Survey Finally Begins In Southern Alberta: Conditions Improved

Written by Jim Bredy
Wednesday, May 12, 2010

Jim BredyWe finally arrived in Alberta on May 08, after aircraft maintenance and multiple weather delays. We conducted a reconnaissance flight in the afternoon, east of Calgary, and saw 14 species of ducks. There were several large groups of scaup (50+), and we suspect they are still moving through, or are recent arrivals and have not yet dispersed. All of the other ducks seemed paired and well dispersed. We did notice a few groups of mallard drakes (one of 10 drakes and one of 17 drakes). The mallards may have gotten an early start to the breeding cycle with the warm and mild weather that was present in early- to mid-April. However, the persistent wintery weather at the end of April and early May most likely slowed the breeding chronology a bit.

We were unable to fly on May 9 due to snow, again, and got a late start on May 10 due to freezing fog. Thus we were only able to conduct one other reconnaissance flight. We flew to SE Alberta near Medicine Hat and Brooks and were really pleased with what we saw. In my 23 years of flying up to Canada, these are some of the best wetland conditions I have seen in Southern Alberta at this time of the year. Most of the wetlands had some water in them. There is extensive snow coverage in the higher terrain, yet the ponds were mostly open with some ice on the fringes. Waterfowl were well dispersed throughout the wetlands. If Southern Alberta gets another stretch of persistent warm and sunny weather, the smaller shallow ponds will decrease in size and water depth, more so than the larger ones. A good winter frost seal would help to hold the water in the basins longer. Hopefully, the larger wetlands will remain throughout the breeding season. It would be nice if the grasses were higher with more nesting cover, yet there is a lot of short grass prairie habitat in this part of Alberta. We suspect the upland habitats will improve and grow more cover as the temperatures warm up, forecast to be in the 20C range later this week.

And today, we finally started counting ducks for the survey. We are hopeful for continued good flying weather and wetland and habitat conditions, and will submit another report when we finish surveying the aspen/parkland habitats near Edmonton.

Air crew for the 2010 Waterfowl BPOP in Southern and Central Alberta.  On the ramp at the Calgary, Alberta airport.  Pilot Jim Bredy, Observer Dave Fronczak.

Air crew for the 2010 Waterfowl BPOP in Southern and Central Alberta. On the ramp at the Calgary, Alberta airport. Pilot Jim Bredy, Observer Dave Fronczak. Credit: Caleb Spiegel USFWS

Typical large agricultural wetland in the western part of stratum 29. This is located in the SW portion of the province.

Typical large agricultural wetland in the western part of stratum 29. This is located in the SW portion of the province. Credit: Dave Fronczak, USFWS

These ponds approximately 20 miles SE of Calgary, Alberta, are typical of small wetlands in agricultural areas in this part of the province.

These ponds approximately 20 miles SE of Calgary, Alberta, are typical of small wetlands in agricultural areas in this part of the province. Credit: Dave Fronczak, USFWS

These wetland basins near Suffield in SE Alberta were almost totally dry last year. Recent spring storms have helped to fill them.

These wetland basins near Suffield in SE Alberta were almost totally dry last year. Recent spring storms have helped to fill them. Credit: Dave Fronczak, USFWS