Survey Complete in Southern Saskatchewan

Written by Phil Thorpe
Wednesday, June 08, 2011

Photo of Phil Thorpe.Pat and I finished up the remaining 325 miles of survey lines to complete the southern Saskatchewan waterfowl population and habitat survey. We had some microphone/voice relay problems (Pat wore the button out this year) at the beginning of the first survey line and I had to land at a little grass landing strip so we could reconfigure the wiring on the computers. I've been using the survey program long enough that I have lots of spare parts—and had them right up front in easy reach. We plugged in the extra items, tested them, and were back on the survey line in about 20 minutes. It's good to be prepared.

Conditions in the northeast parklands continued to be very wet, although fields around Melfort and Tisdale were dry and farmers were busy trying to catch up on field work. Wetland levels remained above normal, but the area was actually drier than last year. It is difficult to evaluate large expanses of the landscape and label them good or excellent for waterfowl production. There are so many variables that affect what makes a duck nest successful. As I fly the survey, I keep track of wetland basins and calculate a percentage of wet versus dry basins. I then use this to evaluate the survey area using the 4 categories that we have been assigned: poor, fair, good, or excellent. The northeast Parklands fall into the good category as determined by me using the percentage of wet basins method. There is a lot of variability in a wet basin: for instance, is it overflowing or is it recessional (drying out)? The upland cover also has to be considered. This is even harder to do, since most of the prairies have been plowed under and grass is not the only nesting cover to consider. Small wood lots, shelter belts, roadside ditches, fall planted crops, and old homesteads all are used by ducks now that the large expanses of prairie are gone. All these variables get squeezed into a category that blankets a large area. I chose good for the northeast parklands, because even though the wetlands were full, I have seen it wetter. Lots to think about in the cockpit while you're counting a duck, on average, every 7 seconds.

I dropped Pat off at the terminal for his commercial flight home and I took advantage of being up at 0430am to pack the plane, park the truck for later use during our August duck banding operation, and took off for Williston, ND, to clear US Customs. After customs, I flew 4.5 hours back to Denver. It was a little slower because I was headed into the south wind of the low pressure system that was moving across Montana...again! I wanted to get by it before it closed my escape route from Saskatchewan. It was forecast to be a strong system with cold temperatures and not one that I would have been able to navigate through or around in my plane. So with my early start I beat the system and made it home. All in all, another great year to work in the air above North America's duck factory.

Water from drained wetlands upstream ends up in Fishing Lake.  Homeowners are starting to support wetland conservation.  We have similar issues on a wider scale in the US midwest every year due to wetland drainage.

Water from drained wetlands upstream ends up in Fishing Lake. Homeowners are starting to support wetland conservation. We have similar issues on a wider scale in the US midwest every year due to wetland drainage. Photo by Phil Thorpe, USFWS

Drained wetlands.  Where does all the water go?

Drained wetlands. Where does all the water go? Photo by Phil Thorpe, USFWS

Typical wetlands in the northeast part of the survey area, impacted by agriculture but not drained this year.

Typical wetlands in the northeast part of the survey area, impacted by agriculture but not drained this year. Photo by Phil Thorpe, USFWS

En route home after a very wet year.

En route home after a very wet year. Photo by Phil Thorpe, USFWS