Written by Jim Bredy
Tuesday, May 15, 2012

Photo of Jim Bredy.Jay Hitchcock and I commenced the aerial portion of the survey near the Montana border on May 04. I am continually impressed by Jay’s aerial survey capabilities. In between a few weather delays, we finished the Southern Alberta portion (strata 26-29) on May 15. Our raw pond counts indicate fewer ponds than last year, with more birds present.

Newfoundland Completed

Maine and Atlantic Canada
Written by Mark Koneff
Tuesday, May 15, 2012

Photo of Mark Koneff.We completed the island of Newfoundland today, finishing up with the lines on the spectacularly beautiful northern peninsula. Out of Stephenville, NF, we crossed the rugged table-top mountains of Gros Morne National Park and descended into the coastal plain on the west side of the peninsula. This plain is rich in wetlands and is bordered by the Long Range Mountains running along the east side of the peninsula. We completed these survey lines, landing at St. Anthony, NF, for fuel before proceeding across the Belle Isle Straight to Labrador. We completed several lines in Labrador before stopping at Goose Bay for the evening. In lower elevations in southern Labrador little snow and ice was observed. More snow and ice were observed in higher elevations with some areas still locked in winter. Temperatures have exceeded 20 degrees C the past few days in Goose Bay, however, and the ice is melting quickly. As is typical, we’re seeing scaup, black ducks, Canada geese and other waterfowl in open water fringes and deltas as they await more suitable conditions to being breeding activity.

Weather is Good: Conditions are Mixed

Southern Manitoba and Southeastern Saskatchewan
Written by Rob Spangler
Monday, May 14, 2012

Rob SpanglerSince the last time Doug and I checked in we have finished strata 34, 36, 40 and 25. Strata 34 can be characterized by mostly good to excellent habitat with most basins full. The recent stretch of sunny weather has really pushed growth of vegetation and cover and that should help nesting birds. However, a few segments of stratum 34 around Regina would be described as only fair, with approximately half of the basins with water. As we moved north into stratum 36, there was a noticeable change in the availability of water. Production in this area will likely be much lower than further south, as the number of basins with water declined to 30-35%. This trend continued as we moved north into stratum 25 located near The Pas in central Manitoba and Saskatchewan where the percentage of wet basins averaged only 25-30%. We found better news in stratum 40 just northwest of Brandon, with an average of 75% wet basins.

Survey Starts in the Aspen Parklands

Southern Saskatchewan
Written by Phil Thorpe
Monday, May 14, 2012

Photo of Phil Thorpe.We started surveying the Aspen Parklands today. Wetland conditions were pretty dry along the Alberta border, but improve to the east towards Saskatoon. We ended the survey early because winds started blowing above 22 knots (25mph). The Standard Operating Procedures (SOP) for the survey limit us to surveying below those wind limits because: 1) it starts redistributing the birds to leeward shores and, 2) the air starts getting turbulent and the pilot-observer spends less time counting ducks and more time controlling the plane. You have to remind yourself that it’s a duck survey and if you’re doing a poor job counting ducks then you should stop surveying them. Tomorrow’s forecast looks better for flying and counting.

All the Usual Suspects

Northern Saskatchewan, Northern Manitoba
Written by Mike Rabe
Sunday, May 13, 2012

Mike RabeWe started out with a few hours of looking at ducks on Long Lake, which is north of Regina but still south of our survey area. It is always necessary to practice a little bit before the official survey begins. Both Kevin and I have counted ducks from aircraft for years (Kevin more than me) but it always takes a little while to get the eyes and brain both clicking along at 100 knots, our cruising speed for survey work. I come up to speed eventually (I may be slow but I am trainable) and Kevin is finally convinced that I know what I am doing. We head north to the survey area.

Where There Is Water, There Are Ducks!

Southern and Central Alberta
Written by Garnet Raven
Sunday, May 13, 2012

Photo of Garnet Raven.The Alberta ground survey crew has been able to survey at least one air-ground segment every day since beginning our survey on May 5th. High winds, rain and snow have caused our air crew to miss a couple of survey days, but fortunately it was on days when we had enough air-grounds already flown to keep us busy.

Conditions Look Good on “The Rock”

Maine and Atlantic Canada
Written by Mark Koneff
Sunday, May 13, 2012

Photo of Mark Koneff.The mandatory inspection on N769, our Quest Kodiak survey aircraft, was completed in Bangor, ME, on May 11. On May 12 we ferried from Bangor, across the Bay of Fundy, Nova Scotia, and the Gulf of St. Lawrence to Stephenville, on the southwest coast of Newfoundland. A persistent low pressure system has brought rain and low clouds to much of the island for the past week, but advanced far enough east by the afternoon of May 13 for us to begin the survey again. We flew 2 long survey lines across the center of the island. Moose and caribou were plentiful and habitat conditions for waterfowl looked good. All wetlands, even high altitude wetlands, were ice-free and very little snow remains (again only on the highest terrain). Observed conditions bode well for waterfowl production on the “Rock” this spring.

An Observer’sTale: Hurry Up and Wait

Northern Saskatchewan, Northern Manitoba
Written by Mike Rabe
Saturday, May 12, 2012

Mike RabeOn May 7 I flew from Phoenix, Arizona, to Bismarck, North Dakota, to meet my pilot, Kevin Fox, who is picking up the plane in Delaware and flying it here for the northern Saskatchewan-northern Manitoba surveys. Kevin flies planes for the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service in Alaska. I am the waterfowl biologist from Arizona Game and Fish Department. This is my third year helping the Fish and Wildlife Service as an observer for the May Breeding Population Survey. I was the observer last year in this same survey area. Last year’s survey pilot for this area, Walt Rhodes, is flying the Northwest Territories this year. I was eager to start the survey this year and looking forward to flying with Kevin. The plane was in the shop in preparation for the surveys, so we anticipated it would be in tip-top shape.

Manitoba Ground Crew Reaches the Home Stretch

Southern Manitoba and Southeastern Saskatchewan
Written by Marc Schuster
Saturday, May 12, 2012

Photo of Marc Schuster.The Manitoba Ground Crew arrived in Russell, Manitoba, today, which marks the home stretch of our Survey. So far, we have observed much drier conditions in Southwestern Manitoba compared to last year. The flooding conditions that prevailed last year have changed to normal to slightly drier than normal conditions. That coupled with the early spring experienced on the prairies made for ideal conditions for landowners to begin spring seeding. This was not the case in areas of southeastern SaskatchewaK near the US border, as well as areas near Yorkton, SK. Wet conditions still prevailed (see picture) and some localized flooding was still evident. One local landowner on the Grayson air-ground segment stated that his land experienced approximately 7 inches of rain just before freeze-up last fall. The dugout in his yard had over 16 feet of water in it! In some cases, this abundance of water made for ideal conditions for breeding waterfowl. On one survey area the ground crew counted a record number of ducks for that comparison segment (30 years data). Over the next few days we will be surveying the prairie pothole area near Minnedosa, MB, to complete the ground portion of the survey.

Fair to Good Duck Habitat in the Grasslands

Southern Saskatchewan
Written by Phil Thorpe
Saturday, May 12, 2012

Photo of Phil Thorpe.Sarah and I took our mandatory rest day today. After a string of 4 weather days, we finally started flying again and flew 6 straight days and covered lots of ground. We made the move to Saskatoon yesterday and are just about done with the grassland survey units. The recent rains have replenished water levels in many wetlands, but dry areas are still apparent and most of the grasslands appear only fair in regards to duck production. The Missouri Coteau, a unique ridge of glacial deposits that runs from South Dakota through Saskatchewan, has better wetland and upland habitat conditions and probably will be classified as having good potential for duck production. Even with the rains replenishing wetland levels and adding temporary wetlands to the landscape, the grassy margins that grew up around wetlands last year have been tilled under this year because water levels were lower and the mild spring allowed landowners to get out and work their fields. In some cases, the loss of these wetland margins is not all bad. Ducks tend to nest in the wetland margin when it is present. Duck predators can easily search this narrow band of cover, find hens and nests and destroy them. Larger tracts of upland cover are needed to allow ducks to have a chance at getting broods recruited into the population. Increasing fall crops has helped in some intense agricultural areas because the crops provide cover for early nesting species and farmers aren’t harvesting the crop until after the eggs have hatched and the brood has moved to a wetland. A win-win for farmers and ducks!

Ahead of Schedule

Western Dakotas and Eastern Montana
Written by Shawn Bayless
Thursday, May 10, 2012

Shawn BaylessWe are about a week ahead of last year's survey, due in large part to the uncommonly nice weather, but also to the early start of the survey. The ground crews have finished their air-ground segments (used to obtain visual correction factors) and have headed home. Only Jon and I remain and, if the nice weather persists, we should finish by the end of this week. Habitat conditions are somewhat variable, with fair-to-good values in ND, SD and NE Montana, and poor-to-fair values in north- and south-central Montana.

The Super Cub - A Blast From the Past!

Western Dakotas and Eastern Montana
Written by Shawn Bayless
Thursday, May 10, 2012

Shawn BaylessI wanted to take the opportunity to tell a little about our survey aircraft. The Super Cub (model PA-18) is a two seat, tandem aircraft made by Piper Aircraft since 1949. Piper discontinued production of the Cub in the 1980s, but a few other manufacturers currently produce similar models (Aviat Aircraft, Top Cub and others). Originally designed as a trainer, wildlife biologists have long recognized it for its superior visibility, slow survey speeds and short takeoff and landing capabilities. Ours, N704, belongs to Charles M. Russell National Wildlife Refuge in Lewistown, MT. We contracted a well known Super Cub rebuilder from Baker, MT, (Roger Meggers of Baker Air Service) to build one three years ago. He acquired a wrecked 1959 model and literally rebuilt it from the ground up. With the exception of the original dataplate, the entire aircraft is new, including fuselage, wings, empennage, engine, avionics and interior. He installed larger tires and extended, heavy duty landing gear as well as a baby bushwheel tailwheel , which allows us to operate on unimproved landing areas without concern of damaging the gear or prop. Top speed of our Cub is about 110 mph. Wish I knew the last time a Super Cub was used on this survey, but would guess in the 1960s. We are flying retro!

Weather is Challenging

Eastern Dakotas
Written by Terry Liddick
Wednesday, May 09, 2012

Terry LiddickIt’s the 9th of May and after daily struggles with weather, we finally finished South Dakota and moved up to Jamestown, ND. We were planning an early start this year—the first time the survey would have ever started in April. However, as kind as Mother Nature was over the winter and early spring, she started providing some much needed rain in April, and so far, May too. The first day of the survey was supposed to be 29 April. We were delayed by weather and finally flew the first day on 1 May, albeit only 1 segment (18 miles) before rain and low ceilings along with rapidly increasing winds forced an early return to Mitchell. We were able to fly again the next day, but were unable to fly the eastern-most 2 segments on the two most southern lines when once again, we ran into a wall of fog and low ceilings.

Conditions Excellent

Southern Manitoba and Southeastern Saskatchewan
Written by Doug Benning
Wednesday, May 09, 2012

Photo of Doug Benning.After starting our survey flights on May 2, we have lost only 1 day to poor weather so far—seven straight days of surveys to date and the weather forecast looks good for the remainder of this week. This survey area experienced a mild and dry late summer, fall and winter following the “gully washer” of a spring in 2011. However, along with the residual water from last year’s record conditions, heavy precipitation in April and early May across much of the unit has led to excellent wetland conditions across most areas surveyed to date. Both vegetative phenology and nesting chronology are timed normally, primarily due to the cool and wet conditions that prevailed in April following the mild early spring conditions prevalent in March. Between the recent moisture, the warming temperatures, and clearing skies this week, vegetative growth should progress rapidly and will very likely lead to better than average brood rearing vegetative cover. Combined with the abundant and full wetlands witnessed so far, we are expecting nesting success and brood survival to be excellent this year.

Maine and the Maritimes Completed

Maine and Atlantic Canada
Written by Mark Koneff
Wednesday, May 09, 2012

Photo of Mark Koneff.We completed Nova Scotia today and returned to Bangor, Maine, for a scheduled inspection of N769, the Quest Kodiak we are using on survey. With that, we’ve finished Maine and the Maritimes with only Newfoundland and Labrador remaining. We’ll depart for Newfoundland following the inspection. The portion of the crew area that we just completed experienced a relatively warm and dry winter and early spring. Snow totals were below normal and warm temperatures in early spring contributed to an early snow melt and ice-out. Waterfowl breeding phenology was somewhat earlier than normal throughout Maine and the Maritimes. Lack of snow or early spring precipitation resulted in low flows on rivers and streams in Maine and drier wetland conditions until heavy rains recharged wetlands and streams in late April. Exceptions were extreme northern Maine and northwestern New Brunswick, which did not receive as much late April rainfall as other areas. At the time we were surveying, habitats in most areas in Maine and the Maritimes were classified as good, and I’d expect a strong breeding effort and good success if favorable conditions persist through the brood-rearing period.

Amazing Courtship Flights

Eastern Dakotas
Written by Steve Olson
Wednesday, May 09, 2012

Photo of Steve Olson.When I was a kid growing up in Sartell, Minnesota, I used to see a lot of courtship flights among ducks along the Mississippi River. I used to wonder what that was all about. It was only when I worked for Ducks Unlimited in North Dakota one summer, during my undergraduate college program, that I finally put it all together. This entry chronicles both an epic and essential act of duck biology, and I hope will stir the feelings we all have as duck hunters, birders, biologists, and humans.

How's the Habitat?

Eastern and Northern Ontario
Written by Stephen D. Earsom
Wednesday, May 09, 2012

Photo of Stephen D. Earsom.The extremely mild winter we experienced in the Washington DC area was also felt in portions of our crew area. The early snow and ice melt has resulted in advanced runoff and infiltration, and we’re seeing a generally drier landscape than last year. However, southern Ontario and Quebec still have good habitat conditions – permanent lakes have plenty of water and most beaver ponds, while much lower than last year, are providing what the ducks need to have a successful year. Leaf-out is also somewhat ahead of last year, though as we’ve moved north (or up in elevation) we seem to catch up with the wave of spring.

Dakotas Nearly Done

Western Dakotas and Eastern Montana
Written by Shawn Bayless
Monday, May 07, 2012

Shawn BaylessAll the survey transects in South Dakota are complete, all but the northern-most transects in North Dakota are complete, and we've flown two days in southeastern Montana. Overall, wetland habitat conditions are fair-to-good, with a few areas in southern SD and southeast Montana rated as poor. We are currently grounded in Baker, MT, due to high winds, so we took the opportunity to complete scheduled maintenance on N704, the mighty Supercub.

Off and Running

Eastern and Northern Ontario
Written by Stephen D. Earsom
Monday, May 07, 2012

Photo of Stephen D. Earsom.The eastern Ontario crew is out of the chute and well on its way. My observer this year is Bill Berg. Bill is the Deputy Project Leader at the massive Charles M. Russell National Wildlife Refuge in Montana, the second largest NWR in the lower 48. Bill brings to the survey many years of hands-on wildlife experience, including waterfowl banding and aerial surveys. He’s a great asset and we’re lucky to have him. Welcome, Bill!

Southern Alberta Ground Crew Begins Survey

Southern and Central Alberta
Written by Garnet Raven
Saturday, May 05, 2012

Photo of Garnet Raven.The Alberta ground crew for the waterfowl breeding population and habitat survey gathered in Medicine Hat, Alberta, on Friday, May 4th. During the drive down from Edmonton we witnessed some good wetland conditions through the parklands. As we entered the southern prairies it was evident things were much dryer than last year. Waterfowl phenology appeared about right for beginning our survey. Our pilot, Jim Bredy, was able to survey the two southernmost transects on the 4th so our ground crew could begin on the 5th.

Weather Delays...

Southern Saskatchewan
Written by Phil Thorpe
Friday, May 04, 2012

Photo of Phil Thorpe.OK, so much for the early start. We are now on weather day number 3. Low ceilings and fog kept us grounded for another day. The forecast is not looking too good for the next several days, either. We might get another flight in by the time we normally start on 6 May! The good news is the rain is replenishing some of the wetlands. However, my wife doesn’t think of it as good news…

Maine is Behind Us

Maine and Atlantic Canada
Written by Mark Koneff
Friday, May 04, 2012

Photo of Mark Koneff.We finished Maine on May 3 and began surveys in northern New Brunswick today. Conditions in northeastern Maine and northern New Brunswick appear drier than they are in the more southerly regions of Maine. In contrast to the flooding observed last spring, the St. John River, which runs through Fredericton, NB, remains within its banks. Like Maine, New Brunswick and the other Maritime Provinces received relatively little snow this past winter. Next, we’ll complete southern New Brunswick, Prince Edward Island, and Nova Scotia before heading back to Bangor for a few days for an aircraft inspection. Following that we’ll be on to Newfoundland and Labrador.

We’re Off and Running (Flying) in Southern Manitoba and Southeast Saskatchewan

Southern Manitoba and Southeastern Saskatchewan
Written by Rob Spangler
Thursday, May 03, 2012

Rob SpanglerAfter waiting out the weather for a few days, on April 30th I finally made it out of Denver and flew up to Brandon, Manitoba, to stage for this year’s survey. With the early spring, we were anxious to get started. Doug Benning will be accompanying me this year to help show me the ropes. After meeting Doug in Brandon, we spent a couple days troubleshooting computer issues, flying a known-width transect to calibrate our eyes, and testing our duck identification skills. Even though Doug is a retired pilot biologist, he is still bursting with energy and enthusiasm for this year’s survey. He had already driven over 200 miles identifying ducks and determining the progression of this year’s breeding chronology and had it summarized for me when I landed! Although it was an early Spring, we appeared to have timed the start of our survey perfectly.

Hurry Up - Then Wait

Eastern Dakotas
Written by Kammie Kruse
Tuesday, May 01, 2012

Photo of Kammie Kruse.The early spring had us all scrambling to move up our travel plans to participate on the ground crew for the Eastern Dakotas survey area. Unfortunately, all good plans can always be spoiled by Mother Nature, and after hurrying to get into the field, we were weathered out our first 2 days. But we finally got our first Air-Ground Transect under our belts on May 1st. This is my 10th year participating on the Eastern Dakotas ground crew and I took over the crew leader responsibilities. Last year I went over to the Western Dakotas/Eastern Montana crew area to learn a new area and see how the survey is conducted over there. It was a big change over there but I was very interested to get back to the Eastern Dakotas and see how the wetlands looked after the record high water year last summer that were greatly diminished by the mild fall and winter.

And We're Off!

Southern Saskatchewan
Written by Phil Thorpe
Tuesday, May 01, 2012

Photo of Phil Thorpe.We flew our first survey lines today in southern Saskatchewan. There isn’t much temporary water, but the seasonal and semi-permanent wetlands had suitable water levels and ducks were counted in good numbers. All species were present and late migrants (i.e., gadwall, wigeon) were already in pairs and groups of 3-4 birds. We even saw a few Ruddy ducks, which tend to be late arrivers onto the breeding grounds.

Survey Started Fast

Western Dakotas and Eastern Montana
Written by Shawn Bayless
Monday, April 30, 2012

Shawn BaylessMy observer Jon Klimstra and I just completed the first two transects west of Pierre, SD, today. Survey timing is a bit earlier than normal this year due to the balmy spring we've enjoyed, which seems to have kicked the breeding behavior into high gear this week. We are flying a FWS-owned Supercub (PA-18). This is the first time a Cub has been used for this survey in a long time, but we had no other options due to lack of other available fleet aircraft.

Back to the Eastern Dakotas

Eastern Dakotas
Written by Terry Liddick
Monday, April 30, 2012

Terry LiddickThe 2012 Waterfowl Breeding Population and Habitat Survey is upon us and we are ready to go. This year, the aircrew is the same as 2011, with myself as the pilot for the second year in the Eastern Dakotas and joined again by Dave Fronczak as the observer. I am pleased to have Dave back and we are looking forward to a great survey. The ground crew will be led this year by Kammie Kruse, who has many years of experience on the eastern Dakotas’ ground crew. Survey preparations began several months ago as I began watching the weather over what was an extremely mild and dry winter. I put my plane into maintenance on the 1st of April to prepare it with a fresh inspection.

