Counting Lots of Ducks and Ponds

Written by Jim Bredy
Friday, May 17, 2013

Photo of Jim Bredy.This is the 26th season I have been flying surveys for the FWS. The days and the years seem to have blended into one long journey. It reminds me of some words in the final scene in the movie “A River Runs Through It” where the narrator states: “Eventually, all things merge into one”. I am extremely fortunate this year, in that I have the distinct pleasure of working again with one of the finest young waterfowl persons of my career as my crew member, Jay Hitchcock. Jay flew with me last year up here. It gives me a tremendous amount of pleasure to see fine young men like Jay, who are beginning to take charge of this great waterfowl resource I love so dearly. He is a certified “duck-head”, loves to work around ducks, can count ducks accurately from the air, and is just one of those pleasurable persons anyone would like to be around. We started the aerial surveys on May 9 near the Montana border. We have been extremely fortunate in that we have had decent enough weather to have been able to fly portions of at least eight straight days. Today the aircraft engines are undergoing an oil change and a “50 hour” preventative maintenance inspection. It is time to catch up on data transcribing and reports. We are currently based in Edmonton Alberta, and have one flight day left to finish the Southern Alberta portion of the survey, strata 26-29. After completing the area just north of Edmonton, it will be time to migrate up to “The Peace” country between Grande Prairie and Peace River, Alberta.

The dry conditions in the northern US have carried over into portions of the very southernmost part of Alberta, between Medicine Hat and Lethbridge. However, the further north one travels tells a very different story. Wetlands between Calgary and Edmonton, and eastward to the Saskatchewan border, have some of the best conditions I have seen since I started flying up here. The upland vegetation growth is slightly behind the last several years, due to the long hard winter. We suspect that we are receiving a carry-over of birds that would normally have nested in the current drier habitats further to the south. We are counting record numbers of ducks and ponds in some areas. In listening to my tape recordings, I have caught myself gasping for a few more mouthfuls of air, so I can continue to count (click the player to the right to hear for yourself). One needs to remember however, that it is not just the number of ponds that raises ducks. Good quality upland habitat, associated with the ponds, is a critical element in the Great Duck Factory.

We hope to resume our surveys on Saturday, May 18, but that will be dependent on the weather. Wherever you are, I hope you are having fun. I’m still having fun, up here in the Great Duck Factory!

2013 BPOP SC Alberta Air Crew Photo.  Jay Hitchcock on the Left, Jim Bredy on the right.

2013 BPOP SC Alberta Air Crew Photo. Jay Hitchcock on the Left, Jim Bredy on the right. Photo by Jay Hitchcock, US FWS

Southern Alberta has some good to excellent habitat conditions. However this photo at the SE portion of Stratum 28 demonstrates there are still some very dry areas that will not provide optimum upland habitat or wetland conditions for breeding waterfowl.

Southern Alberta has some good to excellent habitat conditions. However this photo at the SE portion of Stratum 28 demonstrates there are still some very dry areas that will not provide optimum upland habitat or wetland conditions for breeding waterfowl. Photo by Jay Hitchcock, US FWS

These photos are a tale of two extremes.  They were both taken in the same area of southern Alberta during the month of May, between Empress and Provost, near the Alberta/Saskatchewan Border.  This is the “Stratum 27” area.  The one on the left was taken in 2010, while this region was in the middle of a severe drought.  The one on the right was taken this May of 2013.  After flying this area for over a quarter of a century, it still amazes me just how fast it can recover from a drought!  However one needs to also remember, that as quick as the wetland conditions can turn good, it can also regress just as fast as it has improved.

These photos are a tale of two extremes. They were both taken in the same area of southern Alberta during the month of May, between Empress and Provost, near the Alberta/Saskatchewan Border. This is the “Stratum 27” area. The one on the left was taken in 2010, while this region was in the middle of a severe drought. The one on the right was taken this May of 2013. After flying this area for over a quarter of a century, it still amazes me just how fast it can recover from a drought! However one needs to also remember, that as quick as the wetland conditions can turn good, it can also regress just as fast as it has improved. Photo Credit: left-Dave Fronczak, right-Jay Hitchcock, both USFWS

One needs to remember that it takes more than ponds to raise ducks.  There also needs to be good nesting cover nearby.  This photo was taken in the heart of the aspen parklands in Alberta, approximately 20 miles NE of the town of Holden, Alberta.  There is little nesting habitat in the immediate vicinity of these ponds.  However, this photo demonstrates just how much water is available here for nesting waterfowl.  Every wetland basin is moist or has water in it.  It is some of the best available wetland conditions in this area I have seen in the 26 seasons I have been flying surveys in Alberta.

One needs to remember that it takes more than ponds to raise ducks. There also needs to be good nesting cover nearby. This photo was taken in the heart of the aspen parklands in Alberta, approximately 20 miles NE of the town of Holden, Alberta. There is little nesting habitat in the immediate vicinity of these ponds. However, this photo demonstrates just how much water is available here for nesting waterfowl. Every wetland basin is moist or has water in it. It is some of the best available wetland conditions in this area I have seen in the 26 seasons I have been flying surveys in Alberta. Photo by Jay Hitchcock, US FWS

Stratum 28 has some good  wetland conditions near Calgary, Alberta.  This photo is of a person pumping water out of one of the wetlands.

Stratum 28 has some good wetland conditions near Calgary, Alberta. This photo is of a person pumping water out of one of the wetlands. Photo by Jay Hitchcock, US FWS