Wet Conditions Challenge Waterfowl Banding Crews
Water and mud have been the story so far for the 2016 Western Canada Cooperative Banding Program season, at least in our prairie stations. The drier conditions observed across much of the prairies during the aerial survey in May have been erased in many areas following a some very wet summer months. A persistent upper level low pressure system has turned the normally sunny, warm, and dry August prairie into a quagmire in areas. Particularly hard hit have been areas of western SK and eastern AB. Farmers who looked forward to a bumper crop just a few weeks ago now express concern about whether they will be able to get crops off the fields. Some old timers have indicated that they have never seen it so wet in western SK at this time of year. Banding crews have observed abundant broods suggesting a strong late nesting/renesting effort. For our banding crews, all this moisture can be challenging. Access can be difficult on muddy/slick section roads and some productive sites are simply not accessible to crews on the ground. The amount of water on the landscape also tends to distribute birds rather than concentrate them. Flooded pea, lentil, and grain fields also attract waterfowl and make bait grain at trap sites less attractive. Finally, in some areas basins that have been recently dry were reflooded creating access to an abundance of natural foods that again make bait piles less attractive to ducks. Despite the challenges, at least some of our crews are finding and banding birds, and a few cold fronts sweeping out of the western boreal forest will hopefully provide an influx of new birds and provide a little more incentive to take advantage of some free barley at our trapping stations. Finally, in an effort to increase our mallard catch, we are experimenting with some methods we've not used recently on the prairies including bungee-nets and air cannon propelled nets. We've not yet deployed these nets but hope to find suitable locations soon.