Time to Survey the Atlantic Provinces

Maine and Atlantic Canada
Written by Mark Koneff
Sunday, April 29, 2012

Photo of Mark Koneff.My observer, Holly (Holiday) Obrecht, and I began the Maine and Atlantic Canada Crew Area today in Maine. Breeding habitat conditions in Maine thus far have been good and survey timing appears optimal. Winter in Maine and parts of Maritime Canada was relatively dry, particularly in comparison to the heavy snows experienced in the winter of 2010-2011. Spring, too, began warm and dry, however, temperatures in late April have been seasonal to cooler than average and several days of very heavy, and widespread, rain has recharged streams and wetlands. Here’s hoping for good flying weather and lots of birds in the easternmost crew area…

We’re Off! Nice Weather, Thunderstorms, and Gremlins

Southern and Central Alberta
Written by Jim Bredy
Sunday, April 29, 2012

Photo of Jim Bredy.I departed my home base of Albuquerque, NM, on April 23. High pressure was the dominating weather feature, with minimal winds at my cruising altitude of 12,500 feet. With an interim fuel stop in Big Piney, WY, I made it to Great Falls, MT, in a record time for me of 5 ½ hours. Weather en route was wonderful, with one of the smoothest cross country flights I have ever encountered for this route. The view of the Grand Tetons was spectacular as I flew by. I did, however, have to deviate around several afternoon thunderstorms between Jackson Hole, WY, and Great Falls, MT. With a maximum duty time of 8 hours of flight time/day, I was remarking how I could easily make it to Calgary, Alberta. However, that thought and silent statement of mine was my downfall. A “gremlin” got a-hold of my plane upon landing in Great Falls. I was delayed there for 5 days as I had some parts express-shipped in for unscheduled maintenance. I extend a VERY big thanks to the folks at Holman Aviation, especially Chuck Cottrell, who fixed the plane and got me quickly back up in the air. I finally departed on Saturday, April 28, and arrived in Calgary. I met my Observer, Jay Hitchcock, who flew in commercially from Arkansas. Jay is an ardent waterfowl man, who also is the Wildlife Biologist at the White River National Wildlife Refuge.

Changes in Crew; Changes in Conditions

Southern Saskatchewan
Written by Phil Thorpe
Thursday, April 26, 2012

Photo of Phil Thorpe.Sarah Yates (nee Folsom) and I arrived in Regina today. Sarah flew with Walt Rhodes in 2010 as his observer. Lots of things have happened to Sarah since that survey. She flew the better part of a year for a wildlife-related non-profit research company doing migratory bird telemetry flights over the Deepwater Horizon oil spill in Louisiana. She got married. In her spare time she had a baby boy. And most recently, she is our new wildlife biologist-pilot-in-training. Pat Devers, my observer for the last 3 years, is working on black duck harvest models and hopes to return to the survey in a year or two. In the meantime, Sarah will be training with me this May and reviewing procedures she already knows and maybe learning a few new tricks of the trade.

Spring is EARLY!

Southern Saskatchewan
Written by Phil Thorpe
Tuesday, April 24, 2012

Photo of Phil Thorpe.Well that was a crazy winter, or lack thereof. Spring has arrived early on the prairies. March was the warmest month on record for 25 states east of the Rockies. For an additional 15 states, the month ranked in the top 5 for warmest Marches. The winter as a whole across the US will go into the record books as the 4th warmest. Only the winters of 1991-1992, 1998-1999, and 1999-2000 were warmer.

Time Flies When You Are Having Fun!

Southern and Central Alberta
Written by Jim Bredy
Friday, March 23, 2012

Photo of Jim Bredy.Preparations are well underway for another spring of duck surveys in Canada. It is hard to believe my journey with the FWS Migratory Bird Survey group started almost a quarter of a century ago, in Southern Alberta. In that “short” time, I literally have flown over much of North America. I am glad that I still have the privilege of working this year in Alberta. It is a wildlife and water-fowler’s dream world, with a large variety of habitats, such as the short grass prairie to the south, transitioning to the aspen parklands, the boreal forest transition north of Edmonton, the “Slave” Region and the “Peace” country. Some of the most spectacular Rocky Mountain scenery greets us in the southwest, with the mountains at the edge of our waterfowl survey transects. It is as if God cut off the top 5,000 feet of these majestic mountains, and set them there for us to enjoy as we are counting ducks. If you haven’t guessed it by now, Alberta is one of my favorite places on earth!

Surveying the Canada Goose Atlantic Population

Ungava Peninsula
Written by Mark Koneff
Wednesday, June 22, 2011

Photo of Mark Koneff.The poor flying weather, and associated delays, that we (the Maine and Atlantic Canada Survey crew) experienced during the Waterfowl Breeding Population and Habitat Survey in May and early June forced me to proceed directly into the Canada Goose Atlantic Population Survey of the Ungava Peninsula. On June 10, I parted ways with John Bidwell, my observer for May and early June and flew from Goose Bay, Labrador 400 miles north to Kuujjuaq, Quebec on the shores of the Ungava Bay. There I met up with Bill Harvey, Maryland Wildlife and Heritage Service, and Jean Rodrigue, Canadian Wildlife Service, who would be my observers for the AP goose survey of the Ungava Peninsula. We began the survey on June 11 and, surprisingly after the struggles we had in May and early June in Atlantic Canada, had excellent weather for the survey. We were completed and home by June 22. The only significant delay was a 3-day period we spent waiting on a replacement main wheel assembly for the Wipline 7000 amphibious floats installed on our Quest Kodiak survey aircraft. One of our tires suffered damage resulting in a slow leak, possibly from operations off the gravel runway at Kuujjuaq. The speedy survey was a welcome relief after the many weather delays earlier in the spring.

Northwest Territories Survey Complete

Northern Alberta, Northeastern British Columbia and Northwest Territories
Written by Fred Roetker
Monday, June 13, 2011

Photo of Fred Roetker.The NWT survey crew finished transect flying June 10. After several days of dodging forest fire smoke at the beginning of the survey and a short delay for a scheduled aircraft inspection, we had ideal flying conditions that allowed us to complete the survey. Wetland conditions were mostly good across the Northwest Territories. However, the Mackenzie River delta, an important production area for both dabblers and divers, was impacted by flooding. Sometimes, too much water can be problematic. In this instance, even though the Mackenzie River was at low stages through most of our sampling unit, ice jams during break up caused flooding of wetland margins and associated uplands along several tributary channels just upstream of the Beaufort Sea. See photo below. This may have a negative impact on waterfowl that nest in these wetland margins.

Atlantic Crew Area Completed

Maine and Atlantic Canada
Written by Mark Koneff
Saturday, June 11, 2011

Photo of Mark Koneff.Well, we began our survey efforts in Maine on May 3 and flew our final segment in Labrador on June 10. Our top-notch statistician, Emily Silverman at the Patuxent Wildlife Research Center in Maryland, who is now busily checking, summarizing and analyzing all crews’ survey data, believes I might even have a record for the most protracted survey. That’s a record I (and my family) don’t care to hold! It was definitely a tough weather year, but in a way, that makes crossing the finish line that much more satisfying. I parted ways this morning in Goose Bay, Labrador, with my observer and friend, John Bidwell. Having retired last year from the USFWS, this may have been John’s last May survey for a while. It was great having another experienced pilot-biologist in the right seat. While John travels home to Maine, I continued north to Kuujjuaq, Quebec, on the shore of the Ungava Bay. Tomorrow, I’ll meet up with biologists from the Canadian Wildlife Service and the Maryland Department of Natural Resources and we’ll begin the annual breeding population survey of the Atlantic Population of Canada Geese. These geese winter in the mid-Atlantic region, with their winter distribution centered on the Delmarva Peninsula. The breeding population survey is conducted on the Ungava Peninsula of northern Quebec between the Hudson Bay to the west and Ungava Bay to the east. I’m hoping for good weather to get ‘er done and get back to my family in Maine.

Wrapping Up the Survey!!

Western Ontario and Northcentral Quebec
Written by Jim Wortham
Friday, June 10, 2011

Jim Wortham.We have finished our survey! We completed Stratum 69 on Thursday, June 9, with the Northwest Territories crew not far behind. Data now has to be compiled and transferred to our Population and Habitat Assessment biometricians in Laurel, Maryland, and Sacramento, California, to be combined with data captured by our Canadian Wildlife Service colleagues. Following this, waterfowl population estimates will be developed for use in not only the establishment of hunting seasons and bag limits, but also to be incorporated into computer models designed to provide guidance in management decisions for habitat policy development.

NWT Crew Making Good Progress

Northern Alberta, Northeastern British Columbia and Northwest Territories
Written by Fred Roetker
Thursday, June 09, 2011

Photo of Fred Roetker.We have covered lots of miles since our last update. The weather has been mostly good. Since leaving northern Alberta, wetland conditions have improved in the Northwest Territories (NWT). Scaup and scoter numbers appear to be strong. See the photos below to view examples of typical NWT waterfowl habitat.

Survey Complete in Southern Saskatchewan

Southern Saskatchewan
Written by Phil Thorpe
Wednesday, June 08, 2011

Photo of Phil Thorpe.Pat and I finished up the remaining 325 miles of survey lines to complete the southern Saskatchewan waterfowl population and habitat survey. We had some microphone/voice relay problems (Pat wore the button out this year) at the beginning of the first survey line and I had to land at a little grass landing strip so we could reconfigure the wiring on the computers. I've been using the survey program long enough that I have lots of spare parts—and had them right up front in easy reach. We plugged in the extra items, tested them, and were back on the survey line in about 20 minutes. It's good to be prepared.

Atlantic Crew Nears the Finish Line

Maine and Atlantic Canada
Written by Mark Koneff
Tuesday, June 07, 2011

Photo of Mark Koneff.We arrived in Goose Bay, Labrador, on June 6, and with a couple of good days of weather behind us, we’ve finished over half of our final strata of the survey. Conditions are generally good in Labrador. Due to weather delays in the south, the Labrador survey is running about a week behind normal timing, but timing appears reasonable with respect to breeding phenology. We’re probably a little late for early nesters, but about perfect for late nesting species like scaup and scoters. We arrived at the Goose Bay Airport this morning to be greeted by a U.S. Air Force C-5 Transport on the ramp near N769. The aircraft unfortunately experienced mechanical problems that grounded it temporarily in Goose Bay. It was full of troops returning from the Middle East. We’re hoping for a speedy repair so they can finish their journey home. During a fuel stop we also met up with a ski-equipped LC-130H of the 109th Air Wing out of Schenectady, NY. The crew was transporting a cadre of scientists and support staff to Greenland for the summer research season. It was great spending a little time with the crew and some of the passengers in between our flights.

Helicopter “Ground Crew” Survey of Western Ontario and Northcentral Quebec

Western Ontario and Northcentral Quebec
Written by Samantha Gibbs
Tuesday, June 07, 2011

Photo of Samantha Gibbs.We are currently based out of Mirage Outfitter’s Camp on the James Bay region’s Transtaiga road, 975 miles north of Quebec City. This area lies within the Canadian Shield, the topography of which was shaped by glaciers. These glaciers deposited boulders, gravel and sand across the landscape. Peat bogs and rocky plateaus covered in lichens and dotted by stands of scrubby black spruce dominate this Taiga Shield Zone of Quebec. An intricate hydrological network of over a million lakes, peat bogs, rivers and streams also resulted from glacial action. These waterways now provide important habitat for migratory waterfowl during the breeding season.

Atlantic Crew Making Progress Again

Maine and Atlantic Canada
Written by Mark Koneff
Friday, June 03, 2011

Photo of Mark Koneff.After a quick mandatory aircraft inspection by the accommodating crew at Maine Aero in Bangor, we departed again for Newfoundland and Labrador to complete the survey. Weather continues to plague all attempts to make rapid progress, but we have caught a few breaks lately. On June 1 we finally flew the first 2 lines in southern Newfoundland. After sitting in Stephenville, Newfoundland, for a day in heavy rain, we flew the western and northern portion of the island today. The terrain there is dramatic, rising rapidly from a wetland-studded coastal plain into the Long Range Mountains. The photos just don’t do it justice. Despite the survey delays, we still encountered some patchy snow at higher elevations in this region, though very little ice was observed on the lakes and wetlands. Overall, survey timing still looks acceptable, with most observations consisting of paired birds or lone drakes. Habitat conditions look good overall, though continued cold and wet weather during the brood-rearing season could depress productivity.

Ground Crew Member Takes to the Air

Southern Saskatchewan
Written by Jean-Michel DeVink
Friday, June 03, 2011

Photo of Jean-Michel DeVink.This is my first year in the waterfowl biologist position with CWS, and I was fortunate enough to get to fly one transect with Phil Thorpe and Pat Devers. This gave me a much greater appreciation for the pilot-biologists and observers’ tasks of counting ducks and ponds, while cruising along at 100mph and being bounced around by turbulence. We departed Saskatoon at 6am, after a short but thorough briefing on the plane’s safety equipment and procedures. We encountered good weather for the duration of the flight, and seeing SK from 3,500 feet gave me a very different perspective than what we see on the ground.

The Right Stuff to Become a Wildlife Biologist/Pilot

Southern Quebec and Southeast Ontario
Written by Thom Lewis
Thursday, June 02, 2011

Thom LewisSome of you may have wondered, how does a person get a job flying aircraft to count waterfowl? The job requires a person to have a passion and become proficient in both wildlife biology and aviation. If you’ve followed this website for very long you probably know that I’ve been participating in the survey for nine years now. My involvement began while I was the Wildlife Biologist at St. Vincent NWR and I got selected to be the right seat observer for the Southern Saskatchewan Survey area in 2003. To make a long story shorter, Phil Thorpe –who was then and still is the wildlife biologist/pilot for that area—saw my interest in using aviation as a wildlife management tool and recruited me. Note that I use the term “wildlife biologist/pilot” because we are wildlife biologists first, but have to be pilots as well. I already had the required Wildlife Biology background, so after several years flying with Phil and helping on some winter redhead surveys, I decided to begin flight training. The minimum pilot qualifications for the job are a commercial pilot certificate, an instrument rating and 500 hours as pilot in command (PIC). I was fortunate to be hired as an intern and be mentored by many of our staff and other service aviators while working on my advanced pilot ratings.

The Weather Gods Smiled

Northern Saskatchewan, Northern Manitoba
Written by Walt Rhodes
Thursday, June 02, 2011

Walt RhodesPulling off a successful survey hinges on many factors. The three primary ones are aircraft status, pilot-biologist/observer health, and weather. Weather is probably the most important because even if the pilot-biologist and the observer are feeling great and the airplane is running good, no one is going anywhere if the weather sucks.

Eastern Dakotas Survey Finished - Time To Go Home

Eastern Dakotas
Written by Pam Garrettson
Monday, May 30, 2011

Pam Garrettson.We finished the ground portion of the survey that cuts through Upper Souris National Wildlife Refuge (NWR) near the Canadian border last Friday. In fact we stayed there the night before, in refuge housing graciously provided by manager Tom Pabian and by maintenance worker Larry Clowse, who worked hard on repairs, as the housing had been damaged by severe winter weather. The housing consists of former FEMA trailers, left over from the 1997 flooding of Grand Forks, ND. Ironically, the refuge contains the dam that controls the flow of the Souris River, and downstream, residents of Minot were working hard to build sandbag dikes in preparation for additional water releases that would likely be necessary. Already a torrent flowed through the control structure.

Good News, Bad News and a Case of Get-Home-Itis

Southern and Central Alberta
Written by Jim Bredy
Sunday, May 29, 2011

Photo of Jim Bredy.The good news is that we had a successful and safe aerial survey that concluded on May 25. The bad news is that I am still trying to get my aircraft back to New Mexico. The good news part of the bad news is that my delay in getting home is due to a lot of rain—moisture which is assisting in maintaining the good to excellent wetland conditions in most of Southern Alberta. We finished the survey on May 25, and completed all of our initial data entries and summaries that evening. I bid farewell to the excellent Observer, Kevin Doherty, the morning of May 26, as he left via commercial air from Grande Prairie. I flew the aircraft to Edmonton, and had to stop there due to heavy rains from Red Deer south to the MT border. I then met with Canadian Wildlife Service personnel on May 27, and discussed the data and the survey.

The Last Crew to Get Started in 2011!

Western Ontario and Northcentral Quebec
Written by Jim Wortham
Saturday, May 28, 2011

Jim Wortham.The amphibious Kodiak survey airplanes are debuting on the May survey this year. This welcome transition comes with several logistical issues, not the least of which is completion of an intense curriculum of training to position our Pilot/Biologists to make the most of these new aircraft and to fly more safely than we have been able to before.

Wrapping Up the Ground Counts in Southern Saskatchewan

Southern Saskatchewan
Written by Jean-Michel DeVink
Friday, May 27, 2011

Photo of Jean-Michel DeVink.The ground crews ended their counts on Friday, with one last transect just north of Prince Albert, Saskatchewan. Overall, the northern prairies of Saskatchewan were dryer than in the south due to less spring precipitation, but held good numbers of waterfowl nonetheless. We observed many canvasbacks, redheads, and other divers in the north, along with the usual dabbler species found along the forest.

Manitoba Ground Crew Wrap-Up

Southern Manitoba and Southeastern Saskatchewan
Written by Marc Schuster
Friday, May 27, 2011

Photo of Marc Schuster.Our last day of surveys was Thursday May 26. We finished with good weather, surveying the area near Winnipeg and the Interlake region. This year the surveys took 18 days, including three weather days. Simply put, ponds were up, and so were the ducks!

End of the Road – Conditions are Great

Eastern and Northern Ontario
Written by Stephen D. Earsom
Thursday, May 26, 2011

Photo of Stephen D. Earsom.Yesterday afternoon we arrived in Moosonee, an interesting Cree village at the southern end of James Bay. It's the end of the road in more than one way. There are no highways connecting Moosonee to the rest of the country, so everything arrives by aircraft, boat, or train...and this is the end of the line for the train. For us, it marks the last stop on our migration northward. Perfect weather allowed us to complete the last of our surveys today, and we'll start home tomorrow.

Eastern Dakotas Survey Completed

Eastern Dakotas
Written by Terry Liddick
Thursday, May 26, 2011

Terry LiddickThe Eastern Dakota’s survey area is complete and it looked nothing less than spectacular. It is probably wetter than it has ever been and wetlands throughout the Dakota’s were at least 100% full. The duck numbers were just as spectacular! After nearly 7,000 miles of flying across the eastern Dakota’s, we observed excellent conditions throughout the survey area. With the exception of the Red River Valley, which is pretty well drained and tiled (and yet still had puddled water in remnant wetlands), conditions were judged to be mostly excellent. Wetland basins were full to over-full throughout the survey area. The wet conditions should certainly persist well through the brooding season and more rain is coming. It doesn’t get any better for the ducks!

Alberta Ground Crew Finishes 2011 Survey

Southern and Central Alberta
Written by Garnet Raven
Wednesday, May 25, 2011

Garnet RavenThe Alberta ground survey crew finished surveying the Alberta parklands on May 20th. We found conditions deteriorating as we pushed northward. Most of the parklands would be considered average for duck numbers, although moisture levels were improved over last year. With sufficient water available we expected to see more ducks than we did, but we suspect that many were short-stopped by the excellent conditions in the prairies. On the 21st and 22nd we completed our air-grounds in the boreal transitional area north of Edmonton and found duck and pond numbers continue to diminish.

