Fits and Starts

Written by Walt Rhodes
Monday, May 23, 2016

Walt Rhodes“I’ll again have the pickerel,” I said to the waitress for the third day in a row. After you are in a particular crew area for a few years that has limited choices you seek out what is good and stick with it. Eating walleye from the same lakes we survey over is a when-in-Rome behavior.

Normally, we are not in any one town long enough to get into a pattern, but if I was a big buck a part of me would be on the meat pole and the other part headed to the taxidermist.

The 2016 survey has so far been a series of starts and stops. I am fortunate to have the same observer from last year, Doug Head, an Inventory and Monitoring Biologist for the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service along the Texas/Louisiana Coast. His experience from last year, the fact that he is a pilot too, and remains sharp with aerial surveys since he conducts them during the winter for his main job, all align for us to jump right into the survey. That is, until our engine got a small bleed.

Doug and I left Boise, Idaho, on May 12 on a beautiful flight over the Rockies. That changed after leaving Great Falls, Montana, on our way to Saskatoon, Saskatchewan. The fuel flow meter got more erratic than Trump-versus-Clinton pole results and then weather along the border forced us into Glasgow, Montana. The rainbow was a weeping fuel transducer and improving weather that put us into Regina, Saskatchewan, that evening in time for supper with the Northwest Territories and Southern Saskatchewan crews. All three crews headed to Saskatoon the following day as planned and I was able to get some professional eyes on the transducer and a new one ordered.

Doug and I hit the air flying on May 14 out of Prince Albert, Saskatchewan. Despite the drier conditions in the prairies to the south, the Parklands continue to hold water and wetlands were brimming. We knocked out in three days our Parkland transects as well as Stratum 25 on the Saskatchewan River delta in Manitoba. First impressions are that there appears to be some degree of an overflight again this spring.

We hustled back to Saskatoon through the smoke of the Ft. McMurray fire for the new part, only to find out it was the wrong one. More delays. Nonetheless, the correct one got on its way and we were back to surveying out of La Ronge, Saskatchewan, on May 19. We have been able to get in only one more day over the last four due to the cutoff low pressure that has the Alberta crew holed up in Edmonton. Our logistics have been complicated by the closure of Ft. McMurray and the fire crossing the Saskatchewan/Alberta border, which filled the limited lodging with firefighting crews at our alternative fuel stop.

The weather is forecast to break overnight and with some creative planning we should be able to complete our Saskatchewan transects without going too far out of the way. I am, however, taking a different trail to supper but I will have the pickerel, again.

The Northwest Territories crew, Fred Roetker and Steve Olson, Northern Saskatchewan/Northern Manitoba crew, Doug Head and Walt Rhodes, and Saskatchewan crew, Stephen Chandler and Phil Thorpe. Photo Credit: Walt Rhodes, USFWS.

The Northwest Territories crew, Fred Roetker and Steve Olson, Northern Saskatchewan/Northern Manitoba crew, Doug Head and Walt Rhodes, and Saskatchewan crew, Stephen Chandler and Phil Thorpe. Photo Credit: Walt Rhodes, USFWS.

Part of the fleet park in Saskatoon, Saskatchewan. Photo Credit: Walt Rhodes, USFWS.

Part of the fleet park in Saskatoon, Saskatchewan. Photo Credit: Walt Rhodes, USFWS.

Good habitat conditions continue in the Parklands near Prince Albert, Saskatchewan.  Photo Credit: Walt Rhodes, USFWS.

Good habitat conditions continue in the Parklands near Prince Albert, Saskatchewan. Photo Credit: Walt Rhodes, USFWS.