Survey Nearing an End

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Written by Walt Rhodes
Thursday, June 04, 2009

Photo of Walt Rhodes.Someone once said that when you see the light at the end of the tunnel be careful because it could be the train. After believing yesterday was going to be a bust, the weather gods pitched us flyable weather instead of the forecasted snow. It was our seventh straight day of flying, and we had only a half day left to complete the survey. We could see the light at the end of the tunnel. Today dawned clear but at the airport the skies turned gray, the wind picked up and melting ice on the plane quickly refroze. An updated weather briefing said the train was coming through the tunnel, and we were grounded for the day.

Since our last report we have finished northern Saskatchewan and most of the area in northern Manitoba bounded by The Pas, Lynn Lake and Gillam, which is from the Saskatchewan border to within earshot of Hudson Bay. By and large, northern Saskatchewan lakes and wetlands in the boreal forest are very dry. In fact, many of the residents are concerned that it could be a destructive fire season because of the dry conditions. The most common waterfowl through that area are mallards, goldeneyes, ring-necked ducks and scaup. The dry conditions extend into western Manitoba as well. Moisture levels did improve around Gillam, but became progressively drier as we moved west again towards Thompson. Yesterday, we encountered several groups of Canada geese, mergansers, scoters, tundra swans and scaup that were still waiting on the larger lakes up north to thaw because of the late spring. Despite their flocked appearance, you could pick out pairs, indicating the birds are ready to go once the ice thaws. Smaller wetlands in the area, however, were dotted with pairs and singles, a good sign for local breeding.

Waterfowl gauge spring by day length and temperature. A barometer for humans comes from Gillam. This town hosts an annual fundraiser by placing a stripped vehicle on the ice during winter, and the person who picks the nearest date to when the vehicle falls through the ice wins a portion of the proceeds. The airport manager told me that the car has fallen through as soon as early April, with the average around mid May. As of yesterday, the car was still sitting on the ice, and he predicted it would be another week before it fell through. Fortunately, we won’t be around to see the vehicle sink, since the forecast points to a completed survey by this weekend for us and warming temperatures for breeding waterfowl.

Some waterfowl habitat in northern Saskatchewan is characterized by lakes and wetlands nestled within 1,000-ft hills.  Credit W. Rhodes

Wetland conditions improve as you move east through N. Manitoba.  Credit W. Rhodes (USFWS)

The Athabasca Sand Dunes on the south shore of Lake Athabasca are the world's northern most sand dunes.  Credit W. Rhodes (USFWS)

The MacFarlane River slices through the sand dunes on its way to Lake Athabasca in northern SK.  Credit W. Rhodes (USFWS)

Exposed shorelines and dry wetlands indicate only fair conditions for waterfowl in N. Saskatchewan.  Credit W. Rhodes (USFWS)

The mining town of Flin Flon, MB, was founded because of a large ore deposit.  Credit W. Rhodes (USFWS)

This dam directly outside of Gillam, MB, on the Nelson River provides power to Churchill and Thompson, and surrounding communities.  Credit W. Rhodes (USFWS)

Jim Goldsberry fills up N723 in Gillam, MB for the survey run back to Thompson, MB.  Credit W. Rhodes (USFWS)