Southern Manitoba

Southern Manitoba and Southeastern Saskatchewan
Written by Karen Bollinger
Wednesday, May 25, 2011

Karen BollingerWith the survey finished, we departed Brandon this morning. Our send-off from Brandon was amidst clear skies and light winds – a beautiful day to fly! After clearing customs in Grand Forks, North Dakota, we ferried the plane back to Fleming Field, South St Paul, Minnesota – where we had first started our sojourn in early May. After checking in with the guys at WipAire, we departed Minnesota via commercial airlines en route back to our home bases in Alaska.

Crew Initiates Northern Alberta Survey Amid Forest Fires

Northern Alberta, Northeastern British Columbia and Northwest Territories
Written by Fred Roetker
Wednesday, May 25, 2011

Photo of Fred Roetker.After a late spring and predicted late break-up of lakes in northern Alberta, Mother Nature did an about-face with warm temperatures and dry southerly winds. With winter precipitation below normal, the result was a flare-up of forest fires; some of which are still burning out of control. We initiated survey flying May 21. We are progressing smoothly with some downtime due to unsuitable flying conditions with limited visibility in smoke. The dry conditions have left many small basins without water and larger wetlands recessional. Duck numbers will probably be depressed in this region. We plan to complete northern Alberta and northeastern British Columbia by May 26.

Survey Complete: Conditions Good to Excellent in Southern Alberta, Poor to Fair in Central Alberta

Southern and Central Alberta
Written by Jim Bredy
Wednesday, May 25, 2011

Photo of Jim Bredy.Today we completed the 2011 Waterfowl Breeding Population and Habitat Survey for Southern and Central Alberta. This is the 24th spring and summer that I have flown over much of Canada, including the arctic islands, conducting aerial surveys of one kind or another. Alberta is still one of my favorite places. I was very fortunate this year to work with Kevin Doherty as the aerial observer. He is a Landscape Ecologist for the USFWS, and is currently working with the Prairie Pothole Joint Venture, based in Bismark, ND. He has an excellent knowledge of waterfowl and their habitats. Now it is time for the final data “crunching” by our excellent Population and Habitat Assessment Branch, back in Laurel, MD. We will not know the final results until that data analysis is completed. They will compare the results of our air counts, with the data gathered from the ground crews, to arrive at a waterfowl breeding population figure for this survey area. It continues to be a pleasure to work with the very professional and friendly ground crews from the Canadian Wildlife Service, Province of Alberta, and Ducks Unlimited.

It’s 5 O’Clock Somewhere

Eastern Dakotas
Written by Pam Garrettson
Tuesday, May 24, 2011

Pam Garrettson.I didn’t change the time on my watch when I got here, which is how I found myself up at 4 a.m. one day, thinking it was 5—which it was—on the East Coast. OK, that wasn’t smart, but on the areas that the US and Canadian ground crews survey, keeping track of time can be complex. We are nearing the end of the survey, working out of Bismarck, ND. It’s on Central Time, but just across the Missouri River it’s an hour earlier, same as Montana and the "west river" portion of South Dakota. Daylight savings time is another complication, especially in Canada. Saskatchewan doesn’t switch to daylight time; so it’s always Central Standard Time (CST) there. During the winter, that’s the same time as Manitoba, but right now, the same as Alberta or Montana, currently on Mountain Daylight Time (MDT). Unless you are in Lloydminster (SK), which does switch, and honestly, I don’t know what time it is there.

Finally Finished It Up

Southern Manitoba and Southeastern Saskatchewan
Written by Karen Bollinger
Tuesday, May 24, 2011

Karen BollingerToday we finished flying the Southern Manitoba and Southeastern Saskatchewan Crew Area by completing the remaining segments in stratum 37 (mostly north and east of Brandon) and completing stratum 38 (to the south and east of Brandon).

Moving North -- and Treacherous Gophers!

Southern Saskatchewan
Written by Jean-Michel DeVink
Monday, May 23, 2011

Photo of Jean-Michel DeVink.For the last few days, we’ve been moving north and completing transects in the northwest part of prairie Saskatchewan. Conditions in this part of the province are good, but not nearly as wet as south of highway 1 (i.e., South of Regina). The snow and spring precipitation that hit the southern part of the province entirely missed the northwest, and with slightly less snowfall than in the south, the northwest is a little dryer. Most large catchment basins are full or even flooded, but the small, temporary or seasonal ponds are rarely holding water. There are good numbers of ducks in this area, with good numbers of blue-winged teal, divers, and some cavity nesters starting to be seen on ponds. Fewer ponds and ducks is easier work for the ground crews, but this also means fewer breeding waterfowl contributing to the fall flight.

Nearly Done in Southern Saskatchewan

Southern Saskatchewan
Written by Phil Thorpe
Monday, May 23, 2011

Photo of Phil Thorpe.We’ve covered a lot of ground since our last entry. We've completed the southwest short grass prairie, the large mixed grass prairie, and the northwest aspen parkland survey strata. We’ve had a few weather days along the way, but are moving along with the survey. We currently have 2 flying days left, plus a down day to make sure the ground crew is able to finish what we’ve flown. After 3 ½ weeks on the road, Pat and I are hoping for a Memorial Day weekend at home with our families.

Forecasts Don’t Always Reflect Reality

Southern Manitoba and Southeastern Saskatchewan
Written by Karen Bollinger
Monday, May 23, 2011

Karen BollingerThe weather forecast for today was definitely much better than the actual conditions proved to be.

Manitoba Ground Crew Enters Home Stretch

Southern Manitoba and Southeastern Saskatchewan
Written by Marc Schuster
Monday, May 23, 2011

Photo of Marc Schuster.The Manitoba ground crew entered Manitoba yesterday after completing the surveys for the southeastern portion of Saskatchewan. Our overall impression is excellent wetland conditions with record duck numbers observed on some of the air-ground segments. There are many seasonal wetlands here now, where dry conditions prevailed the past few years. Semi-permanent and permanent wetlands are fully recharged. While we have had our fair share of weather days this year, it appears that the next few days will hold up and we will be able to finish our crew area by this coming Thursday.

A Canadian Wildlife Hat Trick

Eastern and Northern Ontario
Written by Stephen D. Earsom
Sunday, May 22, 2011

Photo of Stephen D. Earsom.It's May, and that means it's hockey playoff time in Canada. I don't know much about the sport, but I do know that if you've scored three goals in a game it's called a hat trick. So today was a special day for us, flying over northern Ontario in an area where the boreal forest begins to give way to string bogs, lichen-covered granite, and stunted trees, collectively known as the taiga ecoregion. For amongst the singles, pairs and small flocks of waterfowl we continue to count, we managed to see a nice-sized bear, a moose with a calf, and a rare woodland caribou. We've seen as many as five bears in a day, and moose have also reared their heads fairly frequently in the North, but the woodland caribou, considered a threatened species by the Canadian government, was a lucky find. We are truly fortunate souls to be able to work toward conservation of our natural resources in such a beautiful locale.

Resting Amidst Bad Weather

Southern Manitoba and Southeastern Saskatchewan
Written by Karen Bollinger
Sunday, May 22, 2011

Karen BollingerToday, was a crew rest day and also proved to be a weather day. We are only allowed to be “on duty” (that is, “fly”) 12 days out of a given 14-day period.

Finished Nova Scotia

Maine and Atlantic Canada
Written by Mark Koneff
Sunday, May 22, 2011

Photo of Mark Koneff.On Sunday, May 22, we caught a short break in the rather miserable weather that’s been the rule for May in the Maritimes and finished Nova Scotia. After a short 1-hour flight across the Bay of Fundy, we were back at Bangor, Maine, for an annual inspection on N769. We’ll be down a few days, then heading north to Newfoundland and Labrador to conclude the survey.

Alien Abduction in Area 51!

Eastern and Northern Ontario
Written by Stephen D. Earsom
Saturday, May 21, 2011

Photo of Stephen D. Earsom.You know, it’s pretty exciting to be flying waterfowl surveys in Area 51, one of the US government’s most closely guarded secrets. And now I have my own story to add to the legend.

A couple of days ago we were flying along, minding our own business counting waterfowl, when suddenly, Carl’s computer started acting up. Of course, being in a highly classified area where untold mind control experiments have been conducted, we were somehow made unaware of the problem until well into the next day. The fact that the problem was intermittent made it even more difficult to uncover, but eventually we realized that our data were being abducted by a squealing alien. That’s right, on occasion, an alien would step in to steal Carl’s recording of a pair of black ducks or a flock of mallard drakes, and replace it with an extraterrestrial whine or hum. We are lucky to have escaped. However, the mission requires that we go back into the heart of Area 51 and fly some of the same areas again, collecting data in a way that the aliens would never think of – pencil and paper.

Alternating Alternators

Southern Manitoba and Southeastern Saskatchewan
Written by Karen Bollinger
Saturday, May 21, 2011

Karen BollingerMay 19 and 20 proved to be good weather days, and observation conditions were excellent. During these 2 days of flying, we were able to complete stratum 34. We ended up staying in Yorkton Friday night – based on: i) the last segment ended there, and ii) it seemed to be the best airport to stage for flying the next day. We were not only close to our next transect line to fly, but also hopefully would be north of the line of weather (rain, low visibilities and ceilings) that was forecasted to be moving up from the south. Staying in Yorkton also gave us the added advantage and additional opportunity to get together with the ground crew for supper. It was great to meet and/or re-acquaint with “the crew.”

Eastern Dakotas Ground Crew: Wide Open Spaces

Eastern Dakotas
Written by Pam Garrettson
Saturday, May 21, 2011

Pam Garrettson.This past week we finished 4 of the 8 air-grounds that are in North Dakota, including Danzig and Streeter, among the most beautiful country that we survey. They are located in the Coteau, which features steep hills (primarily used to graze cattle) and large, deep wetlands ringed with cattails. These more permanent wetlands are used by diving ducks, as well the dabbling ducks we had already been seeing in abundance on the flatter Drift Prairie (DP). Redheads, canvasbacks and ruddy ducks build their nests over water in emergent vegetation. Compared to tilled row crops, pastures provide more of the upland grass cover used by dabbling ducks for nesting. In particular, we counted many more pintails on the Coteau than on the DP, and they will readily nest in sparse cover, even in pastures that are heavily grazed.

Big Survey: Small World

Southern Quebec and Southeast Ontario
Written by Thom Lewis
Friday, May 20, 2011

Thom LewisI’ve had the privilege of participating in the May Breeding Waterfowl Population and Habitat Survey for nine years, and I’ve surveyed five crew areas covering portions of the Northwest Territories, British Columbia, Alberta, Saskatchewan, Ontario and Quebec, as well as North and South Dakota. That’s a big part of the waterfowl breeding grounds in North America. Six hundred and thirty-seven miles to the North of where I work and grew up in the Baltimore-Washington, DC area, is the small town of Val D’or, Quebec. This year we stayed several nights in Val D’or, and at breakfast on the first morning the hostess asked me if I was the “Guy from Maryland.” I told her yes and come to find out, although she was born in and moved back to Val D’or, she had grown up and gone to school only fifteen minutes from where I grew up. We talked quite a bit about the places and things that we had in common. Indeed, one of her brothers lives just minutes from our house in MD. When we left Val D’or, I asked Martine what she missed most about MD besides her family and got the answer I expected. “Maryland Steamed Crabs!”

Eastern Dakotas Survey Nears the Finish Line

Eastern Dakotas
Written by Terry Liddick
Friday, May 20, 2011

Terry LiddickWe are nearing the end of the survey for the eastern Dakota’s and so far everything is looking like it will be a great year for waterfowl production in this crew area. Yesterday we finished all of the flying we have to do out of Jamestown, North Dakota, and that included all of the transects up to near Devil’s Lake. We have had a pretty good run of weather and managed to get in 5 consecutive days of flying. But, all good things must come to an end as they say. We are now down for the next several days for a combination of things. First and foremost is a mandatory airplane inspection and the second is weather.

Flying Again

Maine and Atlantic Canada
Written by Mark Koneff
Thursday, May 19, 2011

Photo of Mark Koneff.After 5 days of rain in Fredericton, NB, we started flying again on Wednesday, May 18, completing New Brunswick and Prince Edward Island. We returned to Fredericton only to be grounded until noon again on May 19 by typical Maritime fog. On May 19, we completed northern Nova Scotia and spent the night in Halifax, NS. Looks like fog and rain again for 2 days now. We hope to complete Nova Scotia on Sunday at the latest and return to Bangor, ME, for several days to complete a mandatory annual inspection on the aircraft. Then it’ll be off to Newfoundland and Labrador to complete the survey. In general, the Maritimes are wet and conditions currently look good. A break from the rain and some warmer temperatures during the upcoming brood rearing period will increase recruitment.

Flock Shoot and You’re Done: Observations of a First-Time Aerial Observer

Southern and Central Alberta
Written by Kevin Doherty
Thursday, May 19, 2011

Photo of Kevin Doherty.As a duck hunter and a guy who spends most of his working time thinking about ducks, grasslands, and wetland conservation, you would think that counting a duck from a plane should be a piece of cake, right? Well not exactly at first. Habitat conditions in southern Alberta are great this year, with abundant waterfowl and full wetlands. Habitat conditions that make a great fall flight make life a little challenging for a first-time observer. I know my ducks and can barrel ID, but I am willing to admit that during a duck ID aerial training flight, the first mixed flock of 20+ ducks I approached at 100 feet off the ground at 100 mph, my brain froze. It reminded me of the first time I hunted bobwhite quail. I had an enormous covey get up in front of me. I unloaded both barrels of my side-by-side and to my amazement missed them all. The lesson: flock shooting makes for a frustrated Labrador! The same holds true when identifying ducks from a plane. The key, as my pilot told me after laughing at my dropped jaw and shaken confidence, is to pick the birds out one at a time just like hunting. Once my brain got used to the speed, new sight image of seeing the birds from above, and the shotgun mentality of “seeing the feathers on the bird you shoot,” I was amazed at how well you can see the birds. Much like a tree stand in the woods, the aerial view really helps you see into the wetlands.

Stuck in Montana

Western Dakotas and Eastern Montana
Written by Jon Klimstra
Wednesday, May 18, 2011

Photo of Jon Klimstra.We have been stuck in Ft. Peck, Montana for the last 4 or 5 days. Although not a bad place to be, we are hoping to move to the west to finish up the survey.

The Spare Alternator

Southern Manitoba and Southeastern Saskatchewan
Written by Karen Bollinger
Wednesday, May 18, 2011

Karen BollingerAfter a “WIND” day yesterday, we left Brandon, Manitoba, en route to Regina, Saskatchewan.

Duck Numbers Average to Awesome

Southern and Central Alberta
Written by Garnet Raven
Wednesday, May 18, 2011

Garnet RavenThe Alberta ground survey crew has been surveying every day since beginning our survey on May 8th. High winds have hindered our air crew a couple of times but fortunately it was on days when we had enough air-grounds already flown to keep us busy. Although winds were too strong for the air-crew, morning conditions were acceptable for our ground surveys with sustained winds below 40km/h.

Manitoba Ground Crew Well On Its Way After Experiencing a Slow Start

Southern Manitoba and Southeastern Saskatchewan
Written by Marc Schuster
Wednesday, May 18, 2011

Photo of Marc Schuster.After a slow start in Southwestern Manitoba the Manitoba crew has finally been able to gain some traction and complete several days of surveys. The slow start was mainly due to the adverse weather that was plaguing this area of the province last week. There is a record amount of water in the Assiniboine River watershed that has greatly increased the potential for flooding. The City of Brandon declared a state of emergency and evacuated approximately 1000 residents in a preventative measure in case the Assiniboine River breaches the dikes near the river.

Blistery Winds!

Southern Saskatchewan
Written by Jean-Michel DeVink
Monday, May 16, 2011

Photo of Jean-Michel DeVink.For those of us who enjoy wildlife, there is no better time to view them than early in the morning when conditions are calm and there is little disturbance on the landscape. Waterfowl hunters have known this for years, and our ground crews are able to enjoy Saskatchewan’s wildlife en route and during our counts. It’s also a great opportunity to snap some pictures of the critters we admire.

Habitat Looks Good So Far

Northern Saskatchewan, Northern Manitoba
Written by Walt Rhodes
Monday, May 16, 2011

Walt RhodesThe abundant water on the Prairies has stretched north. Since arriving in Prince Albert, Saskatchewan, from Regina, Mike and I have been able to get in two days of flying, and the habitat and timing of the survey looks good.

Phenomenal Conditions!

Southern Manitoba and Southeastern Saskatchewan
Written by Karen Bollinger
Monday, May 16, 2011

Karen BollingerToday we completed stratum 39 in southwestern Manitoba and should complete stratum 35 in southeastern Saskatchewan during our next day of survey flying. Both the amount of water and the number of ducks in these areas are phenomenal this year. Water basins are full and many are flooded out of their banks. Sheet water is abundant as well.

Atlantic Canada Remains Soggy!

Maine and Atlantic Canada
Written by Mark Koneff
Sunday, May 15, 2011

Photo of Mark Koneff.We’ve been stuck in Fredericton now for 3 days and this morning’s updated forecast shows only 2 marginal flying days over the upcoming week and nothing looking good for the next 3 days. This is classic Maritime spring weather, with an entrenched High pressure system off the US mid-Atlantic Coast and a stalled Low pressure system off the Maritimes. The counter-clockwise flow of the Low and the Clockwise flow of the High are joining forces to pump moisture into the northeast US and Maritime Provinces. Here’s hoping something will give soon…

Survey Complete in Southern Ontario/Southern Quebec

Southern Quebec and Southeast Ontario
Written by Thom Lewis
Sunday, May 15, 2011

Thom LewisThe weather cooperated and we were only grounded by rain on one afternoon. We flew to Ottawa on Monday and then flew transects for seven straight days. We head home tomorrow and if the weather permits, John will be home on time. We certainly appreciate him taking time out of his busy schedule to help us complete this important survey. I also appreciate getting the opportunity to fly and learn from John as my pilot training nears completion.

Fast Start in the Western Dakotas!

Western Dakotas and Eastern Montana
Written by Kammie Kruse
Saturday, May 14, 2011

Photo of Kammie Kruse.I have spent the previous 9 years working on the Eastern Dakotas ground crew, but this year I have moved over to run the Western Dakotas and Eastern Montana ground crew. I had always heard that the two crew areas were quite different in habitat and types of wetlands and now I have seen it firsthand. In the Eastern Dakotas crew area there are a lot of natural wetlands and dugouts. The Western Dakotas and Eastern Montana crew area is dominated by artificial wetlands (stock ponds), and there are more river drainages.

Weather is Slowing Us Down

Maine and Atlantic Canada
Written by Mark Koneff
Saturday, May 14, 2011

Photo of Mark Koneff.Two weeks into the survey and we’re already a week behind schedule in the Maine and Atlantic Canada crew area. We managed to finish Maine and begin surveying in New Brunswick yesterday, but we’re down today in Fredericton for rain and low ceilings, and we’re facing the possibility of another low pressure system stalling over the region. It’s looking now like we’ll be grounded at least through Tuesday and perhaps longer. It’s been a cool and wet spring across Maine and the Maritime provinces so far, and there’s no sign of that changing over the next week. In fact, Bathurst, New Brunswick, has recorded more rainfall in the past 2 weeks than any other town in Canada!

Saskatchewan Ground Crew is On Again, Off Again

Southern Saskatchewan
Written by Jean-Michel DeVink
Saturday, May 14, 2011

Photo of Jean-Michel DeVink.Along with each FWS survey crew in the southern Canadian prairies and in the US prairies surveyed during the May Breeding Waterfowl survey, there is a ground crew that counts waterfowl on segments of each flight transect. These segments are called air-ground comparison segments and are normally 18 miles long. Air-ground segments are used to correct the number of waterfowl observed from the air using what is actually counted on the ground, assuming that ground crews count all birds found on wetlands within the segment. Ground counts are typically conducted on the day following the air counts.

