Alaska Survey is Completed

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.

We left Fairbanks on 24 May and conducted surveys from Bettles to Fairbanks via Galena. We arrived in Fairbanks on 25 May. Survey conditions were good and water levels were low on the rivers, sloughs, and some of the lakes. The flood plain along the lower Koyukuk River was primarily dry and was not flooded as is typical of this area (flooding) in the spring.

We conducted surveys between Fairbanks and McGrath on 27 May. We were not able to fly one of the survey segments due to a temporary flight restriction (TFR) caused by wildfires. A TFR limits flight activity in a defined area to specific, in this case fire fighting, aircraft. Regardless of the TFR, the segment that we skipped was too thick with smoke to survey properly.

On 28 May we planned on flying the Innoko survey area and then continue surveying to King Salmon. Our plans were changed with aircraft engine starting problems. We called our maintenance facility when we were airborne on the aircraft satellite phone and described the problem to them. They suggested that we fly the aircraft directly to Anchorage so they could address the issue. We arrived in Anchorage and maintenance was performed on the aircraft. Upon completion of the maintenance we returned to McGrath, put on more fuel and conducted the survey on the Innoko survey area. The following day we surveyed from McGrath to King Salmon and also surveyed on the Alaska Peninsula.

May 30 found us conducting surveys between King Salmon and Bethel near the town of Dillingham. After we arrived at Bethel we decided to double-up on our survey effort and we started the survey of the Yukon-Kuskokwim Delta area. The following day, 31 May, we continued our survey of the Yukon Delta. This area has large numbers of nesting waterfowl, especially near the coast where large numbers of geese nest.

We were required to take two days off due to work regulations regarding piloting of aircraft, so we did not conduct surveys on 1-2 June. The required two days off happened to work out well since both days were too windy to fly low-level surveys properly.

After two days off, we conducted the last full day of surveying on the Yukon-Kuskokwim Delta. June 4, found us flying and surveying from Bethel to Kotzebue via Nome. We surveyed the remainder of the Yukon-Kuskokwim Delta area and surveyed an area east of Nome near Koyuk. We then flew the aircraft to Nome and put on more jet fuel. We departed Nome and surveyed the central and northern Seward Peninsula arriving in Kotzebue with just under 8 hours of surveying for the day.

June 5 was a beautiful sunny day with light winds in Kotzebue. We departed Kotzebue and surveyed the Kotzebue Sound and Selawik areas eventually ending up in Bettles. The following day we departed Bettles to survey the Old Crow Flats in Canada just adjacent to the Alaska border. We first stopped at Fort Yukon to put on more fuel before we surveyed the Old Crow Flats. The weather in the survey area was good although a little sunny. We actually prefer a high thin overcast to count waterfowl. Sunny conditions cause glare on the water and also causes backlighting on some of the birds, both of which makes counting and identification more difficult. Upon completion of the survey we returned to Fairbanks via Fort Yukon (for just a little extra fuel).

We transcribed data on 7 June. Each “observer” has a computer and they talk into a microphone to record observations during the survey. The computer also records the location of the aircraft for each observation, which is obtained from the aircraft GPS. We must then “transcribe” the recorded data. That means we listen to the recordings (of the duck counts) and type the data into a text format using specialized computer programs. Transcribing data doesn’t take a lot of time but it may require up to one hour of time for each day flown (depending on the number of ducks seen).

The last day of the survey was 8 June. We departed Fairbanks for the Nelchina Basin near Gulkana. The weather was too low for a direct flight over the Alaska Range requiring us to fly through Windy Pass near Denali National Park to get to our survey area. The survey of Nelchina Basin went well and we arrived in Anchorage and landed at Lake Hood Seaplane Base to complete the survey.

Alaska Range - no ducks here. (Credit:  Ed Mallek, USFWS)

Alaska Range - no ducks here. Credit: Ed Mallek, USFWS

Minto Flats - low water conditions. (Credit:  Ed Mallek, USFWS)

Minto Flats - low water conditions. Credit: Ed Mallek, USFWS

Minto Flats - low water conditions. (Credit:  Ed Mallek, USFWS)

Minto Flats - low water conditions. Credit: Ed Mallek, USFWS

Fire in the mountains between McGrath and Anchorage. (Credit:  Ed Mallek, USFWS)

Fire in the mountains between McGrath and Anchorage. Credit: Ed Mallek, USFWS

Smoke in the mountains between McGrath and Anchorage. (Credit:  Ed Mallek, USFWS)

Smoke in the mountains between McGrath and Anchorage. Credit: Ed Mallek, USFWS

TFR and smoke in the survey area. (Credit:  Ed Mallek, USFWS)

TFR and smoke in the survey area. Credit: Ed Mallek, USFWS

TFR and smoke in the survey area. (Credit:  Ed Mallek, USFWS)

TFR and smoke in the survey area. Credit: Ed Mallek, USFWS

Wetlands on the Innoko. (Credit:  Ed Mallek, USFWS)

Wetlands on the Innoko. Credit: Ed Mallek, USFWS