Eastern Dakotas Survey Nears the Finish Line

Written by Terry Liddick
Friday, May 20, 2011

Terry LiddickWe are nearing the end of the survey for the eastern Dakota’s and so far everything is looking like it will be a great year for waterfowl production in this crew area. Yesterday we finished all of the flying we have to do out of Jamestown, North Dakota, and that included all of the transects up to near Devil’s Lake. We have had a pretty good run of weather and managed to get in 5 consecutive days of flying. But, all good things must come to an end as they say. We are now down for the next several days for a combination of things. First and foremost is a mandatory airplane inspection and the second is weather.

Flying the survey is accomplished between 100 and 150 feet above ground level in order to be able to accurately identify the ducks to species. This has its inherent risks if something goes awry with the plane. So, getting everything inspected every so often is a good thing even if it weren’t mandatory! Fortunately, the inspection came due at a time when the weather wasn’t looking so good for the next few days anyway. Many thanks to the guys at Aberdeen Flying Service for their quality as well as timely work. They were able to fit the plane in yesterday afternoon after we completed two transects in the morning and should have it finished by the end of today. They are more dependable than the weather! It looks as if even though the plane will be ready this afternoon, Mother Nature may not be ready for us to resume until next Monday.

Well, we have flown east/west transects from just south of Mitchell, South Dakota, to near Devil’s Lake, North Dakota. That completed 21 transects between the Missouri River in the west of both states and to the Minnesota border in the east, and covered more than 4,000 linear miles of flying. South Dakota appears to have more water than North Dakota, but that is relative. In South Dakota, all of the wetlands are more than full, and significantly more than full in many cases. In North Dakota, all of the wetlands are near capacity--most exceeding, 100% full! The full wetland basins are also full of ducks! We are seeing fantastic numbers of mallards as well as pintails, gadwalls, blue-winged teal and shovelers. There appears to be good numbers of redheads, scaup and canvasbacks as well. The only thing noticeably absent are tractors and plows working the fields.

It is still very wet with many fields, roads and bridges under water. It does not look like a good year for corn, as I believe the deadline for getting corn in is May 15th and we are well past that and many fields are still not able to be worked. The exception to that are the areas in the Red River Valley in the eastern part of the crew area that are drained and tiled. More rain, as I mentioned above, is forecast for the next 3 days, so there will be no drying trend in the immediate future. The habitat in general looks great.

When we resume, we will have about 3 days of flying left, that includes 4 transects near Devil’s Lake and Minot, North Dakota. That will take us to within a few miles of the Canadian border, where the southern Saskatchewan and southern Manitoba crews began a few weeks ago. In the meantime, I will finish the logistical challenges of getting the plane inspection completed and trying to find a place to stay back in North Dakota. We were aiming for Minot, but there are no rooms available there with the oil boom in the western part of the state as well as high school graduation season under way. When it comes to flying the survey covering this much terrain, flexibility is the key to air power!

These are typical conditions between Jamestown and Bismarck North Dakota.

These are typical conditions between Jamestown and Bismarck North Dakota. Photo by Terry Liddick, USFWS

On final approach into Jamestown North Dakota after a morning of surveying.

On final approach into Jamestown North Dakota after a morning of surveying. Photo by Terry Liddick, USFWS

Excellent habitat conditions between Jamestown, North Dakota and Aberdeen, South Dakota.

Excellent habitat conditions between Jamestown, North Dakota and Aberdeen, South Dakota. Photo by Terry Liddick, USFWS

Drained and tiled wetlands near Fargo, North Dakota.

Drained and tiled wetlands near Fargo, North Dakota. Photo by Terry Liddick, USFWS

Typical conditions we are encountering throughout the Dakota's.

Typical conditions we are encountering throughout the Dakota's. Photo by Terry Liddick, USFWS

Once productive habitat, not so much any more after being drained.

Once productive habitat, not so much any more after being drained. Photo by Terry Liddick, USFWS

Still a lot of sheet water and full wetland basins in South Dakota.

Still a lot of sheet water and full wetland basins in South Dakota. Photo by Terry Liddick, USFWS

A much different look than the wetlands in the Missouri Coteau Region west of the Red River Valley.

A much different look than the wetlands in the Missouri Coteau Region west of the Red River Valley. Photo by Terry Liddick, USFWS