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

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. Someone mentioned that the truck didn’t smell great after a month on the road. Finally, we were able to start, but more clouds loomed to the west. Seven miles from the finish, the sky turned dark as dusk, and we stopped again as rain and hail pounded down.

When things cleared up, neither we nor the ducks were the worse for wear. Not so for some other birds. I saw a couple of Hungarian partridges hunkered down in wheat stubble, their feathers plastered flat. The difference lies in an oil-producing structure, the uropygial gland, located at the base of the tails of most birds, but it is highly developed in ducks and other waterfowl. They preen this oil through their feathers to keep them water-repellent. But what about young downy ducklings? In the sort of weather we experienced, the hen would tuck them underneath her body to keep them warm and dry. She also broods her ducklings in the nest for about the first 24 hours after they hatch until they are completely dry. Since ducklings can feed themselves, brooding and leading them to good, safe habitat is the primary care the hen provides.

The rest of the day was uneventful. We entered our last data as we drove to Bismarck. From there we departed for our own homes.

Redheads leave paddle prints as they take off in North Dakota. Photo by Joshua J. White.

Redheads leave paddle prints as they take off in North Dakota. Photo by Joshua J. White, USFWS

Recent rains added to the already wet conditions, but wind dried the roads out quickly.   Photo by Joshua J. White.

Recent rains added to the already wet conditions, but wind dried the roads out quickly. Photo by Joshua J. White, USFWS