Waiting For Spring

Written by Walt Rhodes
Wednesday, May 27, 2009

Walt RhodesSpring needs some muscle.  After leaving La Ronge, SK, we began surveying the lower lines in Stratum 21 and 23 near Buffalo Narrows, SK. All of the small wetlands and lakes were ice free. The very largest lakes remained frozen, as expected, but the margins were thawed for several feet from the shoreline. We were optimistic about the timing of the survey as we headed towards Ft. McMurray, AB for the night. We picked up the next lines north out of Ft. McMurray the following morning on May 23 and flew east across the entire province of Saskatchewan towards Lynn Lake, MB for fuel. Along the way we witnessed several flocks of snow and white-fronted geese, swallows and ducks migrating north. The age-old pattern was repeating itself once again. As we neared Manitoba, however, winter remained. There was more ice than open water. It was 34 degrees in Lynn Lake when we landed. We had left Ft. McMurray in short sleeves, and when we landed back there that afternoon the temperature was in the low 70s. A 40-degree difference in only 350 miles.

It was time to determine where spring stopped on the morning of May 24. The next two lines north in Stratum 21 only stretch about halfway across Saskatchewan and wrap around Cree Lake. The habitat on the western end of both lines looked perfect. Open water was everywhere and we recorded several pairs of scaup, buffleheads, mergansers and mallards. We even spotted two woodland caribou grazing in a wetland and a black bear finishing a swim. But the farther east we flew we gradually encountered more ice, with Cree Lake locked tight. There was no sense in continuing the survey if we were going to be flying over nothing but ice. We’ve been sitting in Ft. McMurray, AB for three days to give spring a chance to arrive before we move north towards Stoney Rapids, SK tomorrow. Thinking warm thoughts…

Black Birch Lake in west-central Saskatchewan shows the transition of winter to spring in crew area.  Margins of lakes begin to open as you fly west.  Photo by Walt Rhodes (USFWS)

Winter still persists in east-central Saskatchewan.  Photo taken just over the border from Lynn Lake, MB.  Photo by Walt Rhodes (USFWS)

Habitat on the western side of Stratum 23 east of Ft. McMurray, AB are ice free for arriving waterfowl.  Photo by Walt Rhodes.  (USFWS)

Endless ribbons of lakes and rivers characterize the habitat on the eastern side of Stratum 21 northeast of Buffalo Narrows, SK.  Photo by Walt Rhodes (USFWS)