Eastern Dakotas Ground Crew: Talk of the Town

Eastern Dakotas
Written by Pam Garrettson
Friday, May 13, 2011

Pam Garrettson.Most of our air-ground survey segments are on private lands, whose landowners are really nice about granting permission to count ducks on their land. Some are especially welcoming. The other day, a woman let us put Josh’s truck in her farmyard to keep it safe for the day, and a few years ago, a man returned a magnetic “duck survey” sign that had fallen off our truck the year before. Over the past few days, we have talked with quite a few folks. A big thank-you to everyone; we really appreciate it, and couldn’t do our part of the survey without you.

Crossing the Rock Pile

Northern Saskatchewan, Northern Manitoba
Written by Walt Rhodes
Friday, May 13, 2011

Walt RhodesI have never flown over the Rockies as pilot-in-command, and I’m still not sure that I have.

My observer, Mike Rabe, and I rendezvoused in Spokane, Washington, and left yesterday for Regina, Saskatchewan. Incidentally, Mike is no stranger to the breeding waterfowl survey or to flying. He’s the Migratory Bird biologist for the Arizona Game and Fish Department, was an observer for Pilot-Biologist, Terry Liddick, in North Dakota and Montana on last year’s survey, and is a pilot himself, too. It’s always helpful for a pilot-biologist when his/her observer has these skills.

Blue Skies, No Clouds, and no Flying?

Southern and Central Alberta
Written by Jim Bredy
Thursday, May 12, 2011

Photo of Jim Bredy.We started flying the Southern Alberta portion of the survey near the MT border on May 8, and have since flown survey lines as far north as Calgary. The short-grass prairie areas of the survey are a stark difference from 2 years ago. In 2009, some of these segments had very few ponds. This year, many of the wetland basins have water in them, and some of them are overflowing. The pintails especially seem to have responded to these excellent habitat conditions. Weather permitting, we still have about two weeks left of aerial surveying.

3 Rides in Northern Saskatchewan

Northern Saskatchewan, Northern Manitoba
Written by Walt Rhodes
Thursday, May 12, 2011

Walt RhodesLearning something new can be challenging, frustrating and rewarding all at the same time. When it comes to learning a new airplane, the consequences can be, well…let’s not go there. The start of the 2011 Breeding Population and Habitat Survey has been extremely busy for me. It actually began last fall with transitioning into a new aircraft, and continued almost literally up until the day I left for the survey. Over the last three years I will have now flown this particular crew area in three different airplanes. I flew a 19?? Cessna 206 amphibian in 2009, a 1980 Cessna 185 amphibian in 2010 and this year’s ride is a 2010 Quest Kodiak amphibian. The newest plane offers improved visibility, greater hauling capacity and the reliability and benefits of a turbine engine. The training involved learning new systems, building enough time in the plane to become proficient and finally passing a check ride. All of this was in addition to the usual preparation required for conducting a survey—which in the case of this crew area covers an area over 200,000 square miles in size.

Eastern Dakotas Survey Started—But Now Delayed

Eastern Dakotas
Written by Terry Liddick
Thursday, May 12, 2011

Terry LiddickWell, here we are in Aberdeen, South Dakota. We completed 4 days of survey flying right off the bat, but today we are sitting for the third day in weather that this region probably needs no more of: rain. Much like you see on the news for the Mississippi River region, this area probably doesn’t need any more of that for a while! Conditions are excellent over southeastern South Dakota. Virtually all of the wetland basins are full to overflowing and the James River is well outside its banks. Many roads and bridges are under water. Leaves are just starting to appear on the trees and vegetation is starting to green up. It is definitely a late spring with temperatures slightly below normal.

Survey Begun, But Now We Wait

Southern Manitoba and Southeastern Saskatchewan
Written by Karen Bollinger
Wednesday, May 11, 2011

Karen BollingerWe flew the first actual transects of the southern Manitoba survey on Sunday, 8 May. Weather has prevented us from flying any transects since then, but it’s looking like we should be back in the air the next few days.

Still Waiting on the Rain

Western Dakotas and Eastern Montana
Written by Jon Klimstra
Wednesday, May 11, 2011

Photo of Jon Klimstra.I’m the aerial observer for Shawn Bayless. Currently we are in Dickinson, North Dakota and have been down due to weather the last two days. Today it is raining heavily with the forecast for up to 2-3 inches.

A Day in the Life of a Survey Air Crew

Eastern and Northern Ontario
Written by Stephen D. Earsom
Wednesday, May 11, 2011

Photo of Stephen D. Earsom.Some of you may be wondering what the life of a pilot/biologist is like.

One thing is certain: some things have changed a great deal since the pioneers started this survey in the 1950s. Camping lakeside for the air crews is less common now—wouldn’t work too well for us anyway since our Partenavia doesn't have floats! Also, data are recorded entirely electronically via an elaborate mix of computers, GPSs, wires, gizmos, and I hear there is even a flux capacitor (remember Back to the Future!?) installed somewhere behind the instrument panel. Nonetheless, here is a quick breakdown of a typical flying day:

Record Water Levels; Record Duck Numbers

Southern and Central Alberta
Written by Garnet Raven
Wednesday, May 11, 2011

Garnet RavenThe Alberta ground survey crew has been rolling full speed ahead since starting on May 8th. We completed two air-ground segments on the 8th, 3 on the 9th and finished up stratum 29 with a final segment on May 10th. Wetland conditions are better than have been seen in recent memory and all-time highs for duck numbers were observed on several of the air-ground segments. On May 10th we moved on to stratum 28 and found conditions were similarly impressive. Most members of the crew moved on to Hanna, Alberta, where we’ll be stationed for the next few days while we finish surveying stratum 28 and most of stratum 27. So far it looks like duck and pond numbers will continue to be well above average through the northern prairies and into the parklands.

“Survey System in a Box” Working: Habitat Looks Good

Southern Quebec and Southeast Ontario
Written by Thom Lewis
Tuesday, May 10, 2011

Thom LewisWe flew from Nashville, TN to Ottawa, ON, Canada on 9 May after loading our gear and setting up the survey program in John’s plane. So far, the system is working well.

Eastern Dakotas Ground Crew: Mud on the Tires

Eastern Dakotas
Written by Pam Garrettson
Tuesday, May 10, 2011

Pam Garrettson.We found the water we were expecting as we moved north to Brookings, SD. Some of the roads on our Oldham air-ground segment were impassable, and there was water over the causeway on highway 81. Blue-winged teal respond strongly to wet conditions, so it is no surprise they are the ducks we have seen most frequently. Pintails are particularly responsive to water, but we have seen relatively few; perhaps they have settled further north in the southern Canadian Prairie Provinces, which are also very wet.

Stratum 54 Complete

Eastern and Northern Ontario
Written by Stephen D. Earsom
Tuesday, May 10, 2011

Photo of Stephen D. Earsom.A string of several good weather days allowed us to complete Stratum 54 today, and we'll spend the night in Kingston, Ontario. For the uninitiated, our May surveys are broken into large geographic areas called strata. Ontario has a total of 8 strata that were delineated in part on timing of waterfowl nesting. This year we are responsible for Strata 54, 52, 51 and 57, which is the order that we'll complete the surveys. One of the indicators we use to determine when to start surveying is the ratio of lone mallard drakes to mallard pairs. Our data through the first three surveys days indicated a 1:1 ratio, which is ideal. Also, water levels appear relatively high, and many farm fields in the southern end of the stratum had standing water. All in all, it looks like a set up for a relatively productive year in this area.

Weather Keeping us Down

Southern Saskatchewan
Written by Phil Thorpe
Monday, May 09, 2011

Photo of Phil Thorpe.Low cloud ceilings and some gusty winds kept us on the ground today. A slow moving low pressure system is moving across the region and from the looks of it we may be down for a few days.

Survey Started Fast—and Now We Wait

Western Dakotas and Eastern Montana
Written by Shawn Bayless
Monday, May 09, 2011

Shawn Bayless

On May 5, my observer Jon Klimstra and I got the 2011 survey off to a quick start in the western Dakotas. We’ve flown transects every day until now, and have completed all the North and South Dakota strata in our crew area.

Eastern Dakotas Ground Crew Getting Started, with Some Notes on Shorebird Sex

Eastern Dakotas
Written by Pam Garrettson and Chris Nicolai
Sunday, May 08, 2011

Pam Garrettson.We have completed our two southernmost air-ground segments, located in southern South Dakota. Although the nearby James River is at flood stage, those air-ground segments typically don’t hold too much water. The timing of spring seems a bit late; we haven’t seen too many lone males that would indicate that females are nesting or incubating. Moreover, we haven’t yet seen many gadwall and ruddy ducks, the latest nesters in the Eastern Dakotas. However, shorebirds, both migrants and area breeders, are abundant, foraging in wet fields and mudflats.

Rollin' with the Changes

Southern Quebec and Southeast Ontario
Written by Thom Lewis
Sunday, May 08, 2011

Thom LewisWell, I told you things can change, but this change has nothing to do with habitat or bird behavior. I was informed that, due to the limited time that pilot John Rayfield will be available to help us this year, portions of our survey area (specifically, stratum 55 in northern New York and stratum 52 in southern Ontario) will be covered by other crews.

Ready to Survey in Southern Manitoba

Southern Manitoba and Southeastern Saskatchewan
Written by Karen Bollinger
Saturday, May 07, 2011

Karen BollingerThe Southern Manitoba survey crew assembled at WipAire, Fleming Field, Minnesota, on 3 May for the much anticipated BPOP survey in 2011. I will be serving as crew leader (Karen S Bollinger, FWS – MBM – R7), and Rob E Spangler (FWS-MBM-R9) will serve as right-front seat observer. Rob recently joined the Migratory Bird Survey group as a pilot biologist and will be flying left seat in future surveys. I have previously flown the Manitoba portion of the survey in 2008 and 2002, and participated in other years.

Southern Alberta Survey Start Delayed

Southern and Central Alberta
Written by Jim Bredy
Friday, May 06, 2011

Photo of Jim Bredy.I arrived in Calgary on May 2. It took me only 7 ½ hours of flight time from Albuquerque (with fuel stops in Jackson Hole, WY and Great Falls, MT), aided by a tail wind due to the leading edge of a low pressure system. The Observer arrived via commercial air on May 3. He is Kevin Doherty, PhD, from the Prairie Pothole Joint Venture Office in Bismark, ND. He is a very enthusiastic man, with an excellent knowledge of waterfowl and habitats.

Southern Alberta Ground Crews Prepare for Survey

Southern and Central Alberta
Written by Garnet Raven
Friday, May 06, 2011

Garnet RavenThe Alberta ground crew for the waterfowl breeding population and habitat survey is currently gathering in Medicine Hat, Alberta. Some of us drove down from Edmonton today, May 6th. A couple others flew in from Winnipeg and a couple more will arrive via truck from Edmonton tomorrow. I was able to meet up with our air crew on May 4th to start preparing for our upcoming survey. We surveyed habitat conditions from the ground and got a feel for the current local waterfowl phenology. Today I met up with the air crew again and we were able to get up in the air to further survey conditions around Calgary. Wetland conditions looked very good to excellent and the waterfowl phenology was nearly ready to begin our survey.

Southern Saskatchewan Survey Begins!

Southern Saskatchewan
Written by Phil Thorpe
Friday, May 06, 2011

Photo of Phil Thorpe.We started the survey today. Wetland conditions are absolutely amazing in the south-central part of the Province and we had plenty of ducks using the new water. Pat and I had little time for idle talk this year as both of us were busy recording ducks as we flew the first transect. Weather forecasts were for good flying conditions all morning, but forecasts are only predictions and the predicted winds were wrong. The winds picked up to above our survey limits (25mph), so we were not able to finish the day's plan. It took us several hours to enter the data for just the one transect we did complete—lots of ducks and ponds so far.

Cinco de Mayo

Eastern and Northern Ontario
Written by Stephen D. Earsom
Thursday, May 05, 2011

Photo of Stephen D. Earsom.Carl Ferguson and I celebrated this Mexican holiday by completing our first practice survey north and west of Toronto. Most of the species we saw—which included mergansers, buffleheads, Canada geese, mallards, teal, scaup, ringnecks and others—have winter ranges that go well south of the US border. Thus, Cinco de Mayo is a good reminder that our migratory waterfowl are a shared resource, and that Canada, the US and Mexico must continue to work together to conserve the wetland habitats on which these species depend.

Air and Ground Crews Prepare for Southern Saskatchewan Survey

Southern Saskatchewan
Written by Phil Thorpe
Thursday, May 05, 2011

Photo of Phil Thorpe.Pat and I donned our personal protective equipment (PPE) that we are required to wear below 500' AGL and took off on a reconnaissance flight to look at habitat conditions and waterfowl presence. We flew down to the southwest part of the Province to see if conditions had improved since the CWS recon from last week. They had found 50-75% of the landscape covered in snow and some roads blocked by snow drifts. We found improved conditions, only 10-15% snow cover and the snow was only in the ditches and coulees. Plant phenology is still 1-2 weeks behind normal, but ducks were present and distributed on their breeding territories; things look promising for kicking off the survey tomorrow morning. We continued the recon up the west side of the Province and landed in Rosetown for a prearranged meeting with CWS biologists JM Devinc and Keith Warner. The four of us went out on the ground and talked about survey timing and reviewed pond classification procedures. The habitat conditions in the northern grasslands also were excellent and water was abundant. After a few hours in the field and mutual agreement to start the survey in the morning, we returned to Regina.

Preparing to Head North

Eastern and Northern Ontario
Written by Stephen D. Earsom
Wednesday, May 04, 2011

Photo of Stephen D. Earsom.The Eastern Ontario crew (Steve Earsom and Carl Ferguson) has tested all its survey equipment, filed the necessary paperwork, and is now waiting for weather to clear before we head north in our Partenavia aircraft. The Partenavia is popular as a survey aircraft because it has excellent visibility, good handling at our survey speed of 90 knots, and long-range fuel tanks that are critical to completing flight legs that can last several hours. Once we arrive in Canada, we will spend a couple of days doing reconnaissance and refreshing our waterfowl ID skills. We hope to start surveys in the southern part of Ontario around Saturday.

Made It To Regina

Southern Saskatchewan
Written by Phil Thorpe
Tuesday, May 03, 2011

Photo of Phil Thorpe.I arrived in Regina after a 2-hour flight from Miles City, MT, where I fueled and took a break after my 3-hour flight from Denver. The wetland conditions in northern Montana and into Saskatchewan are incredible. Every available basin is full and most are flooding out of their basins. Many areas between Estevan and Regina are flooded, with roads and agriculture fields under water. It will be a bad year for many of the farmers across the prairies, and current reports are that many fields will not get planted. The rising water could present problems for early nesting waterfowl and could result in flooded nests, but many of these early nesters, such as mallards and pintails, will re-nest.

Time to Survey the Atlantic Provinces

Maine and Atlantic Canada
Written by Mark Koneff
Monday, May 02, 2011

Photo of Mark Koneff.As with much of the north, spring was a bit tardy in Maine and parts of eastern Canada this year. While cool temperatures continue throughout the region, most of Maine and the eastern Maritime Provinces are now snow and ice free, and the breeding activities of the mallards, black ducks, and wood ducks in the stream flowing through my back yard indicate that its time to launch on another breeding population survey. My observer this year is John Bidwell, recently retired USFWS pilot-biologist and the former crew leader for our survey region. John's advice and assistance will be invaluable this year as I transition from eastern and northern Ontario, which has been my crew area for most of the past decade. This past winter was cold and snowy for Maine and the Maritime Provinces. Water levels are high and some local flooding is evident following the winter melt, but thus far conditions appear favorable for waterfowl production in this region.

Let the Circle be Unbroken - Back to the Eastern Dakotas Survey

Eastern Dakotas
Written by Terry Liddick
Friday, April 29, 2011

Terry Liddick

This year's survey planning began about three years ago. In February 2008, I began my career as a Flyway Biologist trainee. My first assignment, the day I started, was to serve as the observer for the initial sea duck survey along the Atlantic coast. That was my initial exposure to low level survey flying. It was fairly benign considering we were flying over open ocean and there were not a lot of obstacles out there! It got a little more exciting a few months later when I was assigned as John Solberg's aerial observer for the 2008 Breeding Population and Habitat Survey (BPOP) in the eastern Dakotas.

Air and Ground Crews Prepare for Southern Saskatchewan Survey

Southern Saskatchewan
Written by Phil Thorpe
Thursday, April 28, 2011

Photo of Phil Thorpe.Final preparations are underway for my 15th year flying in the southern Saskatchewan survey area. Pat Devers will be my observer once again–his third year in the survey area. As with every year, we first have to decide on when to start the survey. A colder than normal spring currently has delayed the breeding phenology (timing) in the prairies. Canadian Wildlife Service biologists working on ground crews are in the field this week looking at species presence and social groupings. Because it is a wildlife survey, and the wildlife that we survey are migratory, we want to make sure that the migration is over or just about over for all duck species and that ducks are settled on breeding territories before we begin. We want to make sure that northern boreal forest nesters have moved through and that all normal prairie nesting duck species are present. If we start too early, Terry Liddick in the Dakotas could count migrating ducks and then I might count them again as they pass through Saskatchewan. This would result in artificially inflating the breeding population estimate. So, timing is critical and coordination with surrounding crew areas is key to a good survey.

Preparations Underway for Southern Ontario Survey

Southern Quebec and Southeast Ontario
Written by Thom Lewis
Thursday, April 28, 2011

Thom LewisIt’s that time of year again. Preparation for the Aerial Waterfowl Breeding Ground Population and Habitat Survey is well under way. I am a Wildlife Biologist/Pilot Trainee with the USFWS Migratory Bird Surveys Branch and will be reporting for the Southern Ontario Survey Area this year. I’ll be flying right seat again this year, but this will be my first year in this survey area, which includes portions of Northern New York, Southern Ontario and Southern Quebec. The pilot/observer John Rayfield has flown the area before and I look forward to learning from his experience. We have completed much of our planning and should be flying by the second week of May.

Alberta Survey Crew Ready For Lift-off

Southern and Central Alberta
Written by Jim Bredy
Tuesday, April 19, 2011

Photo of Jim Bredy.Hello from Albuquerque, NM! We had our annual migratory bird survey planning meeting the beginning of the month, and most of us are "in full swing" preparing for our departure for the May waterfowl surveys. It is hard to believe that, weather permitting, I will be back in Alberta in less than 2 weeks. The northward waterfowl migration is well under way. According to Canada drought watch, it appears that far Southern Alberta received some good precipitation. However, it appears that central portions east of Red Deer are still affected by drought conditions. That could still change if we receive late spring precipitation. Reports are still indicating some snow cover in portions of Southern Alberta. Hopefully, if the temperatures can remain in the mid teens (Celsius), the snow will melt fast, and provide more ponds for nesting waterfowl. Last year, there were a series of late spring storms that recharged some of the wetland basins in far southern Alberta. However, that precipitation came too late for the early migrating waterfowl, and we thus noticed a lot of vacant ponds. I will keep you updated as to the actual conditions when we start surveying, hopefully by the end of the first week in May. Until then, I hope you are enjoying a great spring, and are getting out to enjoy all that our great outdoors have to offer!

NWT Crew Finishes Survey, Returns Home

Northern Alberta, Northeastern British Columbia and Northwest Territories
Written by Fred Roetker
Thursday, June 10, 2010

Photo of Fred Roetker.The NWT crew cleared customs in Warroad, MN, today and flew our last leg of the 2010 survey effort to the Twin Cities. Our survey aircraft, a Quest Kodiak, performed flawlessly throughout the month and will now await a set of amphibious floats for its next duty, a goose survey in Nunavut, Canada. Duck numbers were mostly up in our survey area. The entire area experienced an early spring, which will bode well for duck production from the northern latitudes.

