South Dakota Survey Completed East of the Missouri River

Written by Pete Fasbender & John Solberg
Monday, May 17, 2010

John Solberg & Pete FasbenderWeather conditions this past week hampered survey efforts by offering large doses of wind, rain, snow, fog, and low ceilings. On the down side, breeding waterfowl continued their efforts and forced us further behind in our survey activities. Groups of males, especially mallards and pintails, are getting larger by the day. On the bright side, most prairie “critters” with an interest in wetlands will take precipitation almost any time we can get it. Besides the obvious benefit to wetlands, the additional moisture has greatly hindered agricultural activities, and probably gave stubble nesting waterfowl a few extra days to successfully hatch their nests.

Overall, water conditions in South Dakota east of the Missouri River are fair at worst, with the majority of the region considered good. Even a small pocket of excellent water occurs in the northeastern part of the state! Generally, mid-way between Mitchell and Huron, SD to the north is good, and south of that area is fair. In the uplands, new growth vegetation is developing nicely in response to the good moisture and warmer temperatures. Cover for overwater nesting species is often in the form of last year’s residual vegetation. Many good sites are available to overwater nesters due mainly to the increased water levels in wetland basins. This year, we commonly encounter basins that are flooded well beyond last year’s margin and are providing a “moat” or ring of water around the standing residual. These are excellent nesting sites, particularly for diving ducks.

We expected a strong response by nesting waterfowl to these good habitat conditions and so far, South Dakota hasn’t disappointed us. All of the common prairie-nesting species are present. Particularly striking in the dabbler group, are the numbers of blue-winged teal and northern pintails. In the diver group, redheads seem particularly plentiful this year. Coots, often considered reliable barometers of water conditions, are also posting a strong presence in South Dakota this spring. Of course, we’ll have to wait for our analysts in Maryland to produce final breeding population estimates, but we’ve observed that South Dakota is experiencing a very strong waterfowl breeding effort.

Tomorrow, we hope to survey our first two lines in southern North Dakota. As we move northward, we’ll keep you posted on our progress and observations.

This is north of Aberdeen after a one-day soaking rain.  Note the large number of wetland basins in addition to the sheet water from this rain event.(Credit:  P. Fasbender, USFWS)

This is north of Aberdeen after a one-day soaking rain. Note the large number of wetland basins in addition to the sheet water from this rain event. Credit: P. Fasbender, USFWS

View of the landscape at survey elevation. The edge of the tilled field is approximately 660 feet from the survey centerline.  The wetland in the foreground is counted, as well as the larger wetland on the far edge of the tilled field; the stock pond in the background is not counted.  Wetlands within 660 feet of the survey centerline need to hold at least 6 inches of water to be counted.(Credit:  P. Fasbender, USFWS)

View of the landscape at survey elevation. The edge of the tilled field is approximately 660 feet from the survey centerline. The wetland in the foreground is counted, as well as the larger wetland on the far edge of the tilled field; the stock pond in the background is not counted. Wetlands within 660 feet of the survey centerline need to hold at least 6 inches of water to be counted. Credit: P. Fasbender, USFWS

View of the landscape at survey elevation.  Here, the wetland is counted as well as the pair of Canada geese and the drake mallard. (Credit:  P. Fasbender, USFWS)

View of the landscape at survey elevation. Here, the wetland is counted as well as the pair of Canada geese and the drake mallard. Credit: P. Fasbender, USFWS

View of the landscape at survey elevation.  Wetlands and waterfowl pairs are tabulated within 660 feet from the survey center line.  All three wetlands within the tilled field are "in." (Credit:  P. Fasbender, USFWS)

View of the landscape at survey elevation. Wetlands and waterfowl pairs are tabulated within 660 feet from the survey center line. All three wetlands within the tilled field are "in." Credit: P. Fasbender, USFWS

Sunrise over the James River near Aberdeen, South Dakota.(Credit:  P. Fasbender, USFWS)

Sunrise over the James River near Aberdeen, South Dakota. Credit: P. Fasbender, USFWS

Prairie hills in northwest South Dakota.  The Missouri River is visible in the background.(Credit:  P. Fasbender, USFWS)

Prairie hills in northwest South Dakota. The Missouri River is visible in the background. Credit: P. Fasbender, USFWS

The northern portion of the Drift Plain in South Dakota contains ample wetlands and nesting cover.  Both air and ground crews recorded high numbers of waterfowl in this area. (Credit:  P. Fasbender, USFWS)

The northern portion of the Drift Plain in South Dakota contains ample wetlands and nesting cover. Both air and ground crews recorded high numbers of waterfowl in this area. Credit: P. Fasbender, USFWS

The northern portion of the Drift Plain in South Dakota contains ample wetlands and nesting cover.  Both air and ground crews recorded high numbers of waterfowl in this area.(Credit:  P. Fasbender, USFWS)

The northern portion of the Drift Plain in South Dakota contains ample wetlands and nesting cover. Both air and ground crews recorded high numbers of waterfowl in this area. Credit: P. Fasbender, USFWS

The northern portion of the Drift Plain in South Dakota contains ample wetlands and nesting cover.  Both air and ground crews recorded high numbers of waterfowl in this area.(Credit:  P. Fasbender, USFWS)

The northern portion of the Drift Plain in South Dakota contains ample wetlands and nesting cover. Both air and ground crews recorded high numbers of waterfowl in this area. Credit: P. Fasbender, USFWS