You Never Know What to Expect in the Prairies

Written by Sarah Yates
Sunday, May 22, 2016

Sarah YatesThings have been moving along quickly in Manitoba. After three weather days we’ve flown eight days straight! At this point we’ve finished stratums 34, 35, 36, 38, 39, and 40 and we only have one transect left to fly in stratum 37 (the northern part of our crew area). While things are definitely drier all around this year we are still counting good numbers of birds in Saskatchewan (stratums 34 and 35) as well as 39 and 40 in Manitoba. The drier conditions are concentrating the birds, which can make it more difficult to count, but my observer Jeff Drahota has lots of aerial survey experience counting and estimating larger flocks of birds from the air. I just wish I could keep up! I guess someone has to fly the plane though.

I’m learning more and more every year I fly the survey and it’s been great getting to learn more about wetland management and the different types of drainage activities from Jeff as well. As we’ve moved to our more northern stratums the counting slows down a bit as usual, but things appear normal as far as water levels go. We’ve had some interesting weather this year…and in my third year of flying the survey it’s been different every year. This year we’ve had a lot of southerly winds and it gets quite gusty in the late morning to early afternoon when we return. Luckily many of the airports up here have smaller gravel strips for such occasions. It’s not fun trying to land an amphibious 206 in a 30 knot crosswind! You really never know what to expect when surveying in the prairies and that goes for wildlife and the weather. We see so many different species of birds including every duck species you can think of, hawks, eagles (even saw a golden eagle the other day!), shorebirds, moose, bears, coyotes, and elk. It’s amazing what you can identify at 150 agl if the conditions are right. An ideal day is light wind and overcast skies. It makes the colors really pop on the birds. However, most days are sunny in the prairies and you end up dealing with lots of glare, making it harder to identify some species. We’ve been lucky and enjoyed a couple of ideal survey days and in between we’ve seen the extremes; from 80 degree days to snow showers. Overall, it’s been a good survey and we are looking forward to finishing up and celebrating another successful May survey in southern Manitoba.

May 2016 Snow on the ground in MB

Snow on the ground in Manitoba.Video by Jeff Drahota, US FWS

A snowy morning in Stratum 40. Photo Credit: Sarah Yates, USFWS.

A snowy morning in Stratum 40. Photo Credit: Sarah Yates, USFWS.

We stopped in Gillam, Manitoba for fuel and a break and ended up getting a look inside this CL-415 amphibious water bomber. Pretty neat. Photo Credit: Sarah Yates, USFWS.

We stopped in Gillam, Manitoba for fuel and a break and ended up getting a look inside this CL-415 amphibious water bomber. Pretty neat. Photo Credit: Sarah Yates, USFWS.