Some areas have best conditions seen in years

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Written by Ray Bentley
Tuesday, May 12, 2009

Photo of Ray Bentley.We just completed our 7th day of flying transects. We have covered all of the western Dakotas and are moving into eastern Montana. Habitat conditions we’ve seen this past week of flying continue to be much better than last year. Late last year, western South Dakota got a lot of moisture. It came too late to have much effect on breeding, but it caused great growing conditions for the habitat. This year, the moisture has come earlier, and much of that lush vegetation now has water on it. Some parts of this route have better conditions than I have ever seen in eight years of flying here.

Overall, flying conditions have been good. We’ve had two weather days—days we couldn’t fly because of high winds. Windy conditions cause the ducks to stick close to cover, making it very difficult for us to observe them. We have not yet done any analysis of our observations, but my gut feeling is that we’re seeing more ducks this year than in previous years. Even diving ducks, which we don’t see too many of around here, seem to be more numerous in the area we’ve covered so far than in recent years.

Isolated rain showers south of Lewistown, MT depict typical source of variation in habitat quality. Credit: Ray Bentley (USFWS)

High plains of eastern Montana near Martinsdale, 2009. Credit: Ray Bentley (USFWS)

Boundary of stratum 42/41 north of Great Falls, MT, 2009. Credit: Pete Fasbender (USFWS)