The Power of Three

Written by Nick Wirwa
Monday, May 09, 2016

Photo of Nick Wirwa.This is our first day after surveying 5 days to be on the ground due to high winds following a recent cold front. Despite the weather we are making good progress. This is my third year assisting with the Waterfowl Breeding Surveys, and it has been very interesting getting to see the exact same locations over the three-year period. However, I know other pilots and crew members have flown the same survey for a decade or more. What a huge value and asset to have within this program. As a refuge biologist I have been fortunate enough to have had the opportunity to work at various refuges around the country. What I have discovered through these experiences is the phenomenon of cycles and the power of repetition. Oftentimes, after moving to a new refuge, I allow myself the first year for observation, the second year for trials and screw-ups and the third year to finally figure things out. Because of this, it has always been my rule-of-thumb to not implement any new measure or management strategy until after the third year and nothing new and drastic until the seventh year. This is because as biologists or land managers we need to experience annual cycles and be able to answer questions like when is it driest, when is it the wettest, what does a wet year look like, where does the water flow, when is the peak bird use, and what species use this habitat throughout the year. These are questions we should be asking ourselves as biologists during the first year in the field. As I was flying across the agricultural lands west of Toronto surveying waterfowl, these thoughts of annual cycles came to mind. I am now seeing the same areas for the third year. This has allowed me to better assess those habitat questions related to wetland condition, nesting, and bird use. The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service has always promoted its employees to move around to various programs and field stations to gain experience, and while that is important, the biologist/employee who has experience at one site for thirty years has and can contribute a great wealth of knowledge to science.