Moving North -- and Treacherous Gophers!

Written by Jean-Michel DeVink
Monday, May 23, 2011

Photo of Jean-Michel DeVink.For the last few days, we’ve been moving north and completing transects in the northwest part of prairie Saskatchewan. Conditions in this part of the province are good, but not nearly as wet as south of highway 1 (i.e., South of Regina). The snow and spring precipitation that hit the southern part of the province entirely missed the northwest, and with slightly less snowfall than in the south, the northwest is a little dryer. Most large catchment basins are full or even flooded, but the small, temporary or seasonal ponds are rarely holding water. There are good numbers of ducks in this area, with good numbers of blue-winged teal, divers, and some cavity nesters starting to be seen on ponds. Fewer ponds and ducks is easier work for the ground crews, but this also means fewer breeding waterfowl contributing to the fall flight.

With the north, comes increased woody cover around the ponds. This often requires additional effort to census the ponds to ensure that all birds are being flushed. Some times it requires two individuals, one pushing birds and the other observing, to get a good count of the waterfowl on a wetland. This can be laborious work, but it is much more enjoyable than a day at the office.

Running around the prairies isn’t without its hazards. Branches in the eye, barbed wire fences, and hidden gopher holes await each member of the ground crew. Most years are incident free, but this year wasn’t the case. While hoping over a pasture fence, one crew member landed on the edge of a gopher hole covered by long grass and badly sprained an ankle. Waders are great for trudging through the marsh, but offer very little ankle support. Fortunately, one person has to run the vehicle, count roadside ponds, and coordinate the other members in a crew, so it doesn’t necessarily end the adventure!

Some remnant snow pack on the downwind side of a hedgerow in southern Saskatchewan.  A late spring snowfall contributed to the high water levels of ponds in this area.

Some remnant snow pack on the downwind side of a hedgerow in southern Saskatchewan. A late spring snowfall contributed to the high water levels of ponds in this area. Photo by Jean-Michel DeVink, CWS

Nathan Wiebe marches through a wetland overflowing with water to push up hiding waterfowl while an observer records birds.

Nathan Wiebe marches through a wetland overflowing with water to push up hiding waterfowl while an observer records birds. Photo by Jean-Michel DeVink, CWS

Hiking through rough terrain isn’t without its hazards.  The badly sprained ankle of one crew member is the result of one often hidden hazard – the gopher hole.

Hiking through rough terrain isn’t without its hazards. The badly sprained ankle of one crew member is the result of one often hidden hazard – the gopher hole. Photo by Jean-Michel DeVink, CWS