Dodging Weather and Seeing Ducks

Written by Phil Thorpe
Sunday, May 09, 2010

Photo of Phil Thorpe. Because of forecasted bad weather, we changed our flying schedule again. The change in plans worked and we avoided the weather and finished day 3 of the survey. Good to excellent wetland conditions are present over the grasslands to the south of Regina. We have observed a high number of unoccupied ponds on our recent flights. This can occur for several reasons. First, the water is from recent snow and rain events that occurred in late April. These improved wetland conditions may have presented themselves too late to keep ducks in the area. Ducks arrive in Saskatchewan in April, and this year many arrived in early April. Studies using radio marked pintails have shown that they arrive in southern Saskatchewan and take about 1 week to make a decision to remain or move on. In dry years, pintails move on to Alaska or the northern boreal forests of Canada. This may have happened with some species of ducks this year, thus resulting in lots of empty water out on the landscape. Alternatively, the excellent conditions in the Dakotas may have caused some birds to settle and nest there instead of moving up into southern Saskatchewan. This could explain why some ponds are unoccupied. We still are counting lots of ducks and the conditions that we have observed so far for waterfowl are good to very good.

The reservoir was dry on our transect in 2008 and 2009.

The reservoir was dry on our transect in 2008 and 2009. Credit: P. Thorpe (USFWS)

This is important duck nesting habitat on the heavily impacted former grasslands of the  Regina plain.

This is important duck nesting habitat on the heavily impacted former grasslands of the Regina plain. Credit: P. Thorpe (USFWS)

The "Big Muddy" near the US border has been dry on the survey line for the last several years.

The "Big Muddy" near the US border has been dry on the survey line for the last several years. Credit: P. Thorpe (USFWS)

Good wetland conditions in the Missouri coteau.  Recent rains have filled up wetlands in the area.

Good wetland conditions in the Missouri coteau. Recent rains have filled up wetlands in the area. Credit: P. Thorpe (USFWS)

Although snow was covering the ground, ponds were open and ducks were present.

Although snow was covering the ground, ponds were open and ducks were present. Credit: P. Thorpe (USFWS)

Recent water south of Regina.  Typical of the habitat pintails select.

Recent water south of Regina. Typical of the habitat pintails select. Credit: P. Thorpe (USFWS)

Surveying in the Missouri Coteau. Credit: P. Thorpe (USFWS)