Crossing the Rock Pile

Written by Walt Rhodes
Friday, May 13, 2011

Walt RhodesI have never flown over the Rockies as pilot-in-command, and I’m still not sure that I have.

My observer, Mike Rabe, and I rendezvoused in Spokane, Washington, and left yesterday for Regina, Saskatchewan. Incidentally, Mike is no stranger to the breeding waterfowl survey or to flying. He’s the Migratory Bird biologist for the Arizona Game and Fish Department, was an observer for Pilot-Biologist, Terry Liddick, in North Dakota and Montana on last year’s survey, and is a pilot himself, too. It’s always helpful for a pilot-biologist when his/her observer has these skills.

Our plan was to fly to Regina and spend the next day doing some low-level flying to refresh our duck identification skills. We’d also check in on the Southern Saskatchewan crew, Pilot-Biologist Phil Thorpe and observer Pat Devers, to make sure they were actually working. We departed Spokane and were able to get on top of the clouds shrouding the Rockies and flew in clear skies at 15,000 feet. Since the Kodiak is non-pressurized, we had to breathe supplemental oxygen. We never saw the mountains until the clouds broke up near Glacier National Park. It was clear sailing across the southern prairies, offering us a glimpse of this year’s abundant water and excellent habitat conditions.

The clouds begin to clear over the northern Rockies near Glacier National Park.

The clouds begin to clear over the northern Rockies near Glacier National Park. Photo by M. Rabe, Arizona Game and Fish Department

Observer, Mike Rabe (left), and Pilot-Biologist, Walt Rhodes, on the ground in Regina, Saskatchewan.

Observer, Mike Rabe (left), and Pilot-Biologist, Walt Rhodes, on the ground in Regina, Saskatchewan. Photo by W. Rhodes, US FWS