Northern Alberta Complete

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.

I was in a conservative-approach mode since this was going to be the first time I flew this crew area. Caleb, however, was on his third year in the crew area. By the time we got to the start of the crew area in Slave Lake, Alberta, spring was in full gear. We got going and with good weather we put in some long days to get some miles behind us. We ran into the northern Saskatchewan crew in Fort McMurray, Alberta, and I felt lucky after hearing about all the problems they had (check out their flight logs after reading this one). After overnights in five different cities in three Canadian provinces, Alberta was complete.

Timing of the survey looks good and habitats appear to be in good shape. With the exception of the Athabasca Delta, most of the transects we surveyed featured fairly low densities of buffleheads, mallards, scaup, and green-winged teal. The Athabasca, however, had every make and model and lots of them.

Pilot-biologist, Walt Rhodes (left), and observer, Caleb Spiegel, start the morning in Fort Nelson, British Columbia.

Pilot-biologist, Walt Rhodes (left), and observer, Caleb Spiegel, start the morning in Fort Nelson, British Columbia. Photo by Walt Rhodes, USFWS

Oil Sands infrastructure now occupies former waterfowl habitat on transect 77-05 north of Fort McMurray, Alberta.

Oil Sands infrastructure now occupies former waterfowl habitat on transect 77-05 north of Fort McMurray, Alberta. Photo by Walt Rhodes, USFWS

Some of the richest waterfowl habitat in northern Alberta occurs on the Athabasca Delta near Fort Chipewyan.

Some of the richest waterfowl habitat in northern Alberta occurs on the Athabasca Delta near Fort Chipewyan. Photo by Walt Rhodes, USFWS