Ground Crew Temporarily Grounded

Written by Pam Garrettson
Sunday, May 03, 2015

Pam Garrettson.We started our first day of ground surveys today, and they went very smoothly—for about two hours. I’m out here with Tony Roberts, a biologist who started with the Division of Migratory Bird Management several months ago. Our job on the survey is to count waterfowl and wetlands on selected portions of the transects that the air crew flies. Our counts are divided by their counts to calculate a visual correction factor for each species, which is then used to adjust their counts for the entire crew area. We drive these air-ground segments and count from the road when possible, but if we don’t have an unencumbered view, we park and walk to wetlands and along streams, sometimes quite a few miles in a day.

When we returned from one such excursion, the truck wouldn’t turn over. Most likely, the starter went bad, without warning (we just had the thing serviced yesterday). Tony lamented our “wasted day,” but I was more philosophical. It could have been a lot worse. We found a tow truck willing to come down a rough road to find us and get us. We weren’t too far from Pierre or the highway, and our next air-ground is 50 miles from any sort of town whatsoever. And hey, we got to see some burrowing owls and a golden eagle. Tomorrow we plan to go back out in the air crew’s rental car while the truck is being fixed, so we should only miss a day of work, not multiple days.

Obviously we couldn’t contemplate using a Toyota Corolla as a survey vehicle if it weren’t pretty dry. None of the streams we saw today had any water. Optimist that I am, I’ll characterize the stock dams and dugouts as half full, but the area could use some rain to reverse what is still only a mild-to-moderate drought. However there were decent numbers of mallards, blue-winged teal, gadwalls, and a few other species using the remaining water, and we flushed a pintail hen who was either nesting or thinking about it. And tomorrow is another day.

The 2015 Western Dakotas and Eastern Montana air and ground crews. Left to right: Brenda Kelly, Rob Spangler, Pam Garrettson, Tony Roberts.

The 2015 Western Dakotas and Eastern Montana air and ground crews. Left to right: Brenda Kelly, Rob Spangler, Pam Garrettson, Tony Roberts. Photo by Brenda Kelly, Wisconsin DNR

No people or wildlife were harmed during the first day of the survey.  The truck, however…

No people or wildlife were harmed during the first day of the survey. The truck, however… Photo by Pam Garrettson, US FWS