Alaska Survey is Completed

Alaska, Yukon Territory and Old Crow Flats
Written by Ed Mallek
Tuesday, June 08, 2010

Photo of Ed Mallek.We conducted the survey of Yukon Flats on 22 May. Yukon Flats is a large wetland area and National Wildlife Refuge north of Fairbanks along the Yukon River. Survey conditions were good and waterfowl numbers seemed normal for this survey area. We did encounter some minor problems with the aircraft (starting issues) which required us to fly the aircraft to Anchorage, AK upon completion of the survey for maintenance. The maintenance issue was addressed the following day (23 May) and we flew the aircraft to Fairbanks late that evening.

NWT Crew Surveying Arctic Coast, Nearly Finished

Northern Alberta, Northeastern British Columbia and Northwest Territories
Written by Fred Roetker
Sunday, June 06, 2010

Photo of Fred Roetker.We flew survey lines just inland from the Beaufort Sea today along the Northwest Territories Arctic coast. Duck numbers continue to be strong. The spring break-up was early this year, and nesting appears to be well under way.

Northwest Territories Survey Continues

Northern Alberta, Northeastern British Columbia and Northwest Territories
Written by Fred Roetker
Wednesday, June 02, 2010

Photo of Fred Roetker.The NWT crew is making steady progress northward. Habitat looks good, especially in light of the early spring break up. Water levels on many lakes are ideal, with miles and miles of grassy shoreline available for nesting ducks. We've begun surveying the Mackenzie Delta. These wetlands offer incredible diversity, with perched ponds adjacent to the silt-laden waters of the Mackenzie River. We will be in Inuvik, NWT by June 4 and expect to begin the final tundra transects over the weekend.

Southern Quebec Survey Completed

Southern Quebec and Southeast Ontario
Written by Karen S Bollinger
Monday, May 31, 2010

Karen BollingerCarl Ferguson and I left Summit, Delaware, in N758F on May 6th and traveled to Burlington, Vermont, to stage for the southern Quebec Survey. The Survey began on May 10th and was completed on May 22nd. We had 2.5 weather days once the survey began. During the survey, we staged our flying out of Ottawa, Quebec City, North Bay, Val D’or, and Chibougamau. We flew N758F back to Delaware on May 24th.

Nuts, Bolts and Breast Clouds

Northern Saskatchewan, Northern Manitoba
Written by Walt Rhodes
Sunday, May 30, 2010

Walt RhodesNo more than every 100 flight hours, our airplanes go in for a mandatory inspection. It’s best to have this done before leaving the States so an inspection doesn’t slow progress while on survey. Unfortunately, our survey plane, named Boston by my 4-year-old daughter, didn’t have enough hours since its last 100-hour inspection to justify another inspection before embarking for the North. Closing in on our 100 hours and faced with an ugly weather forecast, we opted for an inspection in Flin Flon, Manitoba. When this far north you always hope for a painless inspection, because getting parts can result in a lengthy delay. So, when the plane is in the hangar and its guts are exposed you cringe when the cell phone rings and the mechanic’s number is on caller ID. I had three such scares, but all resulted in minor maintenance events. The plane was buttoned up yesterday, but not in time to survey.

Atlantic Crew Finishes 2010 Survey

Maine and Atlantic Canada
Written by John Bidwell
Saturday, May 29, 2010

Photo of John Bidwell.Rob Spangler and I completed the 2010 Atlantic crew area survey on May 29. Rob arrived in Bangor, Maine, on April 26 in anticipation of an early survey start. Spring was advanced at least three weeks in Maine and the Maritime Provinces, so plans and preparations were made to start the last week of April. Weather, however, did not cooperate and our start was delayed until May 1. I took that opportunity to give Rob a thorough orientation and briefing about the crew area, aircraft and survey procedures.

2010 Survey Complete: Conditions and Duck Numbers Variable

Southern and Central Alberta
Written by Jim Bredy
Saturday, May 29, 2010

Jim BredyYesterday, we rolled into Peace River, Alberta, after completing the 2010 Waterfowl Breeding Population and Habitat (BPOP) Aerial Survey for Southern and Central Alberta. We started this survey on May 11 near the Montana border, and worked our way north. Between May 24 and May 28, we surveyed the area between Edmonton, Cold Lake, Slave Lake, Grande Prairie, and Peace River, Alberta. Dave Fronczak, the Aerial Observer, and I met with the Ground Crew Leader, Garnet Raven from the Canadian Wildlife Service, to exchange data and thoughts about the survey. The last 5 days of flying started out good, but we often had to cut the flying short due to turbulent flight conditions.

All hail breaks loose, but Eastern Dakotas ground crew finishes 2010 survey

Eastern Dakotas
Written by Pam Garrettson
Saturday, May 29, 2010

Pam Garrettson.We pay a lot more attention to the weather when the air crew is scheduled to do one of our air-ground segments. The rigor and potential hazards of low-level aerial surveys means their upper limits for wind and precipitation are lower than ours, and we can’t cover the segment until after they do. John and Pete finished up yesterday, so I merely glanced at the forecast for today. Scattered thunderstorms in the morning, then some wind, but not until late afternoon. No problem, right? Except the thunderstorms were scattered right over the segment we needed to do. We sat in the truck and waited out some spectacular cloud-to-ground lightning, napped, played electronic scrabble (Kammie remains undefeated) or did crossword puzzles.

Beavers Provide Key Duck Habitat

Northern Alberta, Northeastern British Columbia and Northwest Territories
Written by Fred Roetker
Friday, May 28, 2010

Photo of Fred Roetker.Northern Alberta experienced an early spring. Although some of the lakes at higher elevations are still partially ice covered, break-up came early to the region. The beaver ponds, streams, and small lakes have been open for a few weeks and waterfowl nesting appears well underway. We are seeing lots of flocked mallard drakes, which indicates that the hens are incubating. Dryer conditions prevail; however, the beaver pond habitat and larger lake shorelines appear ideal. The early spring will bode well for waterfowl production here. We have now finished northern Alberta and northeastern British Columbia and have begun flying the Northwest Territories.

Alberta Ground Crew Finishes 2010 Survey

Southern and Central Alberta
Written by Garnet Raven
Friday, May 28, 2010

Garnet RavenThe Alberta ground crew completed its portion of the 2010 waterfowl breeding population and habitat survey today. In the Peace country we found the recent snow and rain event added water to many seasonal and temporary wetlands, but conditions were still below average and most semi-permanent wetlands were drawn down. Fortunately, there are many permanent wetlands in the area with adequate water, and duck numbers from the ground counts appear to be about average, albeit below last year’s totals.

Eastern Dakotas Aerial Crew Crosses the Finish Line

Eastern Dakotas
Written by John Solberg
Friday, May 28, 2010

John SolbergOn Friday, May 28, Pete and I crossed the “finish line” for the 2010 survey effort. We spent our final week in Minot, ND, where strong low pressure systems in Montana and a persistent front lying along the US/Canada border allowed only 2 flight days during that period.

Eastern Dakotas Ground Crew Update 4: New Water and Old Houses

Eastern Dakotas
Written by Pam Garrettson
Thursday, May 27, 2010

Pam Garrettson.The weather that kept us from working for several days brought new water to the last two air-ground surveys we have done. But because most ducks have settled onto their breeding territories, many of these new wetlands were vacant. The high winds (gusts to 60 mph) that followed the rain dried out the roads pretty well, which made our travels easier.

Helicopter Done for the Year

Western Ontario and Northcentral Quebec
Written by Paul Padding
Thursday, May 27, 2010

Paul Padding.The weather cleared enough yesterday to let Jim Wortham and Scott Boomer fly their last remaining survey line in northern Quebec, and our helicopter crew was able to fly one last 18-mile segment of that line after Jim and Scott were done. Many of the larger lakes in the eastern part of this survey area are still mostly ice-covered, but the smaller wetlands and smaller, shallower lakes are open. It looked like most of the dabbling ducks (black ducks and green-winged teal) and Canada geese we saw have already set up shop for nesting, whereas many of the diving ducks (mainly scaup and scoters) were paired and ready to go, but waiting for more water to open up. We saw several groups of those species, and those birds will likely break up and spread out as more lakes thaw out. Jim and Scott have a few more survey lines to do in eastern Quebec, but the helicopter crew is done for this year and we are on our way home today.

North of 59

Northern Saskatchewan, Northern Manitoba
Written by Walt Rhodes
Wednesday, May 26, 2010

Walt RhodesBenchmarks provide a measuring stick in life. A 16th birthday, graduation or 50-year wedding anniversary are prime examples. For travelers, crossing certain lines is the standard. The most obvious is someone sailing or flying across the Equator or International Date Line. Lines of latitude are also significant crossings. Two notable lines of latitude are the 49th and 60th parallels. The 49th is the border between the United States and Canada and the 60th is the border between the prairie provinces of Canada and the Northwest Territories and Nunavit of Canada. After two days of flying and now grounded by weather, we are holed up in Stony Rapids, SK, located north of the 59th parallel. Even though we won’t cross the 60th parallel, the only crew from the Lower 48 states operating in a more northern area is pilot-biologist Fred Roetker and his observer Caleb Spiegel in the Northwest Territories.

Ground Crew up to Grande Prairie: ducks and water down this year

Southern and Central Alberta
Written by Garnet Raven
Tuesday, May 25, 2010

Garnet RavenThe Alberta ground crew finished with the area north and east of Edmonton and made the long trek up to Grande Prairie today. Unfortunately, we found that moisture conditions didn’t improve significantly as we moved north into the boreal transition zone. Our counts in this area show both duck and pond numbers are down compared to last year. We found most temporary and seasonal wetlands were dry, but many semi-permanent and permanent wetlands still held adequate water. The first mallard brood of our survey was observed on the Moose Lake air-ground segment southwest of Bonnyville, AB, on May 24th. On the bright side, we ran into some wet weather over the last few days. Our pilot, Jim Bredy (USFWS), was not able to fly May 20-23rd due to the weather, which included rain, snow and high winds. The weather system actually brought accumulations of snow around Grande Prairie as well as significant amounts of rain. Although it’s late arriving, the moisture will help habitat conditions in the Peace Region. During our trip to Grande Prairie we observed some ephemeral water lying in fields that is likely a result of the recent rain and snow. But overall, wetland conditions look quite dry. Over the next few days we hope to survey our last air-grounds up here in the Peace parklands and complete the Alberta ground survey for 2010.

Helicopter serves as ground crew

Western Ontario and Northcentral Quebec
Written by Paul Padding
Tuesday, May 25, 2010

Paul Padding.If you’ve been following the progress of the prairie survey crews, you know that the pilot biologists and their observers are working with ground crews that conduct thorough searches of some segments of the lines the air crews fly. This allows us to create a Visibility Correction Factor—to improve overall survey estimates. But since roads are literally few and far between in northern Quebec, a ground crew would have no access to the survey transects the pilot biologist flies. So, we take a different approach to “ground truthing” here. After the fixed-wing air crew (Jim Wortham and Scott Boomer) flies a 180-mile survey line, we use a helicopter to conduct the thorough follow-up search of an 18-mile segment of that line.

Western Dakota’s and Eastern Montana Survey Complete

Western Dakotas and Eastern Montana
Written by Terry Liddick
Monday, May 24, 2010

Terry LiddickIt has taken longer than most years, but the Western Dakota’s and Eastern Montana survey is finally complete. We battled rain and wind early on while in Pierre, SD, and that delayed us substantially. Once we got past Pierre and southwestern SD, however, things improved. We had a few more weather days after that, but never more than one at a time. Yesterday, staying with the theme of the month, we raced Mother Nature and were fortunate to complete the survey.

Western Dakotas and Eastern Montana almost finished

Western Dakotas and Eastern Montana
Written by Terry Liddick
Sunday, May 23, 2010

Terry LiddickWell, we squeaked one in today and are now nearly finished with the 2010 survey of this crew area. Montana is still looking pretty dry, even with the recent rain. We were down again yesterday and today it cleared just enough to get a flight in. The wind also just hung in there. We flew the high line along the Canadian/US border from due north of Malta to the North Dakota border. We also flew from the ND border west to Havre City, MT. Everything is still pretty dry, even with all the recent rain. There are not a lot of natural basins in the region to begin with and many of them are dry or do not contain enough water to persist through the brooding period. There are a few stock ponds, and they too are still low, even with the recent rain.

“If You Build It, They Will Come”

Southern and Central Alberta
Written by Jim Bredy
Sunday, May 23, 2010

Jim BredyWe have been stuck on the ground due to weather the last 4 days. There are high winds gusting to 40 knots and snow flurries this morning. This reminds me of an old aviation saying: “It is better to be down here, wishing you were up there, rather than up there, wishing you were down here.” We have 4 segments left to fly to finish the Southern Alberta portion of the survey (Strata 26-29). Once we get those done, we will fly up to survey the area between Grande Prairie and Peace River.

On the homestretch: one flying day left

Southern Saskatchewan
Written by Phil Thorpe
Sunday, May 23, 2010

Photo of Phil Thorpe.We finished two days of flying in the eastern parkland stratum before a powerful low pressure system moved in and shut us down today. The ground crew was also stopped today and they will only have tomorrow to complete what we flew on Saturday. The survey protocol allows the ground crew to complete the air-ground segment up to 2 days after we fly it. If they don’t complete it within 2 days, we have to refly the segment again. The CWS ground crew works under the same constraints that we work under; that is, they have to complete the work by noon and cannot survey if winds are over 25 mph. The winds were gusting to 55 mph this morning, so it was an easy decision to call off surveying for the day.

Eastern Dakotas Ground Crew Update 3, and Some Notes on Duck Sex

Eastern Dakotas
Written by Pam Garrettson
Sunday, May 23, 2010

Pam Garrettson.We have had a week of dry, sunny weather, and are heading into the home stretch of the survey. We have four more air-ground segments left to do. Overall, the story for this year in the Eastern Dakotas has been lots of water and lots of ducks. However, we continue to notice the loss of Conservation Reserve Program (CRP) lands, which are very important grassland habitat for upland-nesting ducks. Thus, we were pleased to reach a couple of our Coteau segments, which are hilly, primarily used for grazing, and have an abundance of semi-permanent and permanent wetlands. These also make suitable habitat for diving ducks that build nests of aquatic vegetation over the water.

Good conditions continue in southeastern North Dakota

Eastern Dakotas
Written by Pete Fasbender and John Solberg
Saturday, May 22, 2010

John Solberg & Pete FasbenderOn Thursday, May 22, we completed the southern stratum (46) east of the Missouri River in North Dakota. Although conditions were not as wet as northern South Dakota, the majority of wetland habitats in North Dakota’s Missouri Coteau and glacial drift plain generally look good. Where the water in northern South Dakota is evenly distributed and probably in greater supply, water conditions in North Dakota are more variable with some areas drier than others. Farming activities are further behind in North Dakota and we did witness the ongoing installation of drain tile in the eastern part of the state. Nonetheless, conditions overall are good in the southern part of the state and we continued to tally strong numbers of breeding waterfowl in Stratum 46.

“A funny thing happened on the way to the survey”

Northern Alberta, Northeastern British Columbia and Northwest Territories
Written by Fred Roetker
Friday, May 21, 2010

Photo of Fred Roetker.We began surveying Northern Alberta on May 16. The logistics determining our route to the survey area began on a cold January evening over a Louisiana swamp. Paul Anderson, an Alaska pilot biologist, and I were flying a practice instrument approach into Lafayette, LA, over the Atchafalaya Basin when we heard and felt a loud bump. “How did we manage to encounter another aircraft in a radar environment?” I thought, as Paul voiced, “BIRDS!” We asked the controller if he was painting any bird activity around us, the response was negative, although he offered that sometimes they do “see” birds on radar. Upon landing we discovered four individual strikes; one on the left horizontal stabilizer, a second on the right horizontal stabilizer, one on the left landing gear leg, and one removed an antenna. There was lots of blood, some guts, and feathers. Our guess was the birds were either mallards or gadwall. I’ve cleaned lots of ducks and the windpipe from one still stuck on the tail sure looked mallard size. Also, we had noticed some mallards in the air just prior to dusk. Paul is a licensed aviation mechanic, and he and others conducted an inspection and concluded that although the dent on the tail was a bit unsightly; the aircraft could still be used to finish winter surveys. During a later inspection, although still airworthy, we decided the best practice would be to return the aircraft to the factory in Sandpoint, Idaho. The horizontal stabilizer was subsequently re-skinned and we were back to normal for the spring survey.

Minto and Tetlin Flats Completed

Alaska, Yukon Territory and Old Crow Flats
Written by Ed Mallek
Friday, May 21, 2010

Photo of Ed Mallek.We attempted to conduct the survey on Minto Flats which is just west of Fairbanks, AK, on 19 May but had to return due to high winds in the survey area (greater than 25 mph). The following day (20 May) provided us good survey conditions and we conducted surveys on Minto Flats as well as Tetlin Flats. Tetlin Flats are located near the Native village of Tetlin, which is in the upper Tanana River valley near Northway, AK. This area is where the Alaska Highway enters Alaska from Canada.

Southern Manitoba survey completed

Southern Manitoba and Southeastern Saskatchewan
Written by Doug Benning
Friday, May 21, 2010

Photo of Doug Benning.We completed the survey on May 20 and are now licking our wounds from flying almost every day since our start. Our unadjusted aerial pond counts are up overall, but down in some strata. As to duck numbers, our best areas were in southeast Saskatchewan and southwest Manitoba. However, there were many areas with good water conditions but few ducks. We attribute this to shortstopping of some birds in better conditions south of the Canadian border and perhaps some over-flights of early nesters that encountered quite dry conditions throughout this region in April. The rains during the first week in May made a temporary difference, but much of that moisture has mainly served to recharge soil moisture deficits, with most ponds drawing down considerably afterwards.

Manitoba ground crew wraps up survey

Southern Manitoba and Southeastern Saskatchewan
Written by Marc Schuster
Friday, May 21, 2010

Photo of Marc Schuster.Our last survey day for this year was May 20, 2010. This constitutes 14 complete days of surveys with no bad weather days.

Ground crew on the homestretch

Western Dakotas and Eastern Montana
Written by Kathy Fleming
Friday, May 21, 2010

Kathy FlemingWe are in Malta, Montana, about 20 miles south of the US/Canadian border. Tomorrow we will start the first of our two survey lines that run along the border. Yesterday it rained hard for several hours here, and we're not sure how wet the survey line will be. All of it is off-road, and in several places we have to cross streams or wetlands. Hopefully today's sun will help dry it out in time for our survey tomorrow. After we finish the two border lines we will head back to Maryland.

Smoke on the Water

Northern Saskatchewan, Northern Manitoba
Written by Walt Rhodes
Thursday, May 20, 2010

Walt RhodesAn early spring can be a mixed blessing. After enduring winter, Canadians welcome the warm temperatures and sunny skies of an early spring. But an early spring without much moisture can mean forest fires.

We pulled out of Prince Albert, SK, just in time. Four days ago we continued transects northward towards La Ronge, SK. Pairs of scaup were seen dotting boreal wetlands. Once into La Ronge we noticed a number of fire bomber planes departing the airport to the south. Back at the hotel that evening we learned there was a fire that had shut down the Prince Albert airport due to smoke. The fire bombers were still running the next day and reports trickled in of other fires scattered across the North. Record warm temperatures and windy conditions were adding further fuel to the fires. We worked another day out of La Ronge before departing to Fort McMurray, AB.

Surveys Begin in Newfoundland

Maine and Atlantic Canada
Written by John Bidwell and Rob Spangler
Thursday, May 20, 2010

Photo of John Bidwell.The 100-hr inspection and typical maritime weather delayed the survey for six days. Finally on May 19 we were rewarded with good weather to cross the Gulf of St. Lawrence to Newfoundland.

