Fair to Good Duck Habitat in the Grasslands

Written by Phil Thorpe
Saturday, May 12, 2012

Photo of Phil Thorpe.Sarah and I took our mandatory rest day today. After a string of 4 weather days, we finally started flying again and flew 6 straight days and covered lots of ground. We made the move to Saskatoon yesterday and are just about done with the grassland survey units. The recent rains have replenished water levels in many wetlands, but dry areas are still apparent and most of the grasslands appear only fair in regards to duck production. The Missouri Coteau, a unique ridge of glacial deposits that runs from South Dakota through Saskatchewan, has better wetland and upland habitat conditions and probably will be classified as having good potential for duck production. Even with the rains replenishing wetland levels and adding temporary wetlands to the landscape, the grassy margins that grew up around wetlands last year have been tilled under this year because water levels were lower and the mild spring allowed landowners to get out and work their fields. In some cases, the loss of these wetland margins is not all bad. Ducks tend to nest in the wetland margin when it is present. Duck predators can easily search this narrow band of cover, find hens and nests and destroy them. Larger tracts of upland cover are needed to allow ducks to have a chance at getting broods recruited into the population. Increasing fall crops has helped in some intense agricultural areas because the crops provide cover for early nesting species and farmers aren’t harvesting the crop until after the eggs have hatched and the brood has moved to a wetland. A win-win for farmers and ducks!

Southern Saskatchewan aerial survey crew, Sarah Yates and Phil Thorpe, wishful thinking for survey platform.

Southern Saskatchewan aerial survey crew, Sarah Yates and Phil Thorpe, wishful thinking for survey platform. Photo by Phil Thorpe, USFWS

Recent rains have helped replenish wetlands and help out soil moisture.

Recent rains have helped replenish wetlands and help out soil moisture. Photo by Phil Thorpe, USFWS

After a dry winter and spring, many wetlands have dried up in the southwest part of the Province.

After a dry winter and spring, many wetlands have dried up in the southwest part of the Province. Photo by Phil Thorpe, USFWS

You can see the ring where crop wasn't planted last year (because it was under water) and where the farmer was able to get closer this year. Many wetlands this year have lower water levels and are now surrounded by tilled cropland providing little to no nesting cover. Pintails will nest in the crop stubble but many of their nests will be destroyed once this year's crop is planted.

You can see the ring where crop wasn't planted last year (because it was under water) and where the farmer was able to get closer this year. Many wetlands this year have lower water levels and are now surrounded by tilled cropland providing little to no nesting cover. Pintails will nest in the crop stubble but many of their nests will be destroyed once this year's crop is planted. Photo by Phil Thorpe, USFWS

Between Regina and Saskatoon wetland conditions were variable.

Between Regina and Saskatoon wetland conditions were variable. Photo by Phil Thorpe, USFWS

Whitebear Lake was dry prior to 2011 and much of it was farmed.

Whitebear Lake was dry prior to 2011 and much of it was farmed. Photo by Phil Thorpe, USFWS

Wetland and upland habitat conditions still good in the Allan Hills southeast of Saskatoon.

Wetland and upland habitat conditions still good in the Allan Hills southeast of Saskatoon. Photo by Phil Thorpe, USFWS