Eastern Dakotas survey crew "gearing up" for 2010 effort

Written by John Solberg
Friday, May 07, 2010

John SolbergBoth the air and ground crews are staged and in the "starting blocks" for the 2010 Waterfowl Breeding Ground and Habitat Survey (BPOP Survey). Following a busy time of logistical, gear, computer, and aircraft preparations, the air and ground crews arrived in Mitchell, SD on 5 May. The following day was devoted to equipment testing, survey procedure review, and air and ground reconnaissance. The 2010 aerial crew consists of Pete Fasbender and me. We both are "prairie guys" and are biologists for the U. S. Fish and Wildlife Service. This will mark Pete’s fourth year participating in the BPOP survey (western Dakotas, Montana, and southern provinces in Canada) and my 25th year (eastern and western Dakotas, and Montana). Our ground crew is also highly experienced, and they will keep you posted on their activities in separate reports.

Generally, above-average winter precipitation and good carry-over of last year’s water in wetland basins was evident in the overall habitat conditions we saw as we traveled from Bismarck, ND to Mitchell, SD. Regional weather this spring has been highly variable beginning in March. One week it acted like late winter and the next week resembled late spring or early summer. The arrival of breeding waterfowl and development of new vegetation has been about a week or so earlier than last year. And even though we’ve had some temperatures in the mid-70s, today’s weather is offering temperatures in the low 40s, rain, and winds blowing 30 to 40 knots. Obviously, we aren’t surveying today! My general impression of habitat during my flight down from Bismarck is that wetland conditions are similar to or slightly improved since last year. Nesting cover appears adequate, although nest success of some early/stubble nesting species (e.g., northern pintail) may suffer loss from crop planting activities. During Pete’s drive to Mitchell, he witnessed good numbers of nearly all common prairie nesting waterfowl species. So, our first impressions are that the birds have responded by settling into these favorable habitat conditions. During our reconnaissance flight yesterday, we encountered small groups of early breeding males, suggesting we are a bit late starting our survey. With the weather unsuitable for either ground or air activities, we’re “on hold” until Mother Nature allows us to go. We plan to start surveying as soon as the weather permits, with our initial impression being that it should be a pretty good year in the Eastern Dakotas.

This is located in the southern part of the state west of the Missouri River. Nesting cover is beginning to take shape as the landscape begins to green up. (Credit:  P. Fasbender, USFWS)

This is located in the southern part of the state west of the Missouri River. Nesting cover is beginning to take shape as the landscape begins to green up. Credit: P. Fasbender, USFWS

This is located in the southern part of the state west of the Missouri River.  Small grains are beginning to grow and will soon provide nesting cover for wildlife.  The basin shown here does not have adequate water for breeding waterfowl. (Credit:  P. Fasbender, USFWS)

This is located in the southern part of the state west of the Missouri River. Small grains are beginning to grow and will soon provide nesting cover for wildlife. The basin shown here does not have adequate water for breeding waterfowl. Credit: P. Fasbender, USFWS

This is located in the southern part of the state west of the Missouri River.  Small grains are beginning to grow and will soon provide nesting cover for wildlife.  The basin shown here does not have adequate water for breeding waterfowl. (Credit:  P. Fasbender, USFWS)

This is located in the southern part of the state west of the Missouri River. Small grains are beginning to grow and will soon provide nesting cover for wildlife. The basin shown here does not have adequate water for breeding waterfowl. Credit: P. Fasbender, USFWS

This is located in the southern part of the state west of the Missouri River.  Nesting cover is beginning to take shape as the landscape begins to green up.   (Credit:  P. Fasbender, USFWS)

This is located in the southern part of the state west of the Missouri River. Nesting cover is beginning to take shape as the landscape begins to green up. Credit: P. Fasbender, USFWS

This picture is taken in the southern part of the state east of the Missouri River.  Wetland basin quantity and quality in this area are good and the cover is beginning to take shape as the landscape begins to green up.   (Credit:  P. Fasbender, USFWS)

This picture is taken in the southern part of the state east of the Missouri River. Wetland basin quantity and quality in this area are good and the cover is beginning to take shape as the landscape begins to green up. Credit: P. Fasbender, USFWS

This picture is taken in the southern part of the state east of the Missouri River.  Wetland basin quantity and quality in this area are good and the cover is beginning to take shape as the landscape begins to green up.  The small wetlands shown here provide waterfowl pairs courtship and breeding habitat, while the deeper wetlands will eventually provide habitat for the broods.  (Credit:  P. Fasbender, USFWS)