Manitoba ground crew reaches half-way point

Southern Manitoba and Southeastern Saskatchewan
Written by Marc Schuster
Wednesday, May 19, 2010

Photo of Marc Schuster.After surveying for 9 days, we've seen that habitat conditions in parts of Southwestern and Southeastern Saskatchewan are drier than last year. Many seasonal wetlands are dry or drawn down, but most of the permanent wetlands are still holding water. The area south of Winnipeg received significant rainfall just before the survey started, and that may help some of the seasonal wetlands. The area around Moose Mountain, SK, is especially dry, despite getting up to 3 inches of rain in recent weeks. Further north, many ponds have few waterfowl, despite some reasonably good habitat in the Yorkton area. The recent rains (up to 3.5 inches in early May) were mostly absorbed by the dry ground, but did recharge some of the wetlands. There are, however, some bright spots where we've seen near record numbers of ducks on the ground and good wetland habitat. We remain optimistic that we will see more of that as we head back into Manitoba, surveying the areas north & south of Riding Mountain National Park.

Ground Crew Update – Dryer than last year

Southern and Central Alberta
Written by Garnet Raven
Wednesday, May 19, 2010

Photo of Garnet Raven.The Southern Alberta ground crew has been surveying the parklands over the last 3 days (May 16th-19th) and has found conditions to be dryer than expected. Most air-grounds have fewer wetlands and ducks than were observed last year. It seems like the central area of the province is the driest, with conditions improving slightly to the east and west. We’ve observed many seasonal and even some semi-permanent wetlands that contained decent water last year but are dry this year. Apparently the spring storms that hit the southern prairies did not contribute as much moisture to the central parklands.

Eastern and Northern Ontario Crew wraps up the 2010 survey

Eastern and Northern Ontario
Written by Thom Lewis
Wednesday, May 19, 2010

Thom LewisAs we moved north we seemed to catch up with spring. Leaf-out was noticeably later on the deciduous trees, the goslings in goose broods were much younger and waterfowl pairs were more evident. It also dried out as we moved north. The boreal forest regions have much more stable water conditions than other waterfowl habitats like the prairies. However, low winter and growing season precipitation has allowed many areas to dry out, creating fair to poor conditions for waterfowl this spring in stratum 51. Many lake, river and stream levels looked more like it was late summer than spring. In contrast, stratum 54 received ample precipitation and conditions were rated good in most areas. Waterfowl production in eastern Ontario will be impacted by the early spring and variable habitat conditions. Overall production will probably still be good in the south, but only fair to poor in the northern portions of the survey area.

Aspen parkland region dry

Southern Saskatchewan
Written by Phil Thorpe
Wednesday, May 19, 2010

Photo of Phil Thorpe. We started in the aspen parkland region of the prairies yesterday and completed this northwest stratum today. The area received some moisture from snow in April, but despite that, the habitat conditions for duck production are still only poor to fair. Most of the wetlands across the survey stratum were dry or drawn down. This area would benefit from spring rains that would help to maintain habitat for duck broods that will hatch in June and July. When the water is out of the emergent vegetation or drawn down, young broods have no cover to hide in and are exposed to aerial and terrestrial predators.

Northern Quebec: Bring in the chopper!

Western Ontario and Northcentral Quebec
Written by Jim Wortham
Wednesday, May 19, 2010

Jim Wortham.We have now made the transition over to northern Quebec, and have met up with our Helicopter Crew consisting of USFWS Atlantic Flyway Representative, Paul Padding, Dr. Samantha Gibbs, USFWS national Avian Disease Coordinator, and Doug Holtby, Senior Pilot with the Ontario Ministry of Natural Resources. Because of the secretive nature of black ducks and their low tolerance for disturbance, and because these areas are not ground accessible to vehicles or persons on foot, the helicopter is used to act as a ground crew would in the prairie regions to develop visibility correction factors or VCF’s specific to these waterfowl species occupying these specific northern habitat types.

Ground crew report: good weather and decent habitat

Western Dakotas and Eastern Montana
Written by Kathy Fleming
Tuesday, May 18, 2010

Kathy FlemingWe now have had 4 days of counting ducks with great weather. Today we finished 2 air-ground segments in southeastern Montana. This is the most rugged and dry landscape we survey on the ground - if it weren't for the stock dams and dugouts there would be very little water out here, as most of the creeks are dry. We have seen several ducks and geese with broods, and flushed a hen mallard off the nest today. But we have also seen blue-winged teal engaged in courtship and pairing behavior. Overall, the habitat conditions we have seen have been pretty good, average or a bit above average for this crew area.

The Survey has begun in Alaska – conditions dry

Alaska, Yukon Territory and Old Crow Flats
Written by Ed Mallek
Tuesday, May 18, 2010

Photo of Ed Mallek.My observer Debbie Groves and I started the 2010 Alaska-Yukon waterfowl breeding population survey on 14 May. We arrived at Anchorage, Alaska, on the 14th and prepared the aircraft for the survey. The aircraft recently received routine maintenance and needed a “post-maintenance flight” prior to departing. This is 34th year that our highly modified Turbine Beaver airplane has been used on the survey. The post-maintenance flight went well and we were cleared to begin the survey. We planned on departing from Anchorage on the morning of 15 May, but we were delayed for a day due to adverse weather conditions in the survey area (Copper River Delta near Cordova). We departed Anchorage on 16 May and completed the survey on the Copper River Delta and remained overnight in Cordova. We departed Cordova the following morning (17 May) and flew to Kenai for fuel. After fueling up at the Kenai airport we flew the “Kenai-Susitna” portion of the survey. This survey area includes the northern portion of the Kenai Peninsula and the lower portion of the Susitna River drainage. Upon completion of the Kenai-Susitna area we flew directly to Fairbanks.

Weather cooperating: Western Dakotas wet; Southern Montana dry

Western Dakotas and Eastern Montana
Written by Terry Liddick
Tuesday, May 18, 2010

Terry LiddickAfter a very delayed start due to weather in Pierre, SD, we are finally making a little progress. We only got to fly one day in our first ten. Then we put two days in a row together in Dickinson, ND, followed by another weather day. We have now flown a string of 5 days in a row! We finished most of the Dakotas on the 14th. There was one survey line left to do when we departed the morning of the 15th and we managed to get a line into Montana as well that day, moving over to Lewistown. We have had great weather since arriving in Lewistown, with the exception of a little wind and skirting some early afternoon thundershowers on the way home. We have now finished most of southern Montana and should move north to Malta tomorrow.

Eastern Dakotas Ground Crew Update 2

Eastern Dakotas
Written by Pam Garrettson
Monday, May 17, 2010

Pam Garrettson.

Today we completed our 7th air-ground segment. Water conditions look good as we move into northeastern South Dakota. We had a few weather days, but now the forecast looks good for the air crew to fly for the next several days. I should have introduced you to our crew. Kammie Kruse is the Central Flyway Representative’s assistant based out of Denver. This is her 9th year on the survey. Dan Collins, the Pacific Flyway Representative’s assistant (based in Portland, Oregon) is back for his second year on the crew. This is my 11th year on either the eastern or western Dakotas ground crew, and because I did all my graduate work on prairie-nesting ducks, this year marks my 18th spring on the prairies. Our newest crew member is Josh White, a master’s student from South Dakota State University, who has a temporary job with the USFWS. Josh is also an avid photographer who has taken most of the pictures we have posted along with our entries. Anyone interested in his photography is welcome to email him at jwhitewildlife@gmail.com.

South Dakota Survey Completed East of the Missouri River

Eastern Dakotas
Written by Pete Fasbender & John Solberg
Monday, May 17, 2010

John Solberg & Pete FasbenderWeather conditions this past week hampered survey efforts by offering large doses of wind, rain, snow, fog, and low ceilings. On the down side, breeding waterfowl continued their efforts and forced us further behind in our survey activities. Groups of males, especially mallards and pintails, are getting larger by the day. On the bright side, most prairie “critters” with an interest in wetlands will take precipitation almost any time we can get it. Besides the obvious benefit to wetlands, the additional moisture has greatly hindered agricultural activities, and probably gave stubble nesting waterfowl a few extra days to successfully hatch their nests.

Ontario habitat drier than recent years, but mostly ice-free

Western Ontario and Northcentral Quebec
Written by Jim Wortham
Monday, May 17, 2010

Jim Wortham.We have completed our surveys of western Ontario, Stratum 50. We were pleased with the timing of the surveys as the deciduous trees had not yet leafed out and most birds were observed as pairs or lone drakes. In this area, we survey long lines or transects that begin on the southern end of our area within a relatively populated area and traverse long stretches of country northward to areas populated only by a few outfitter camps or native communities. Because of the distances involved, flying these lines are a bit like going backwards in time in that what appears as springtime on the southern end can more resemble winter when turning the corner on the northern extents. This year some ice persisted on some of the larger lakes in northern Ontario; however, all other habitats were ice-free.

Northern grasslands dry

Southern Saskatchewan
Written by Phil Thorpe
Sunday, May 16, 2010

Photo of Phil Thorpe. We’ve left the good to excellent wetland conditions of the southern grasslands behind us and we are now surveying the very dry northern grasslands around Kindersley in western SK. Very few natural wetlands have water left in their basins and we have observed many dugouts (i.e., stock ponds) that are dry. In contrast, the glaciated region called the Allan Hills southeast of Saskatoon has good to excellent conditions for nesting and brood rearing. The area contains a high density of wetlands and you can easily find 100 wetlands (potholes) per square mile here. This is a fun area to survey because of the diversity of ducks and the number of ponds and ducks to count; conversation between the pilot and the observer quickly ceases because of the workload of species identification and recording.

Rest Day in Order

Northern Saskatchewan, Northern Manitoba
Written by Walt Rhodes
Saturday, May 15, 2010

Walt RhodesOur aviation regulations require crews to take a rest day after a certain number of flight hours are reached. After 6 straight days of flying a rest day was in order. These are usually welcomed unless it is a beautiful day to survey. It allows me to catch up on administrative duties and do laundry, but also make future logistical arrangements. Unless the weather is bad, we rarely stay in a town more than 3 days, and will stay in nearly a dozen towns and villages before the survey is complete. Because our schedule is weather- and maintenance-dependent, we can’t book hotels too far in advance. A rest day allows time to make upcoming reservations on short notice as well as check on fuel availability, which can get tenuous as we progress farther north.

Northern and Eastern Ontario Crew completes Stratum 54

Eastern and Northern Ontario
Written by Thom Lewis
Friday, May 14, 2010

Thom LewisAfter waiting for the weather to clear on Wednesday morning, we were able to get a half day of survey work completed. Thursday was our first full day without weather or aircraft delays and we were able to finish stratum 54 and begin Stratum 51. We are now in the Nickel Belt and we have left agriculture behind us for now. As we have moved north, the trees and wetland plants are noticeably “behind” those in the south (spring is a little later), but there is continued evidence that the waterfowl breeding season is well advanced. We’ve seen a few late nesters like blue-winged teal and gadwall that are often missed in this survey area. Drake mallards are getting flocked up, indicating that many hens have already begun incubation.

Video clip: See how it looks from the cockpit

Eastern and Northern Ontario
Written by Thom Lewis
Friday, May 14, 2010

Thom Lewis

I hope this video gives you a perspective of what we see while counting waterfowl on survey transect. We fly “low and slow” by aviation standards, but at 90 knots you have to be constantly scanning the survey area to locate, count and identify waterfowl within the transect boundary. We count all waterfowl within 200 meters on both sides of the plane. You will notice black stripes on the aircraft wing strut. We use a clinometer to set these marks as a guide to how far out we count when at survey altitude. At 150 feet above the ground, when you look out the window, the bottom strip corresponds to 100 meters and the top is set at 200 meters.

Southern Manitoba Population Survey

Southern Manitoba and Southeastern Saskatchewan
Written by Doug Benning
Thursday, May 13, 2010

Photo of Doug Benning.Pilot Brian Lubinski and I have the southern Manitoba survey well underway.

Bad weather slowing us down

Western Dakotas and Eastern Montana
Written by Terry Liddick
Thursday, May 13, 2010

Terry LiddickWell, it is the 13th of May and we are sitting again because of bad weather. We arrived in Pierre, SD on 30 April and Mother Nature didn’t treat us very well. We got in one day of reconnaissance 3 days later and were not able to fly the first day of the survey until May 8th. If the wind wasn’t blowing 30-50 MPH, it was raining. We finally got out of Pierre on May 11th in less than optimal conditions, but good enough to fly 2 survey lines on the way to Dickinson, ND. We managed to fly two more lines yesterday, May 12th, but again, had to wait a few hours in the morning for weather (fog mostly) to lift. Again today, until the weather clears out of Dickinson this morning, it will still be raining to the east near Bismarck, where we need to go.

N. Saskatchewan Crew Out of the Blocks

Northern Saskatchewan, Northern Manitoba
Written by Walt Rhodes
Thursday, May 13, 2010

Walt RhodesIt’s been a busy start but an incredible run of good weather has aided our beginning. I spent late last week getting ready to depart the States. Typical startup duties include updating the databases in my GPS, repacking survival gear, setting up onboard computers, making initial lodging arrangements, and finalizing details at home. I had the added distraction of spending 2 days chasing an electrical issue in my survey airplane, which is a 1980 Cessna 185 on amphibian floats with over 5,500 hours on her airframe. The problem turned out to be a faulty voltage regulator. I was able to spend one day at the beach with my family before leaving South Carolina on Mother’s Day.

Surveys completed in New Brunswick, Prince Edward Island, and Nova Scotia

Maine and Atlantic Canada
Written by Rob Spangler
Wednesday, May 12, 2010

Our surveys concluded today for New Brunswick, Prince Edward Island, and Nova Scotia just in time for the 100-hour inspection of N766 here in Halifax, Nova Scotia. As we continue our surveys, it is increasingly apparent how early this Spring is compared with past years. A merganser with newly hatched young was observed yesterday in Nova Scotia, as well as increasing numbers of flocked ducks and single drakes, both indicators of an early breeding season. Overall, ring neck duck counts appear to be higher than last year and it is encouraging to see the excellent habitat conditions since the beginning of our survey in Maine. Following our 100-hour inspection, we will be crossing the Gulf of St. Lawrence into Newfoundland for more surveys before continuing north to Labrador. There, we will sneak in our surveys between the retrograding low pressure systems that have been bringing rain and snow to the northern portions of our area.

Eastern Dakotas Ground Crew Update

Eastern Dakotas
Written by Pam Garrettson
Wednesday, May 12, 2010

Pam Garrettson.

We have now completed 4 of the air-ground segments that are used to calculate correction factors for the ducks (individual species) and ponds seen by the air crew. We have seen just about every species expected for this crew area. Blue-winged teal lead the pack as usual, followed by mallards this year thus far. On yesterday’s segment near Oldham, SD, we counted quite a few redheads, but we don’t expect to get into too many divers until our segments on the Missouri Coteau, a region of rolling hills, pocked with deep semi-permanent wetlands.

Survey Finally Begins In Southern Alberta: Conditions Improved

Southern and Central Alberta
Written by Jim Bredy
Wednesday, May 12, 2010

Jim BredyWe finally arrived in Alberta on May 08, after aircraft maintenance and multiple weather delays. We conducted a reconnaissance flight in the afternoon, east of Calgary, and saw 14 species of ducks. There were several large groups of scaup (50+), and we suspect they are still moving through, or are recent arrivals and have not yet dispersed. All of the other ducks seemed paired and well dispersed. We did notice a few groups of mallard drakes (one of 10 drakes and one of 17 drakes). The mallards may have gotten an early start to the breeding cycle with the warm and mild weather that was present in early- to mid-April. However, the persistent wintery weather at the end of April and early May most likely slowed the breeding chronology a bit.

Western Ontario survey begins

Western Ontario and Northcentral Quebec
Written by Jim Wortham
Wednesday, May 12, 2010

Jim Wortham.My observer Scott Boomer and I departed Maryland en route to Canada on May 9th in a Soloy-converted Cessna 206 amphibian. We began survey flights online the very next day. It was immediately clear that spring came early in western Ontario and all marshes and waterbodies were ice free. The weather has been uncharacteristically cooperative so far and progress has been swift through this stratum.

Alberta Ground Crew Begins Survey

Southern and Central Alberta
Written by Garnet Raven
Tuesday, May 11, 2010

Photo of Garnet Raven.The Alberta ground survey crew finally got started today, after bad weather kept our pilot grounded on the 9th and 10th. However, the 11th brought sunny skies and light winds with a favorable forecast for the coming week and we’ve been very busy ever since. We were able to complete 2 air-ground segments on May 11th in the southeast corner of the province. Wetland conditions were improved over last year’s dry spring and duck numbers were representative of that improvement. On May 12th we completed one segment south of Lethbridge and 2 segments just north of the Cypress Hills. The Cypress Hills got hit hard by the latest spring storm with over 2 feet of snow falling in the highlands.

Northern and Eastern Ontario Crew Gets Started

Eastern and Northern Ontario
Written by Thom Lewis
Tuesday, May 11, 2010

Thom Lewis The weather finally cleared and we made it to London, Ontario, completed a reconnaissance flight, tested the survey computers and flew our first transect on Sunday, May 9th. We were able to survey Monday and part of Tuesday before rain moved in, forcing us to head back to London. We completed a scheduled oil change and some maintenance on the aircraft in hopes of getting back on transect on Wednesday.

Dodging Weather and Seeing Ducks

Southern Saskatchewan
Written by Phil Thorpe
Sunday, May 09, 2010

Photo of Phil Thorpe. Because of forecasted bad weather, we changed our flying schedule again. The change in plans worked and we avoided the weather and finished day 3 of the survey. Good to excellent wetland conditions are present over the grasslands to the south of Regina. We have observed a high number of unoccupied ponds on our recent flights. This can occur for several reasons. First, the water is from recent snow and rain events that occurred in late April.

Weather Delays Start of Eastern Ontario Survey

Eastern and Northern Ontario
Written by Thom Lewis
Saturday, May 08, 2010

Thom LewisKevin Fox, the FWS regional aviation manager for Alaska, is the pilot-biologist for the Eastern Ontario crew area this year. He arrived on 6 May from Alaska. We completed final aircraft preparations and ferried the amphibious Cessna 206, N728, to Buffalo, NY on 7 May. Rain and strong gusty winds necessitated our stopping short of our intended start point in London, Ontario. The bad weather continued today, so we stayed in Buffalo and attended to survey computer review tasks and made other preparations so we can hit the ground running when we get to the survey area. Pre-survey reports from the survey area suggest an early breeding season with fair to good habitat conditions in southeastern and eastern Ontario. We are eager to get started and see if these reports are true.

Eastern Dakotas survey crew "gearing up" for 2010 effort

Eastern Dakotas
Written by John Solberg
Friday, May 07, 2010

John SolbergBoth the air and ground crews are staged and in the "starting blocks" for the 2010 Waterfowl Breeding Ground and Habitat Survey (BPOP Survey). Following a busy time of logistical, gear, computer, and aircraft preparations, the air and ground crews arrived in Mitchell, SD on 5 May. The following day was devoted to equipment testing, survey procedure review, and air and ground reconnaissance. The 2010 aerial crew consists of Pete Fasbender and me. We both are "prairie guys" and are biologists for the U. S. Fish and Wildlife Service. This will mark Pete’s fourth year participating in the BPOP survey (western Dakotas, Montana, and southern provinces in Canada) and my 25th year (eastern and western Dakotas, and Montana). Our ground crew is also highly experienced, and they will keep you posted on their activities in separate reports.

Southern Saskatchewan survey begins!

Southern Saskatchewan
Written by Phil Thorpe
Friday, May 07, 2010

Photo of Phil Thorpe. We flew our first transects today. Morning fog over the Missouri Coteau prevented us from flying our initially planned route, but with some quick in-flight planning we were able to move to other transect lines and complete a full morning of surveying. Sheetwater was abundant across the southern grasslands and ducks appeared to be settled into the area.

Air Crew Still Trying to Get to Alberta

Southern and Central Alberta
Written by Jim Bredy
Thursday, May 06, 2010

Jim BredyMy observer Dave Fronczak and I landed in Billings, MT yesterday evening, still trying to get to Alberta.

