Helicopter “Ground Crew” Survey of Western Ontario and Northcentral Quebec

Written by Samantha Gibbs
Tuesday, June 07, 2011

Photo of Samantha Gibbs.We are currently based out of Mirage Outfitter’s Camp on the James Bay region’s Transtaiga road, 975 miles north of Quebec City. This area lies within the Canadian Shield, the topography of which was shaped by glaciers. These glaciers deposited boulders, gravel and sand across the landscape. Peat bogs and rocky plateaus covered in lichens and dotted by stands of scrubby black spruce dominate this Taiga Shield Zone of Quebec. An intricate hydrological network of over a million lakes, peat bogs, rivers and streams also resulted from glacial action. These waterways now provide important habitat for migratory waterfowl during the breeding season.

Over the past week, the temperatures at Mirage have hovered between 40° and 50°F in the afternoons, with occasional freezing temperatures at night. The weather conditions have been variable, with days of brilliant sunshine, and days of constant drizzle and rain. The lakes and wetlands on the eastern extent of this crew area are still partially iced over, but only residual snow and ice remains on the waterways to the west. The technician at the Fermont helicopter fuel depot told me summer would start next week.

We have now completed 5 segments with the helicopter, travelling slowly around each lake, wetland, and river course, carefully counting black ducks, mergansers, scaup, pintails, black and surf scoters, green-winged teal, and Canada geese, among others. There are few roads in this crew area, so we make thorough searches with the helicopter to generate the visual correction factor for the fixed wing survey.

The scoters and scaup are still predominately in pairs, while the geese and dabblers are nesting already, with several Canada goose nests with eggs spotted from the air. Our most recent segment was very productive habitat and kept us busy flying back and forth between the 200m buffered boundaries of the segment center line for over 2 ½ hours. Five more segments remain for the helicopter crew to complete, representing a few more full days of flying as the weather permits.

Helicopter crew: from left Guthrie Zimmerman (Population Ecologist, USFWS),Doug Holtby (Senior Pilot, Ontario Ministry of Natural Resources), and Samantha Gibbs (Avian Disease Coordinator, USFWS).

Helicopter crew: from left Guthrie Zimmerman (Population Ecologist, USFWS),Doug Holtby (Senior Pilot, Ontario Ministry of Natural Resources), and Samantha Gibbs (Avian Disease Coordinator, USFWS). Photo by Guthrie Zimmerman, US FWS

Both the Kodiak fixed wing and the EC-130 helicopter together at the Mirage airstrip.

Both the Kodiak fixed wing and the EC-130 helicopter together at the Mirage airstrip. Photo by Guthrie Zimmerman, US FWS

View from the cockpit of the EC-130 helicopter.

View from the cockpit of the EC-130 helicopter. Photo by Guthrie Zimmerman, US FWS

The EC-130 helicopter after a landing in the field.

The EC-130 helicopter after a landing in the field. Photo by Guthrie Zimmerman, US FWS

Various views from just above the ground in Northcentral Quebec.
Various views from just above the ground in Northcentral Quebec.
Various views from just above the ground in Northcentral Quebec.
Various views from just above the ground in Northcentral Quebec.
Various views from just above the ground in Northcentral Quebec.

Various views from just above the ground in Northcentral Quebec. Photos by Guthrie Zimmerman, US FWS