A Day in the Life of a Survey Air Crew

Written by Stephen D. Earsom
Wednesday, May 11, 2011

Photo of Stephen D. Earsom.Some of you may be wondering what the life of a pilot/biologist is like.

One thing is certain: some things have changed a great deal since the pioneers started this survey in the 1950s. Camping lakeside for the air crews is less common now—wouldn’t work too well for us anyway since our Partenavia doesn't have floats! Also, data are recorded entirely electronically via an elaborate mix of computers, GPSs, wires, gizmos, and I hear there is even a flux capacitor (remember Back to the Future!?) installed somewhere behind the instrument panel. Nonetheless, here is a quick breakdown of a typical flying day:

0500 Awake to check the weather and file the flight plan 0600 Breakfast (be careful about liquid intake!)
0700 At the airport and conduct preflight checks
0800 Take off and conduct survey
1200 Land (did you drink too much coffee at breakfast?)
1300 Head to lunch after putting the plane "to bed"
1400 Check in to hotel and transcribe recorded data into the appropriate computer program
1500 Check the weather and start planning the next day's flight
1600 Update logbook, check on status of aircraft maintenance and plan where to have oil change done
1700 Exercise
1830 Dinner
2000 Get an update on weather, catch up on email and other "paperwork"
2200 To bed with dreams of a high overcast (good visibility for seeing ducks) and calm winds (for a smooth ride).

From left, Carl Ferguson, Thom Lewis, and Steve Earsom discuss logistics in Ottawa on 12 May.

From left, Carl Ferguson, Thom Lewis, and Steve Earsom discuss logistics in Ottawa on 12 May. Photo by Steve Earsom, USFWS

Bird's eye view of Georgian Bay near Lake Huron.

Bird's eye view of Georgian Bay near Lake Huron. Photo by Steve Earsom, USFWS

Lakes and wetlands north of Kingston, Ontario, 11 May.  Though we are in an area of abundant water, waterfowl nesting densities are typically low in this type of habitat.  This is due in part to the fact that the rain and snow that flow into these wetlands pick up acids produced by the native forests, and not many of the foods that waterfowl like to eat can tolerate a low pH.  So, while we will see flocks of scaup, ringnecks and other species resting on these lakes while enroute to the nesting grounds, breeding pairs are fairly rare.

Lakes and wetlands north of Kingston, Ontario, 11 May. Though we are in an area of abundant water, waterfowl nesting densities are typically low in this type of habitat. This is due in part to the fact that the rain and snow that flow into these wetlands pick up acids produced by the native forests, and not many of the foods that waterfowl like to eat can tolerate a low pH. So, while we will see flocks of scaup, ringnecks and other species resting on these lakes while enroute to the nesting grounds, breeding pairs are fairly rare. Photo by Steve Earsom, USFWS