Weather delays start of survey

Western Dakotas and Eastern Montana
Written by Kathy Fleming
Wednesday, May 05, 2010

Kathy FlemingJon Klimstra and I arrived in Pierre, South Dakota, on May 1st, to meet up with Terry Liddick and Mike Rabe, the pilot-biologist and observer who will be conducting the Montana/Western Dakotas aerial survey this year. This is my fourth year on the ground crew in this crew area. It is sobering to be here this year without Ray Bentley, the pilot-biologist who was killed in January when his plane crashed in Oregon coming back from mid-winter surveys. Ray had flown this survey for many years and was an expert, not only in managing the logistics of this crew area, but was also a font of information on where to stay, what to eat, and interesting things to do when there was extra time. We will miss him on this survey.

Alberta Ground Crew Eager to Begin

Southern and Central Alberta
Written by Garnet Raven
Tuesday, May 04, 2010

Photo of Garnet Raven.The ground crew for the Alberta portion of the waterfowl breeding population and habitat survey is currently in a holding pattern. We’re basically packed up with no place to go. A spring storm has moved into Montana, the Dakotas and southern Alberta, preventing our flyway biologist Jim Bredy from flying to Alberta. On one hand we’re very pleased to be receiving the much-needed moisture, but on the other hand we’re anxious to get the survey started. In early- to mid-April it looked like much of Alberta would have one of the dryer springs on record. However, since then we’ve had several storms and the outlook is improving quickly. At this point it appears like wetland conditions are still slightly below average, but things are looking much better than they did 3 weeks ago.

Delays and More Delays

Southern Saskatchewan
Written by Phil Thorpe
Tuesday, May 04, 2010

Photo of Phil Thorpe. Plan E is now in effect. Although spring arrived early in Saskatchewan, we were not able to begin the survey on May 1 or 2 or 3 or 4. Weather prevented me from flying from Denver to Regina, SK.

Survey of Maine and Eastern Canada Begins

Maine and Atlantic Canada
Written by John Bidwell
Monday, May 03, 2010

Photo of John Bidwell.My observer Rob Spangler and I began the Spring Breeding Population Survey on Saturday, May 1st out of Bangor, Maine. Survey conditions were ideal as we finished up the coast and turned inland to work our way North. Spring breakup came very early this year with very warm temperatures and not a hint of ice anywhere but the tops of the highest hills. Although the survey has just begun, we are optimistic that early, but good, nesting conditions will be available throughout Maine and Atlantic Canada. So far observations have been normal and all species appear to be on territory and starting the nesting chronology—the pattern and series of behaviors that are normally displayed during the nesting period.

Ground Crew Prepares for Survey in Southern Saskatchewan

Southern Saskatchewan
Written by Kevin Dufour and Dan Nieman
Sunday, May 02, 2010

Photo of Kevin Dufour and Dan NiemanSpring wetland habitat conditions typically vary widely over the Canadian Prairies, and 2010 is no exception. The grasslands in southern Saskatchewan and the southeast and west central parklands were relatively dry following spring run-off. However, several early spring snow and rain events improved soil moisture conditions and provided much-needed water for wetlands in these regions. More recently, relatively heavy and widely distributed rain and snow have significantly improved wetland habitat throughout Saskatchewan. This precipitation helped to fill many temporary wetlands, and transformed poor conditions in the southern grasslands and west central parklands to habitat capable of attracting and supporting breeding waterfowl. The average conditions in many areas of the central and eastern parklands were markedly improved and can now be considered good to excellent. This moisture will also benefit nesting cover in pasture and grasslands throughout the Province.

Ground Crew Prepares for Eastern Dakotas Survey

Eastern Dakotas
Written by Pam Garrettson
Thursday, April 29, 2010

Pam Garrettson.We are packing up and preparing for the waterfowl breeding population survey in the Eastern Dakotas crew area. The plan is to begin May 7th. The area promises to be extremely wet again this year, and with a good portion of Southern Saskatchewan and Southern Alberta experiencing dry conditions, we expect that this crew area will attract lots of ducks for the second year in a row. According to John Solberg, the flyway biologist for the crew area, the weather there has been quite changeable, with temperatures in the 70s one week and snow the next.

Preparing for survey in Western Dakotas

Western Dakotas and Eastern Montana
Written by Terry Liddick
Wednesday, April 28, 2010

Terry LiddickI’m heading to Kearney, Nebraska in the morning to pick up my airplane to start the breeding population survey. It was left there after a sand hill crane survey last month to get a current inspection and a new windshield. I will meet my observer, Mike Rabe, at the Omaha airport and we will shuttle over to Kearney. With luck, the plane will be ready to go Friday morning and we will fly up to Pierre, South Dakota, to prepare to begin the survey. This will be my first year flying this crew area and Mike’s first year as an aerial observer. Mike works for the Arizona Game and Fish Department, and I am glad to have him on board this year. We should have a great time. We are hoping to see good conditions, at least in the western Dakotas. I hear the winter was pretty good there with fair amounts of snow. I spent the last 2 weeks getting everything ready, from coordinating the maintenance on the plane; updating maps, charts, and the GPS; making reservations and coordinating with the FAA, Customs and Immigration and the rest of our flyway biologists. It is go time now, so ready or not, the survey begins tomorrow.

Spring coming early in Saskatchewan

Southern Saskatchewan
Written by Phil Thorpe
Friday, April 16, 2010

Photo of Phil Thorpe. What a difference a year makes. Last year was one of the latest arriving springs in a long time; this year it is coming early.

Survey of Manitoba & SE Saskatchewan completed – looks good

Southern Manitoba and Southeastern Saskatchewan
Written by Terry Liddick
Friday, July 03, 2009

Doug Benning and I have completed the survey of southern Manitoba and southeastern Saskatchewan. Conditions across the survey area have significantly improved over 2008. The flooding has receded in stratum 38 and the area is looking good. Overall, the entire survey area looks good. Southeastern Saskatchewan throughout the Regina Plains is the driest part of the survey area, but even there, many basins have significant water. Southern Manitoba, from the US border to Dauphin looks very good, with many areas rated as excellent. It dried out a little as we proceeded north to The Pas; however, conditions are still greatly improved over last year. With the slightly cooler than normal spring and the higher than normal precipitation levels over the winter and into the spring, conditions should remain good throughout the nesting and brooding season. There was still a fair amount of ice in the northern section of the survey area, particularly on the larger water bodies, but nearly all of the smaller water was thawed, providing good conditions. Spring was certainly late and the farther north we got, the more evidence we saw of a late spring. Overall, I would rate the entire survey area as good and conditions vastly improved over the last several years.

Survey completed in Alaska and Yukon Territory

Alaska, Yukon Territory and Old Crow Flats
Written by Ed Mallek
Sunday, June 07, 2009

We have completed the survey! We surveyed the Kotzebue Sound area (Kotzebue to Bettles), the Old Crow Flats area and the Nelchina Basin area. The Kotzebue Sound area survey went as planned, with decent numbers of waterfowl and good survey conditions. The Old Crow Flats area is in Yukon Territory, Canada. This area holds large numbers of white-winged scoters and lesser scaup (as well as numerous dabblers). To survey the Old Crow Flats, we flew the survey aircraft from Bettles to Fort Yukon and put on additional fuel. We then flew from Fort Yukon to the Old Crow Flats, conducted our survey, and returned to Fairbanks. The lakes on the Old Crow Flats were less icy than in recent years and scoter and scaup numbers were relatively high there. Our last survey area was the Nelchina Basin. This basin is significantly higher than other interior Alaska survey areas (>1,500 feet above sea level compared to <700 feet above sea level for other interior Alaska survey areas). Due to this increased elevation and resultant late spring arrival, this area is surveyed last. We flew from Fairbanks to the Nelchina Basin, surveyed the Nelchina Basin, landed at Gulkana to put on some additional fuel, and flew to Anchorage for the completion of the survey.

The 2009 Alaska-Yukon Waterfowl Breeding Population Survey went well with no significant problems. We expect some duck numbers to be down slightly from recent years, perhaps due to good nesting conditions further south.

Habitat conditions generally good in northern Alberta and BC

Northern Alberta, Northeastern British Columbia and Northwest Territories
Written by Fred Roetker
Friday, June 05, 2009

Photo of Fred Roetker.A late spring delayed our start, and wind and weather have slowed us down a bit, but Carl Ferguson and I have finished our survey of northern Alberta and northeastern British Columbia. We are currently in Norman Wells, NWT. Habitat conditions are generally good across this survey area. Wetlands conditions vary as winter precipitation varied across the region. A fairly dry spring has limited the widespread flooding that often impacts early nesters. The important small wetlands often created by beaver dams appear to be in ideal condition. Although this is a late spring, there was an early warm up in some regions, which evidently allowed some early nesters to get underway in the smaller beaver flowages, ponds, and along miles and miles of small streams in this area. We are seeing flocked mallard drakes in these habitats, suggesting that some birds got an early start. However, the long lasting, severely cold winter is causing a delayed ice break up on the larger lakes. Consequently, we are still seeing groups of scaup and scoters in open leads along shorelines. However, we are also observing strong numbers of pairs and drakes of these species in the smaller wetlands. We plan to leave Norman Wells tomorrow, cross the Arctic Circle and finish the survey from Colville Lake and Inuvik.

Survey of Maine and Atlantic Canada completed

Maine and Atlantic Canada
Written by John Bidwell
Thursday, June 04, 2009

The Atlantic crew area waterfowl breeding population survey for 2009 started May 3 in Stratum 62 (Maine) and was completed on June 4 in Stratum 67 (Labrador). Habitat conditions for breeding waterfowl were classified excellent in Maine, the Maritimes and Newfoundland, but good in Labrador. Southern strata experienced normal ice breakup and the flooding that plagued 2008 was noticeably absent in 2009. In Newfoundland, the lack of snowfall in the central highlands coupled with moderate temperatures created early nesting conditions for black ducks and Canada geese. Labrador, however, had a late spring because of below normal temperatures and above normal snowfall. In general, waterfowl numbers for most species were above the 2008 estimates and good waterfowl production should be expected.

Survey Nearing an End

Northern Saskatchewan, Northern Manitoba
Written by Walt Rhodes
Thursday, June 04, 2009

Photo of Walt Rhodes.Someone once said that when you see the light at the end of the tunnel be careful because it could be the train.

Yukon/Kuskokwim Delta and the Seward Peninsula

Alaska, Yukon Territory and Old Crow Flats
Written by Ed Mallek
Wednesday, June 03, 2009

Today we finished surveying the Yukon/Kuskokwim Delta (YKD). This is our largest survey area and has the most diverse and highest densities of waterfowl. The coastal zone of this survey area has very high concentrations of nesting geese, ducks, and swans. Densities are lower in the interior of the YKD, but numbers are still high. We surveyed this area for three full days, and while en route to Kotzebue via Nome (Seward Peninsula). The southwest portion of the YKD was slightly icier than normal. Our survey from Bethel to Nome was normal with good survey conditions. We encountered some poor weather between Nome and Kotzebue, which required us to fly around the mountains due to low ceilings. After we flew west around the mountains just north of Nome, we encountered good weather on the Seward Peninsula and into Kotzebue. We thought the Seward Peninsula would be slightly icier than normal (late spring), but we found good survey conditions on the Seward Peninsula with less ice on lakes than in recent years.

Eastern and Northern Ontario survey completed

Eastern and Northern Ontario
Written by Mark Koneff
Wednesday, June 03, 2009

Photo of Mark Koneff.We finished the survey today. Although we did not see anything notably different from the information in my last report, I have uploaded a few more photos.

Eastern Quebec and Anticosti Island completed

Western Ontario and Northcentral Quebec
Written by Jim Wortham
Tuesday, June 02, 2009

Photo of Jim Wortham.We have completed surveying the eastern Quebec and Anticosti Island areas in two days.

Anticosti Island is a sparsely inhabited island lying in the middle of the St. Lawrence Seaway. The island rises from sea level to just over 1000’ in elevation. Habitats consist of boreal forest creeks and beaver marshes, with the occasional low lying bog. The remainder of this stratum consists of what is called the “North Shore” of the St. Lawrence and is characterized by high rugged terrain rising to elevations of 3000’ and the associated rapidly moving waters that funnel snow melt water down to sea level. Habitats here also include some permanent lakes and perched shallow basins.

Survey of Newfoundland completed – habitat excellent

Maine and Atlantic Canada
Written by John Bidwell
Tuesday, June 02, 2009

Photo of John Bidwell.We have now completed our survey of Newfoundland, and have only one day left to finish up Labrador. We are pleased to report that overall conditions are classified as good or excellent in 2009. Winter temperatures were below average in both provinces, and Newfoundland had well below average snowfall, particularly in the central highlands. Newfoundland also experienced mild temperatures in late April and early May, creating early nesting conditions. Overall, Newfoundland’s habitat conditions were considered excellent. In Labrador, colder temperatures persisted throughout early spring with lakes still frozen at the end of May and snow still dominating the higher elevations. Waterfowl concentrated on available habitat at lower elevations, but breeding social groups were still evident; we anticipate these pairs will move into habitat as soon as it opens up in early June. Overall, we rated Labrador habitat conditions as good. Timing of the survey was a bit late for black ducks in Labrador and Newfoundland – we observed only occasional groups – but was ideal for Canada geese, which were predominately recorded as pairs and singles.

Most counts up from 2008 so far

Eastern and Northern Ontario
Written by Mark Koneff
Sunday, May 31, 2009

Photo of Mark Koneff.We’re in Peawanuck, Ontario, on the shores of Hudson Bay at the mouth of the Winisk River. We completed the boreal forest of the Nickel Belt and Claybelt Regions as well as the southern James Bay Lowlands last week and, in general, breeding habitats were in good condition and counts of most duck species were up from 2008. After arriving in Peawanuck, we finished the northern James Bay Lowlands up to Cape Henrietta-Maria. Wetlands in this region were also in good condition, but conditions deteriorated in northern sections along the Hudson Bay where most water remained frozen. Good numbers of dabblers, divers, snow geese, and Canada geese were found aggregated on what little open water existed around the Cape. Yesterday, in Peawanuck (May 30) we received approximately 5 inches of fresh snow and strong winds caused drifting. Today we will remove drifts around the plane and fuel drums while waiting on crews to plow the runway. We have only the Hudson Bay Lowlands west of Peawanuck (to the Manitoba border) to complete.

The survey continues to the Tundra

Alaska, Yukon Territory and Old Crow Flats
Written by Ed Mallek
Friday, May 29, 2009

Today we arrived at Bethel, Alaska. We surveyed from Fairbanks to McGrath to King Salmon to Bethel over a period of 5 days. We encountered heavy flooding in the Innoko River survey area. This area floods often in the spring and occasionally in the fall. The extensive flooding may have caused decreased waterfowl densities and production in the area in the short term, but helps maintain good waterfowl habitat for the long term. We encountered one wildfire en route from McGrath to King Salmon. We had to discontinue the survey for about one mile while we flew around the fire. The survey around King Salmon (Bristol Bay) was conducted under good weather. Overall, water conditions and bird densities (with the exception of Innoko) were average to slightly below average.

Waiting For Spring

Northern Saskatchewan, Northern Manitoba
Written by Walt Rhodes
Wednesday, May 27, 2009

Walt RhodesSpring needs some muscle.  After leaving La Ronge, SK, we began surveying the lower lines in Stratum 21 and 23 near Buffalo Narrows, SK. All of the small wetlands and lakes were ice free. The very largest lakes remained frozen, as expected, but the margins were thawed for several feet from the shoreline. We were optimistic about the timing of the survey as we headed towards Ft. McMurray, AB for the night. We picked up the next lines north out of Ft. McMurray the following morning on May 23 and flew east across the entire province of Saskatchewan towards Lynn Lake, MB for fuel. Along the way we witnessed several flocks of snow and white-fronted geese, swallows and ducks migrating north. The age-old pattern was repeating itself once again. As we neared Manitoba, however, winter remained. There was more ice than open water. It was 34 degrees in Lynn Lake when we landed. We had left Ft. McMurray in short sleeves, and when we landed back there that afternoon the temperature was in the low 70s. A 40-degree difference in only 350 miles.

Survey of Eastern Dakotas completed – better than 2008

Eastern Dakotas
Written by John Solberg and Thom Lewis
Wednesday, May 27, 2009

Photo of John Solberg.Our previous (May 9) report addressed survey activities and habitat conditions in the area south of Huron, SD.  As we progressed northward, the benefits of precipitation received during the winter of ’08-’09 were obvious. From Aberdeen, SD north to the Canada border, water levels and numbers of basins were generally considered good to excellent and significantly improved since 2008. Nesting cover though, is variable. Dry conditions last year allowed many of the smaller, shallower basins to be “tilled through.” This practice destroys plant communities associated with wetlands and leaves little or no residual nesting cover the following year. Add to those conditions over 800,000 acres of CRP lost in the Dakotas since 2007 and an additional 400,000+ contract acres scheduled to expire in 2009, and you have degraded and further fragmented nesting cover over significant portions of the landscape. Fortunately, the increase in the number of basins with water, particularly north of Aberdeen, should provide suitable nesting sites within reasonable distances to wetlands, though nesting success and brood survival may be reduced.

Conditions are good in Alaska and Yukon

Alaska, Yukon Territory and Old Crow Flats
Written by Ed Mallek
Tuesday, May 26, 2009

Photo of Ed Mallek.The weather is cooperating so far, and we are getting some good days of surveying under our belts. We flew north out of Cordova to Fairbanks, and while we were up there we surveyed an extra day for the Kanuti National Wildlife Refuge. They wanted to do an expanded breeding pair survey on the refuge. Just to give a sense of scale, the Kanuti refuge is 1.6 million acres – roughly the size of Delaware. We ran our transect lines closer together, to provide more data for their survey. Other than that, we have not seen anything particularly unusual, other than a couple big fires. It is not supposed to be a bad fire year, but we’ve seen a couple big ones so far. Sometimes aerial surveys get scrubbed or delayed because of smoke from big fires, but we don’t anticipate that this time of year. Overall, water conditions and nesting continue to be about what we expect to see.

Survey of Southern Saskatchewan finished – strange year

Southern Saskatchewan
Written by Phil Thorpe
Tuesday, May 26, 2009

Photo of Phil Thorpe.Patrick Devers and I finished the survey of Southern Saskatchewan today. Habitat in the aspen parklands is a mixed bag this year. The northwest parklands were fair, with a few good areas north of Saskatoon. The northeast parklands to the east of Saskatoon are fair to good. All across the area, we had the sense that the land was drying out. There is residual water from previous wet years, but no new water to speak of anywhere. We saw a lot of unoccupied water, and I have not looked at the estimates yet, but my impression is that we saw fewer waterfowl overall. This could be because the habitat conditions are so good down in the Dakotas and eastern Montana—a lot of ducks may have stopped short down there. This was a strange year. We’ve seen snow geese and white-fronts in decent numbers every day of the survey. We always see a few, especially on the northern end of our area, but this is the first time I remember seeing them every day. The north country must still be locked up tight in ice. Many of the aspens are only now starting to leaf out. Spring is 10 days to two weeks behind this year. Overall, I’d say conditions are still fair to good, but the trend is toward the dry end of the spectrum.

Survey Completed: Drought Continues in the Alberta Prairie Pothole Region

Southern and Central Alberta
Written by Jim Bredy
Monday, May 25, 2009

Jim BredyWe flew into Calgary, Alberta today after completing the survey this morning. Our previous post on May 14 reported on the area between the US border and Red Deer, Alberta. Since then, we have surveyed the areas between Red Deer, Edmonton, Cold Lake, Slave Lake, Grand Prairie, and Peace River, Alberta; including Dawson Creek and Ft. St. John, British Columbia.