This picture is taken in the southern part of the state east of the Missouri River. Wetland basin quantity and quality in this area are good and the cover is beginning to take shape as the landscape begins to green up. The small wetlands shown here provide waterfowl pairs courtship and breeding habitat, while the deeper wetlands will eventually provide habitat for the broods. Credit: P. Fasbender, USFWS

This picture is taken in the southern part of the state east of the Missouri River.  Wetland basin quantity and quality in this area are good and the cover is beginning to take shape as the landscape begins to green up.  The small wetlands shown here provide waterfowl pairs courtship and breeding habitat, while the deeper wetlands will eventually provide habitat for the broods.  (Credit:  P. Fasbender, USFWS)

This picture is taken in the southern part of the state east of the Missouri River. Wetland basin quantity and quality in this area are good and the cover is beginning to take shape as the landscape begins to green up. The small wetlands shown here provide waterfowl pairs courtship and breeding habitat, while the deeper wetlands will eventually provide habitat for the broods. Credit: P. Fasbender, USFWS

This is located in the southern part of the state west of the Missouri River.  Nesting cover is beginning to take shape as the landscape begins to green up.    (Credit:  P. Fasbender, USFWS)

This is located in the southern part of the state west of the Missouri River. Nesting cover is beginning to take shape as the landscape begins to green up. Credit: P. Fasbender, USFWS

This picture is taken in the southern part of the state east of the Missouri River.  Wetland basin quantity and quality in this area are good and the cover is beginning to take shape as the landscape begins to green up.     (Credit:  P. Fasbender, USFWS)

This picture is taken in the southern part of the state east of the Missouri River. Wetland basin quantity and quality in this area are good and the cover is beginning to take shape as the landscape begins to green up. Credit: P. Fasbender, USFWS

This picture is taken in the southern part of the state east of the Missouri River.  Wetland basin quantity and quality in this area are good and the cover is beginning to take shape as the landscape begins to green up.  The small wetlands shown here provide waterfowl pairs courtship and breeding habitat, while the deeper wetlands will eventually provide habitat for the broods.  (Credit:  P. Fasbender, USFWS)

This picture is taken in the southern part of the state east of the Missouri River. Wetland basin quantity and quality in this area are good and the cover is beginning to take shape as the landscape begins to green up. The small wetlands shown here provide waterfowl pairs courtship and breeding habitat, while the deeper wetlands will eventually provide habitat for the broods. Credit: P. Fasbender, USFWS

This picture is taken in the southern part of the state east of the Missouri River.  Wetland basin quantity and quality in this area are highly scattered.  Waterfowl numbers are lower in this landscape due to low wetland density.   (Credit:  P. Fasbender, USFWS)

This picture is taken in the southern part of the state east of the Missouri River. Wetland basin quantity and quality in this area are highly scattered. Waterfowl numbers are lower in this landscape due to low wetland density. Credit: P. Fasbender, USFWS

Basins are full in this picture.  Note the many small wetlands and several large types that will hold water through the summer.  We have been seeing high concentrations of breeding waterfowl in these areas.  (Credit:  P. Fasbender, USFWS)

Basins are full in this picture. Note the many small wetlands and several large types that will hold water through the summer. We have been seeing high concentrations of breeding waterfowl in these areas. Credit: P. Fasbender, USFWS

Basins are full in this picture.  Note the many small wetlands and several large types that will hold water through the summer.  We have been seeing high concentrations of breeding waterfowl in these areas.  (Credit:  P. Fasbender, USFWS)

Basins are full in this picture. Note the many small wetlands and several large types that will hold water through the summer. We have been seeing high concentrations of breeding waterfowl in these areas. Credit: P. Fasbender, USFWS

Basins are full in this picture.  Note the many small wetlands and several large types that will hold water through the summer.  We have been seeing high concentrations of breeding waterfowl in these areas.  (Credit:  P. Fasbender, USFWS)

Basins are full in this picture. Note the many small wetlands and several large types that will hold water through the summer. We have been seeing high concentrations of breeding waterfowl in these areas. Credit: P. Fasbender, USFWS

The basins are full in this area.  These several large wetlands will hold water through the summer.  We have been seeing high concentrations of breeding waterfowl in these areas.  (Credit:  P. Fasbender, USFWS)

The basins are full in this area. These several large wetlands will hold water through the summer. We have been seeing high concentrations of breeding waterfowl in these areas. Credit: P. Fasbender, USFWS

