Have Plane, Will Travel!

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Written by Jim Bredy
Monday, June 03, 2013

Photo of Jim Bredy.The FWS pilot biologists have a tight-knit fellowship. We always work together to get the job done. Some years are more challenging than others, and this year has been a doozy so far.

Every spring, about a dozen air and ground crews criss-cross North America to complete the Waterfowl Breeding Population and Habitat Survey, in time to provide data to inform the required regulatory process. Due to the long, hard winter, many ducks started nesting later than usual this year. Pilot biologists Phil Thorpe, Terry Liddick, Rob Spangler and Sarah Yates all started their survey areas in Southern Saskatchewan, Montana, Dakotas, and Southern Manitoba almost a week and a half later than last year. There were also some weather issues and a variety of mechanical and logistical issues with survey aircraft that further delayed the survey. All crew leaders had to deal with these issues this year.

But that’s where the tight-knit fellowship comes in. Here is glimpse behind the curtain at some of the juggling of crews and aircraft that had to be done this year: Survey Branch Chief Jim Wortham and Steve Earsom partnered to fly combined survey areas in Southern Ontario and Quebec. Brian Lubinski, the Regional Aviation Manager in Minneapolis, was not originally scheduled to participate in this survey. But due to issues with other aircraft, he and his Partenavia airplane flew with crew leader Walt Rhodes most of the Northern Saskatchewan and Northern Manitoba crew area. And when Brian had to depart early for the Eastern Prairie Population Canada Goose Aerial Survey, former Flyway Biologist John Bidwell came out of retirement to assist as the observer for the Southern Manitoba crew area. Mark Koneff (who normally flies Maine and Atlantic Canada), hopped across the continent to team up with Fred Roetker (who normally flies N. Alberta and the Northwest Territories) to help finish up Northern Manitoba. Dave Fronczak, who flew Alberta with me in 2009-10, recently finished up flying in the Dakotas with crew leader Terry Liddick. He quickly drove his truck back to Minnesota, and after less than a one-day turnaround, is flying via commercial air to Edmonton tonight to meet up with me. I just finished surveying the Southern and Central Alberta crew area, and the mechanics are wrapping up some mandatory inspection issues on my Partenavia aircraft. Dave and I will then fly Northern Alberta and a portion of the NWT, which Fred and Mark will finish after their survey of Northern Manitoba is complete.

It has been quite a juggling act but, as always, we will get the job done. Our motto should be: "Have Plane, Will Travel!"

Jim Bredy (right) and his Partenavia aircraft will soon part ways with observer Jay Hitchcock (left) to head to Northern Alberta, all part of the 2013

Jim Bredy (right) and his Partenavia aircraft will soon part ways with observer Jay Hitchcock (left) to head to Northern Alberta, all part of the 2013 "juggling act," as pilot biologists and observers mix and match planes and crew areas this year to help each other complete the survey. Photo by Jay Hitchcock, USFWS