Engine Dies, Delays Start in Western Ontario

Western Ontario and Northcentral Quebec
Written by Jim Wortham
Monday, May 25, 2009

Photo of Jim Wortham.My observer Scott Boomer and I got off to a late survey start in 2009 due both to the delayed spring conditions, but also to an aircraft engine being pronounced dead after only 1.7 hours of use. An alternate aircraft was arranged, and we entered Canada on 16 May to find that spring conditions had caught up and birds were paired and distributed across the landscape. We surveyed the area between the 18th and 24th of May with only a few days lost to snow storms. Larger, deeper lakes in the northern areas were still frozen shore to shore, but virtually all other water bodies were open. Nightly freezes resulted in some skim ice on the smaller wetlands through the morning hours.

Spring Snow Slows Crew

Northern Saskatchewan, Northern Manitoba
Written by Walt Rhodes
Wednesday, May 20, 2009

Photo of Walt Rhodes.What a difference 12 hours makes. After surveying under perfect conditions for 4 days, nearly 5 inches of snow greeted us this morning. After we finished our last line yesterday, we could see the weather moving in and 2 hours later it was snowing. Despite the return of winter weather, all of the small wetlands and the margins of all lakes are ice free. Some of the larger lakes still have ice in the main body of water, especially to the east near Flin Flon, Manitoba. Buffleheads, ring-necked ducks, mallards and scaup are the most dominant species observed with smaller numbers of mergansers, green-winged teal and goldeneyes. Once the weather breaks, we will continue to move north through Saskatchewan towards Lake Athabasca before shifting east to N. Manitoba. The influence of Hudson Bay causes spring to arrive later in N. Manitoba.

Survey ends in Western Dakotas and Montana – Looks Good

Western Dakotas and Eastern Montana
Written by Ray Bentley
Tuesday, May 19, 2009

Photo of Ray Bentley.Peter Fasbender and I completed our aerial survey of the Western Dakotas and Montana today. Overall, habitat conditions across all of eastern Montana and the western Dakotas is significantly improved over 2008 and over the previous 5 years. Nearly all primary and secondary river systems showed evidence of high flows during early spring. Upland vegetation looked great over most of the region. In southwest SD and western ND, habitat was ranked as good and excellent. These regions displayed 75-100% of basins containing water – most at full capacity. In the higher elevation terrain of eastern MT, the number of ponds (all types) and stream drainages is reduced compared to the Dakotas, however the area was still ranked as Fair/Good/Excellent in relation to what is typical. Pond numbers were up from both 2008 and the 10-year average on nearly all transects. The combination of good residual vegetation from 2008, a large increase in overall early spring precipitation, and the resulting response of 2009 upland vegetation has produced quite favorable waterfowl nesting conditions in the western Dakotas and eastern Montana. Brood habitat is expected to be good and overall waterfowl production should be very good for 2009.

Northern Surveys Underway

Northern Saskatchewan, Northern Manitoba
Written by Walt Rhodes
Monday, May 18, 2009

Photo of Walt Rhodes.Given winter’s reluctance to release its grip on northern waterfowl habitats, the crews surveying in the Bush start later than Prairie crews. We began our first survey lines out of Prince Albert, SK on May 16. Habitats in this region are a mix of agricultural fields and aspen and spruce forests. This is the transition area from the Prairies and Parklands to the Boreal Forest. There was a large variety of species prevalent on wetlands and occasional flocks of white-fronted geese were observed moving north to Arctic nesting areas. Locally, timing of the survey seems to be excellent since we have observed a mix of paired birds as well as scattered small flocks of only drakes. Survey conditions have been excellent with light winds and high overcast skies.

Habitat wetter than 2008 so far

Southern Saskatchewan
Written by Phil Thorpe
Sunday, May 17, 2009

Photo of Phil Thorpe.We finished up the grassland units of the survey today. The grasslands northwest of Moose Jaw to the Alberta border are actually drier than last year. The contrast between the extremely wet conditions in the southeast to the extremely dry conditions in the northwest grasslands is typical of the prairies. Although temporarily bad for ducks, the wet-dry cycle of ponds in the prairies is critical to the long-term health of the habitat. The dry cycle allows the prairie to restore itself, and provides renewed resources to waterfowl when it becomes wet again.

Productivity should be good

Southern Quebec and Southeast Ontario
Written by Elizabeth Huggins
Sunday, May 17, 2009

Today we finished up the 2009 survey down in the southwestern portion of our survey area, which we had to skip earlier in the week because of storms. We have been operating out of North Bay and Pembroke, Ontario, and we have seen a lot of ducks the past few days. This area is flatter than the northern areas, and has a lot of ponds. They’ve had above average precipitation this spring (150-200% above normal), so everything is wet. There is a lot of sheet water in the fields, and a lot of flooding. It’s hard to say how much of this flooding is due to the big storms that came through this week. Hopefully, that new water didn’t flood nests of early nesting species of waterfowl.

Survey of Alaska and Yukon Begins

Alaska, Yukon Territory and Old Crow Flats
Written by Ed Mallek
Saturday, May 16, 2009

Photo of Ed Mallek.We started our survey of Alaska and the Yukon Territory today. This is my fourth year on this route, while my observer, Debbie Groves, has been on it for 18 years. We took off out of Cordova, Alaska this morning. The weather conditions were good, and bird distributions were about what we have come to expect.  Conditions on this survey area remain fairly consistent from year to year, unlike some of the other areas, where conditions may swing from total drought one year to flooding the next. We have seen some flooding along some of the rivers, which makes great habitat—not only for waterfowl, but for moose and other wildlife as well. This is the 33rd year that our highly modified Turbine Beaver airplane has been used on the survey. It was built in 1972 and has been used on this survey ever since 1977. It was built specifically to do wildlife surveys. With its Garrett engine, it has increased visibility and larger fuel load than other Beavers. It is a one of a kind aircraft.

Southeast Saskatchewan dry; Southern Manitoba flooded

Southern Manitoba and Southeastern Saskatchewan
Written by Terry Liddick
Friday, May 15, 2009

Terry LiddickAfter flying 5 days, we've seen that habitat conditions in Southern Manitoba are wetter and better than last year. In fact, there is massive flooding along the Red River on the eastern boundary of our survey area that has forced us to divert around it for now because the ground crews can't get in there. In places the river looks like you are approaching Lake Winnipeg. Levels are dropping as we speak, but there still are some roads closed. We will have to come back to that area later. Hopefully, the flooding won't have too great an impact on nesting. In stark contrast to Southern Manitoba, habitat in Southeast Saskatchewan is still dry. I would rate it fair at best. Southern Manitoba from Brandon south and west to the Saskatchewan border, however, looks great.

Good water conditions in Southern Saskatchewan

Southern Saskatchewan
Written by Dan Nieman
Friday, May 15, 2009

Dan Nieman (CWS Population Management Biologist Saskatchewan).Although water in the southern grasslands is much improved over last year, this region dries out as you proceed north and west. I’ve been surveying this crew area since 1971, and one of the hallmarks of the wetland habitat conditions in southern Saskatchewan is the great diversity across the area. Rarely do we see consistent conditions throughout. This year appears to be no exception. The west-central portion of the province is dry, but the eastern and central parklands have reasonably good water. Spring came late this year, and we’re still seeing ice on some of the big lakes. But nesting effort is strong, and we are encouraged by the number of some species we are seeing, especially pintails. The late farming activity could have negative impact on them, but overall, I’m optimistic because of the fairly good water conditions in the southern grasslands and central parklands. Over all, total duck numbers appear to be somewhat lower than expected, given the wetland habitat available. Many ponds are not occupied by waterfowl, likely a function of the excellent water available in other areas to the south (e.g., North and South Dakota).

Large storms change our flight plans

Southern Quebec and Southeast Ontario
Written by Elizabeth Huggins
Thursday, May 14, 2009

Some large, intense storms over the Great Lakes region have caused us to change the order of our survey. Normally, we would have continued across the southern portions of our area towards Ontario before turning north, but weather dictated that we reverse the order. We have been operating out of Chibaugamu, Quebec, which is roughly in the center of this survey area. Most of this area is boreal forest. The eastern portion of the area has higher elevations than the western part, and we saw some beautiful waterfalls. Some of the lakes there were still frozen northeast of Chibaugamu. The entire area has good water conditions. The lakes are all full and some are flooded. We didn’t see many ducks in the eastern region, but are seeing more in the western portion of this area.

Southern Alberta drier than last year

Southern and Central Alberta
Written by Jim Bredy
Thursday, May 14, 2009

Jim BredyWe finished our 5th day of flying today. We have flown most of the area between the US border and Red Deer, Alberta. Overall, the wetland and habitat conditions in our area are wetter in the west, when compared to the central and eastern portions. This is typical from what has been observed in the past.

Ground Crew: Water conditions still good

Western Dakotas and Eastern Montana
Written by Kathy Fleming
Thursday, May 14, 2009

Kathy Fleming.John and I have 9 days of surveying under our belts now, and the water conditions are still good, although eastern Montana is drier than the Dakotas. We’ve seen a lot of lone drakes, so nesting is in full swing. Landowners tell us that it was an unusually long, cold winter, with heavy snows. Although the snow was really hard on the cattle in the region, the meltwater from it has rejuvenated the landscape. That is great news for ducks as well as farmers — many of whom have not been able to get a crop off the land for several years in a row. We’re talking to a lot of optimistic landowners this year, who are happy to tell us where to find ducks on their property!

Halfway done; duck numbers up from last year

Maine and Atlantic Canada
Written by John Bidwell
Wednesday, May 13, 2009

John BidwellWe are almost halfway through our survey of Maine and the Atlantic provinces now, having completed Maine, New Brunswick, Prince Edward Island, and much of Nova Scotia. Habitat conditions remain excellent for all the areas we have seen to date. Numbers of black ducks, ringnecks, goldeneyes and Canada geese are up everywhere we have surveyed. Numbers may not be as high as we saw in 2007, but they are much better than 2008. Waterfowl in this part of the world seem to like small wetlands and beaver flowages, rather than the larger wetlands that might see tremendous use out in the prairies. The Atlantic seaboard will never have the sheer numbers of breeding ducks that are found in the prairies, but it’s great to see the numbers up from last year.

Ground Crew: Mid-season nesters getting started

Eastern Dakotas
Written by Eastern Dakotas Ground Crew
Wednesday, May 13, 2009

We finished our 4th day of air-ground survey work yesterday. Today we were on hold because of high wind conditions, so we’re catching up on some paperwork and making preparations to hit it hard as soon as the weather lets up. Conditions are still on the dry side, but we hear that conditions will get wetter as we move north.

Grassland units completed

Southern Saskatchewan
Written by Phil Thorpe
Wednesday, May 13, 2009

Photo of Phil Thorpe.We are grounded today because of weather, but we have completed 5 days of surveying to date. Conditions continue to be much better than last year on the areas we’ve seen so far. There are exceptions, of course. The Missouri Coteau north of Moose Jaw is mostly dry again this year, and there are even some dry stock ponds near the Alberta border. However, conditions throughout the southeast corner of the region are excellent, grading into good or fair as you move into the southwest corner.  And in nearly all cases, they are wetter than they were in 2008.

Some areas have best conditions seen in years

Western Dakotas and Eastern Montana
Written by Ray Bentley
Tuesday, May 12, 2009

Photo of Ray Bentley.We just completed our 7th day of flying transects. We have covered all of the western Dakotas and are moving into eastern Montana. Habitat conditions we’ve seen this past week of flying continue to be much better than last year. Late last year, western South Dakota got a lot of moisture. It came too late to have much effect on breeding, but it caused great growing conditions for the habitat. This year, the moisture has come earlier, and much of that lush vegetation now has water on it. Some parts of this route have better conditions than I have ever seen in eight years of flying here.

Water conditions good in the Nickel Belt and Clay Belt

Eastern and Northern Ontario
Written by Mark Koneff
Tuesday, May 12, 2009

Mark KoneffToday we moved into the boreal forest north of Lake Huron, a region known as the Nickel Belt because of the important ore deposits found there.  This survey stratum extends north and east through the boreal forest and into the Clay Belt, an area of agricultural production on the Ontario-Quebec Border. Winter and spring precipitation in the Nickel and Clay Belts was average and wetlands throughout most of this area have been observed to be in good condition.  We are presently in Kapuskasing, Ontario (which is about 130 nautical miles from the southern shore of James Bay) waiting on weather to clear so we can resume the survey.

New York survey area completed

Southern Quebec and Southeast Ontario
Written by Elizabeth Huggins
Monday, May 11, 2009

We’ve finished surveying our portion of New York and have worked our way up to just east of Montreal. This area is flat in the west, with rolling hills in the east. They have had a very wet spring and water conditions are good to excellent, except for a notable area around Sherbrook, where conditions are fair. That is the only area we’ve seen so far that was dry.

Ground Crews begin surveying southern Saskatchewan

Southern Saskatchewan
Written by Dan Nieman
Sunday, May 10, 2009

Dan Nieman (CWS Population Management Biologist Saskatchewan)The Southern Saskatchewan crew area is very large, and the ground surveys use three crews of three people. Our first task prior to the survey is to meet with our pilot biologist, Phil Thorpe, and his observer biologist, Patrick Devers, to determine if nesting has progressed enough to begin the survey, and to review and familiarize new staff with the pond classification process. This ensures consistency in our counting methodology.

Conditions slightly better than 2008

Eastern Dakotas
Written by John Solberg and Thom Lewis
Saturday, May 09, 2009

John Solberg. Photo by Roger Gable/Wright Bros. Aviation, LTD.We completed our 5th day of flying today. We were grounded for 2 days because of high winds. It was gusting up to 50 mph in portions of the survey unit. In general, habitat conditions are fair south of Huron, SD. We even encountered some poor conditions in the extreme southeastern portion of the state. Conditions get better further west. Generally, I would rate overall conditions fair to good between Huron and Aberdeen. Overall, conditions in the areas surveyed thus far are improved since 2008. It has been a late, cool spring. It is supposed to warm up next week, which will trigger rapid vegetation growth. That will be highly beneficial to nesting waterfowl.

2009 survey of the Eastern Dakotas begins

Eastern Dakotas
Written by John Solberg and Thom Lewis
Saturday, May 09, 2009

Photo of John Solberg by Roger Gebel/Wright Bros. Aviation, LTD.My observer Thom Lewis and I began the 2009 survey by flying out of Mitchell, SD. We would have started yesterday, but we had significant wind and rain, so we delayed a day. Today we surveyed between Mitchell, SD and the Nebraska border. Wetland conditions in this area are slightly improved since 2008, but were not as wet as I expected. All waterfowl species were present and early nesting species (mallards and pintails) are "getting down to business."

2009 Survey begins in Southern Quebec and Southeast Ontario

Southern Quebec and Southeast Ontario
Written by Elizabeth Huggins
Friday, May 08, 2009

John Rayfield and I started the 2009 survey in Watertown, NY, just south of the Quebec border. For the past 18 years I have been flying survey routes in the Canadian Prairies and Parklands of Alberta, Saskatchewan and Manitoba. The boreal forest in this area is very unique and different from what I am used to surveying. Spring timing appears normal. The trees are leafed out, ducks are paired up and the water is open. Refuges in northern NY report normal waterfowl migration timing this year. This area had a good, wet winter and fall with normal spring precipitation. Water conditions look good so far.

Survey begins in Eastern and Northern Ontario

Eastern and Northern Ontario
Written by Mark Koneff
Friday, May 08, 2009

Mark KoneffMy observer, Guthrie Zimmerman (USFWS) and I began the survey on May 8 in the interlakes agricultural region of southwest Ontario. Snowfall was average across southwest Ontario through February when warm temperatures led to an early thaw. Snowfall and rain from February to May resulted in wetlands at full capacity at the time of the survey and nesting conditions across this region were excellent across southwest Ontario.

Survey of Southern and Central Alberta begins

Southern and Central Alberta
Written by Jim Bredy
Friday, May 08, 2009

Jim Bredy

Dave Fronczak and I departed Calgary today to begin the 2009 survey of Southern and Central Alberta. I flew this survey for 8 years in the late 80s and early 90s It feels good to be back. The feeling is similar to making connections with an old friend that you haven't seen in awhile.  Today we flew south out of Calgary toward the U.S. border. Water and habitat conditions looked good in the southwest end of the prairies.  However, there was a late April/early May snow storm that appeared to delay migration slightly. As we continued our flight, the central to southeast portion of the prairies looked fair to poor.

2009 survey of Southern Manitoba begins

Southern Manitoba and Southeastern Saskatchewan
Written by Terry Liddick
Friday, May 08, 2009

Terry LiddickWe started the 2009 survey of Southern Manitoba and Eastern Saskatchewan today by flying out of Brandon, Manitoba. My observer Doug Benning and I began by flying south to survey the southern end of our crew area south of Brandon to the US border near International Peace Gardens. Next, we'll turn west over into Southeast Saskatchewan, west as far as Regina, south to the US border and north as far as Yorkton, and will make a big circle over our route over the next couple weeks. We will average around 12 segments per day. We can't say too much after only one day of flying, but the habitat we've seen so far looks much wetter than last year.

Ground survey started in Eastern Dakotas

Eastern Dakotas
Written by Pam Garrettson
Friday, May 08, 2009

Pam Garrettson.We’re getting started with our survey today, about 3 days later than average. John Solberg, the pilot biologist for this crew area, delayed the start a few days because spring was late. The survey should begin once the early nesting species (in this area, that’s mallards and pintails) are well into nesting, and the mid- to late-nesters are on territories or even beginning to nest. To ensure that this happens, John and his observer make reconnaissance flights and note the pairing status of the local birds. While females are on the nest, males sit alone or in small groups on nearby ponds. So when you begin observing many birds as lone males rather than as male-female pairs, that’s an indication that species has begun nesting. Females spend more time on the nest each day as they move further into laying (a typical clutch is 8-12 eggs) and incubation, and that is reflected in the number of lone males seen.

Southern Saskatchewan survey begins

Southern Saskatchewan
Written by Phil Thorpe
Monday, May 04, 2009

Phil ThorpeWe kicked off the survey of southern Saskatchewan today. The extent of the new water was really apparent from high altitude during the flight up to Regina from my home base in Denver on May 5th. Last year, most of the grasslands were dry, but this year there is abundant water in the south.

Survey of Western Dakotas begins

Western Dakotas and Eastern Montana
Written by Ray Bentley
Monday, May 04, 2009

Photo of Ray Bentley.Today, my observer Peter Fasbender and I began our portion of the 2009 survey in Pierre, South Dakota. We took off in Pierre and followed our first transect line west toward the Montana border and back again. We certainly can’t make predictions based on one day of flying, but we’re very encouraged by what we’re seeing so far—much better water conditions than we have seen in recent years.

Ground crew begins surveying Western Dakotas

Western Dakotas and Eastern Montana
Written by Kathy Fleming
Monday, May 04, 2009

photo of Kathy FlemingJohn Klimstra and I headed west out of Pierre, South Dakota this morning on the first day of our 2009 ground survey of the western Dakotas and Montana. We’re seeing a lot more water in this area than we saw last year, which is a great sign. In fact, we had a really long day today, because counting ducks took us a lot longer than we planned, due to the excellent habitat conditions — many streams and ponds overflowing. This area doesn’t have a lot of natural wetlands. Most of the water is contained in stock dams and dugouts that farmers provide for their cattle. And even some of those have been dry after several straight years of drought, so duck production has been marginal in this area. But the local landowners we’ve spoken to say this is the most water they’ve had on the ground for years. Hopefully, this trend will continue across our survey area.

Maine and Atlantic Canada survey begins

Maine and Atlantic Canada
Written by John Bidwell
Sunday, May 03, 2009

John BidwellOur 2009 survey began by flying out of Bangor, Maine. We started along the coastal areas, and then turned inland, over the boreal forest. Early indications are very good. The water is open, ducks are nesting, and there is no sign of the tremendous flooding we saw here last year. Spring came very late last year, and heavy flooding had many of the prime nesting areas underwater. As a result, duck numbers were well below normal — for all species surveyed. It’s impossible to predict what conditions will be like over the remainder of our survey area, but we are very encouraged by what we’ve seen so far.