Survey Completed in Eastern Dakotas

Written by Terry Liddick
Wednesday, May 18, 2016

Terry LiddickWell, today, May 18th, Dave and I completed the final transects of the Eastern Dakota’s survey area. We departed Devil’s Lake and completed the two transects that stretch from the area just west of Minot and continued west to the Montana border. There were a few good areas on the coteau west of Minot, but other than that, the dry trend continued once we left Jamestown. Comparing this years numbers to last years, it looks like we were down in most species with the exception of scaup and gadwall. The dry trend that we seemed to have observed each day out the window of the plane was confirmed by the final natural wetland count. We were down a little over 1100 natural wetlands this year. That was evident ever since we left Mitchell, South Dakota and got north of Huron. Many of the temporary and seasonal wetlands have been dry including many on the coteau. So we would expect production in the Eastern Dakota’s to only be about average this year to maybe a little below average.

After a few weather days in Jamestown, we were once again able to string six flying days in succession to complete the survey. We only experienced three weather days this year and that is on the low side of the average. It was a welcome change to the thirteen we endured last year. However, we did manage to experience all that the prairie weather has to throw at you in the spring: wind, rain, snow, fog, cold mist, etc. One day we flew through a few snow flurries, rain showers and sunshine all in the same day. Weather days are always a good breather and we did manage to take care of several issues that were plaguing us with the ground portion of the data work. It took the six of us and several calls to the IT help desk to crack the code on getting our computers connected to the internet to complete administrative functions that do not quit while we are on survey. IT policies are always one of the most frustrating things to overcome when we are in the field.

As with each survey we fly, there are some good things we see out the window and some not so good things. This year, there seems to be a lot of wheat on the ground and that can be a bonus for nesting waterfowl. We did not see as much draining occurring as we have seen in years past and that can be a good thing as well. However, there is still some occurring and hopefully the trend is slowing. The downside of the dry spring however is many of the seasonal wetlands have been plowed and that can hurt their function in the future if the dry trend continues. The oil production in western North Dakota has slowed, however, we did hear that it is about to start picking up again. We did not witness the haze created by the trucks on the section roads this year like we have seen in many of the past years.

There are always a few entertaining things that we see as well. One of the standouts this year was when we passed over a stretch of road that had some ongoing construction. As we approached the guy that was stopping traffic, he had the quick wit to hold up his stop sign as high as he could reach it, holding the “STOP” in my direction. I’m hopeful a ticket does not show up in the mail! It was great to see the sunrise each morning, even if it was shrouded by the smoke of the Alberta fires many days. It is always awesome to see the heart of the Prairie Pothole Region. And it is always so inspiring to see some of the best sights mother nature has to offer. It is a waterfowl survey and that is what we are always concentrating on. But it is incredible to see the sights of spring; the bucks growing their new head gear, the turkeys strutting, the courtship flights of various species of waterfowl, some getting a little too close to the plane at times.

So that concludes the Eastern Dakotas survey for another year. Now it’s off to Denver to get a new engine put into my Cessna 206 so she is ready for next year. She will see the white-fronted goose survey this fall in Canada, the whooping cranes in Arkansas in December and the sandhill cranes along the central Platte River Valley in Nebraska before then, amongst a few other things. But that will mean it will be well broken in and ready for the 2017 Waterfowl Breeding Population and Habitat Survey. See you then!

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Video footage that represents habitat conditions for the Eastern Dakotas in 2016. Video by Dave Fronczak, US FWS

Habitat conditions in the eastern Dakotas. Photo Credit: Dave Fonczak, USFWS.

Habitat conditions in the eastern Dakotas. Photo Credit: Dave Fonczak, USFWS.

Habitat conditions in the eastern Dakotas. Photo Credit: Dave Fonczak, USFWS.

Habitat conditions in the eastern Dakotas. Photo Credit: Dave Fonczak, USFWS.

Habitat conditions in the eastern Dakotas. Photo Credit: Dave Fonczak, USFWS.

Habitat conditions in the eastern Dakotas. Photo Credit: Dave Fonczak, USFWS.