Eastern Dakotas Ground Crew: Mud on the Tires

Written by Pam Garrettson
Tuesday, May 10, 2011

Pam Garrettson.We found the water we were expecting as we moved north to Brookings, SD. Some of the roads on our Oldham air-ground segment were impassable, and there was water over the causeway on highway 81. Blue-winged teal respond strongly to wet conditions, so it is no surprise they are the ducks we have seen most frequently. Pintails are particularly responsive to water, but we have seen relatively few; perhaps they have settled further north in the southern Canadian Prairie Provinces, which are also very wet.

We have been treated to some pretty rare sights so far on this survey. Yesterday we saw a cinnamon teal, a western species closely related to blue-winged teal. Chris and Mags saw a badger. We also saw a double-crested cormorant steal a fish from another, a behavior formally known as kleptoparasitism. Chris got a great picture of the winner flipping the fish into its mouth.

Our crew comes from all over. Josh White, who was on last year’s crew, is helping us for a few days. He is working on his master’s degree at South Dakota State, on the effects of Conservation Reserve Program grassland loss on ring-necked pheasant abundance. Mags Rheude is an eagle biologist stationed in Minnesota, and did her master’s on skunks. Chris Nicolai, stationed in Nevada, is our resident shorebird expert and knows a little about waterfowl too. Dan Collins, stationed in Oregon but soon moving to New Mexico, did his master’s on badgers, and is working on a Ph.D. on green-winged teal and northern shovelers. I grew up, and now live and work, in Maryland, but did my graduate work in North Dakota and southern Manitoba on the breeding biology of dabbling ducks, and have come to love spring on the prairies.

A badger spotted near Mitchell, South Dakota.

A badger spotted near Mitchell, South Dakota. Photo by Chris Nicolai, US FWS

Kleptoparasitism by a double-crested cormorant.  The bird on the right had just stolen the fish from the bird on the left.

Kleptoparasitism by a double-crested cormorant. The bird on the right had just stolen the fish from the bird on the left. Photo by Chris Nicolai, US FWS

Some R and R on a weather day.  The walleye were biting.

Some R and R on a weather day. The walleye were biting. Photo by Joshua J. White

The road was out, as was the sign telling you it might be out.

The road was out, as was the sign telling you it might be out. Photo by Joshua J. White

The view driving north on the highway 81 causeway.

The view driving north on the highway 81 causeway. Photo by Chris Nicolai, US FWS

A pair of cinnamon teal.

A pair of cinnamon teal. Photo by Chris Nicolai, US FWS

Left to right: Josh White, Pam Garrettson, Dan Collins, Chris Nicolai, Mags Rheude.

Left to right: Josh White, Pam Garrettson, Dan Collins, Chris Nicolai, Mags Rheude. Photo by Joshua J. White