Wetland basins are in good shape in this picture.  Note the many small wetlands and several large types that will hold water through the summer.  The large wetlands also contain vegetation that serves a cover for waterfowl, as well as providing an excellent substrate for insects. (Credit:  P. Fasbender, USFWS)

Wetland basins are in good shape in this picture. Note the many small wetlands and several large types that will hold water through the summer. The large wetlands also contain vegetation that serves a cover for waterfowl, as well as providing an excellent substrate for insects. Credit: P. Fasbender, USFWS

Basins are full in this picture.  Note the many small wetlands and several large types that will hold water through the summer.  The wetland shaped like a duck on the left of the picture was a former stock pond as indicated by the 2 small linear islands. (Credit:  P. Fasbender, USFWS)

Basins are full in this picture. Note the many small wetlands and several large types that will hold water through the summer. The wetland shaped like a duck on the left of the picture was a former stock pond as indicated by the 2 small linear islands. Credit: P. Fasbender, USFWS

Basins are full in this picture.  Note the many small wetlands and several large types that will hold water through the summer. (Credit:  P. Fasbender, USFWS)

Basins are full in this picture. Note the many small wetlands and several large types that will hold water through the summer. Credit: P. Fasbender, USFWS

The James River just outside of Mitchell, South Dakota remains very full. (Credit:  P. Fasbender, USFWS)

The James River just outside of Mitchell, South Dakota remains very full. Credit: P. Fasbender, USFWS

The James River just outside of Mitchell, South Dakota remains very full. (Credit:  P. Fasbender, USFWS)

The James River just outside of Mitchell, South Dakota remains very full. Credit: P. Fasbender, USFWS

The James River just outside of Mitchell, South Dakota remains very full. (Credit:  P. Fasbender, USFWS)

The James River just outside of Mitchell, South Dakota remains very full. Credit: P. Fasbender, USFWS

The James River just outside of Mitchell, South Dakota remains very full. (Credit:  P. Fasbender, USFWS)

The James River just outside of Mitchell, South Dakota remains very full. Credit: P. Fasbender, USFWS

The James River just outside of Mitchell, South Dakota remains very full. (Credit:  P. Fasbender, USFWS)

The James River just outside of Mitchell, South Dakota remains very full. Credit: P. Fasbender, USFWS

The James River just outside of Mitchell, South Dakota remains very full. (Credit:  P. Fasbender, USFWS)

The James River just outside of Mitchell, South Dakota remains very full. Credit: P. Fasbender, USFWS

There are scattered areas within portions of South Dakota where wetland basins are not filled. (Credit:  P. Fasbender, USFWS)

There are scattered areas within portions of South Dakota where wetland basins are not filled. Credit: P. Fasbender, USFWS

Islands often are good nesting cover since many terrestrial predators (skunk and raccoon) are not present.  The islands shown here are hill tops  protruding above the waterline in this filled basin. (Credit:  P. Fasbender, USFWS)

Islands often are good nesting cover since many terrestrial predators (skunk and raccoon) are not present. The islands shown here are hill tops protruding above the waterline in this filled basin. Credit: P. Fasbender, USFWS

These small streams provide habitat for blue winged teal, mallards, and wood ducks. (Credit:  P. Fasbender, USFWS)

These small streams provide habitat for blue winged teal, mallards, and wood ducks. Credit: P. Fasbender, USFWS

Islands often are good nesting cover since many terrestrial predators (skunk and raccoon) are not present.  The "island" shown here is a stock dam spoil bank protruding above the waterline in this filled basin. (Credit:  P. Fasbender, USFWS)

Islands often are good nesting cover since many terrestrial predators (skunk and raccoon) are not present. The "island" shown here is a stock dam spoil bank protruding above the waterline in this filled basin. Credit: P. Fasbender, USFWS

Small wetland basins are important for breeding waterfowl, as well as for young broods.  The upland cover shown in this photograph provides timely nesting cover for many of the "dabblers." (Credit:  P. Fasbender, USFWS)

Small wetland basins are important for breeding waterfowl, as well as for young broods. The upland cover shown in this photograph provides timely nesting cover for many of the "dabblers." Credit: P. Fasbender, USFWS

The larger wetland basins will hold water for quite a long time.  Development of wetland cover (cattails, bulrush) increases the value of these wetlands for wildlife - especially waterfowl broods. (Credit:  P. Fasbender, USFWS)

The larger wetland basins will hold water for quite a long time. Development of wetland cover (cattails, bulrush) increases the value of these wetlands for wildlife - especially waterfowl broods. Credit: P. Fasbender, USFWS