Eastern Dakotas Ground Crew Update 2

Written by Pam Garrettson
Monday, May 17, 2010

Pam Garrettson.

Today we completed our 7th air-ground segment. Water conditions look good as we move into northeastern South Dakota. We had a few weather days, but now the forecast looks good for the air crew to fly for the next several days. I should have introduced you to our crew. Kammie Kruse is the Central Flyway Representative’s assistant based out of Denver. This is her 9th year on the survey. Dan Collins, the Pacific Flyway Representative’s assistant (based in Portland, Oregon) is back for his second year on the crew. This is my 11th year on either the eastern or western Dakotas ground crew, and because I did all my graduate work on prairie-nesting ducks, this year marks my 18th spring on the prairies. Our newest crew member is Josh White, a master’s student from South Dakota State University, who has a temporary job with the USFWS. Josh is also an avid photographer who has taken most of the pictures we have posted along with our entries. Anyone interested in his photography is welcome to email him at jwhitewildlife@gmail.com.

Several of the latest pictures we posted are of non-waterfowl species, which illustrates the importance of wetland and upland habitat to a variety of species besides ducks. One of the more interesting is the American bittern, which, like dabbling ducks such as mallards and blue-winged teal, nest in grassy upland areas, often in slightly wet locations. They lay clutches of 2 or 3 eggs, and when disturbed, the chicks make a startling hissing sound, bills agape. This seems incongruous, because adult bitterns are cryptic, known for their behavior of freezing in place, bills pointed skyward, in a strategy to avoid detection.

A far more conspicuous and very common denizen of the marshes we have been surveying is the American coot. Sometimes mistaken for ducks, they have a triangular shaped beak instead of a flattened bill, and instead of fully webbed feet, their three toes are lobed. They are actually members of the rail family. Like diving ducks such as redheads and canvasbacks, they nest over water. Though they only fly with difficulty, they defend their breeding territories and nests aggressively. They are an amusing diversion for us, but we also count them as part of the survey protocol.

Left to right: Dan Collins, Pam Garrettson, Kammie Kruse, Josh White. Approximately 1 section (1 square mile) of the western portion of the Watertown airground, including the roads, was completely flooded. (Credit:  Joshua J. White, USFWS)

Left to right: Dan Collins, Pam Garrettson, Kammie Kruse, Josh White. Approximately 1 section (1 square mile) of the western portion of the Watertown airground, including the roads, was completely flooded. Credit: Joshua J. White, USFWS

Redheads and a coot near Mansfield, SD. (Credit:  Joshua J. White, USFWS)

Redheads and a coot near Mansfield, SD. Credit: Joshua J. White, USFWS

A yellow-headed blackbird in a marsh east of Mansfield, South Dakota. (Credit:  Joshua J. White, USFWS)

A yellow-headed blackbird in a marsh east of Mansfield, South Dakota. Credit: Joshua J. White, USFWS

A Canada goose tries to sneak past on the Watertown, South Dakota airground. (Credit:  Joshua J. White, USFWS)

A Canada goose tries to sneak past on the Watertown, South Dakota airground. Credit: Joshua J. White, USFWS

Kammie Kruse surveys a wetland in the Eastern Dakotas Crew Area. (Credit:  Joshua J. White, USFWS)

Kammie Kruse surveys a wetland in the Eastern Dakotas Crew Area. Credit: Joshua J. White, USFWS

A coot tends its nest east of Mansfield, South Dakota. (Credit:  Joshua J. White, USFWS)

A coot tends its nest east of Mansfield, South Dakota. Credit: Joshua J. White, USFWS

An American Bittern hides in the grass near Mansfield, South Dakota. (Credit:  Joshua J. White, USFWS)

An American Bittern hides in the grass near Mansfield, South Dakota. Credit: Joshua J. White, USFWS

Josh White walks a wetland on the Mansfield, SD airground.   (Credit:  Kammie Kruse, USFWS)

Josh White walks a wetland on the Mansfield, SD airground. Credit: Kammie Kruse, USFWS

Pam Garrettson tallies data on the Watertown, SD airground. (Credit:  Joshua J. White, USFWS)

Pam Garrettson tallies data on the Watertown, SD airground. Credit: Joshua J. White, USFWS

South Dakota works with private landowners to provide walk-in areas for hunting and other recreation (Credit:  Joshua J. White, USFWS)

South Dakota works with private landowners to provide walk-in areas for hunting and other recreation Credit: Joshua J. White, USFWS