Habitat Looks Good So Far

Written by Walt Rhodes
Monday, May 16, 2011

Walt RhodesThe abundant water on the Prairies has stretched north. Since arriving in Prince Albert, Saskatchewan, from Regina, Mike and I have been able to get in two days of flying, and the habitat and timing of the survey looks good.

The first big question that pilot-biologists have to answer is when to begin the survey. The answer to that question is a mix of art and science but the bottom line remains with the birds. In the North it can be difficult assessing the timing of spring because access is limited since there are no roads. While I rely on reports from the Prairie crews and contacts sprinkled throughout the North, you still have to show up and gauge the landscape. You can be too early sometimes. For example, my observer and I had to sit for five straight days in 2009 to let the ice melt and spring to catch up.

I started getting a little concerned this year about timing when flying up from Regina. It is routine to see occasional flocks of snow and white-fronted geese migrating north while flying our lines. So, I was not surprised to see some flocks around Saskatoon. But as we flew north to Prince Albert, Mike and I began spotting some very large flocks of snows. I thought “Uh oh.” However, due to the south winds, these birds were on the move as several large flocks passed overhead northward while we were refueling in Prince Albert. And we haven’t seen any snows or whitefronts since then, either.

As we completed the survey lines near Prince Albert and Meadow Lake, water was spilling out of wetland margins and the birds of all species observed so far are paired off nicely. Reports are of drier conditions as further north, and the forest fires already raging across the North probably hints that is the case.

Comparative view of Suggi Lake in mid-May over a three year period, starting with the 2009 view at the top and this year's view at the bottom.
Comparative view of Suggi Lake in mid-May over a three year period, starting with the 2009 view at the top and this year's view at the bottom.
Comparative view of Suggi Lake in mid-May over a three year period, starting with the 2009 view at the top and this year's view at the bottom.

Comparative view of Suggi Lake in mid-May over a three year period, starting with the 2009 view at the top and this year's view at the bottom. Photo by W. Rhodes, US FWS