Survey Complete: Conditions Good to Excellent in Southern Alberta, Poor to Fair in Central Alberta

Written by Jim Bredy
Wednesday, May 25, 2011

Photo of Jim Bredy.Today we completed the 2011 Waterfowl Breeding Population and Habitat Survey for Southern and Central Alberta. This is the 24th spring and summer that I have flown over much of Canada, including the arctic islands, conducting aerial surveys of one kind or another. Alberta is still one of my favorite places. I was very fortunate this year to work with Kevin Doherty as the aerial observer. He is a Landscape Ecologist for the USFWS, and is currently working with the Prairie Pothole Joint Venture, based in Bismark, ND. He has an excellent knowledge of waterfowl and their habitats. Now it is time for the final data “crunching” by our excellent Population and Habitat Assessment Branch, back in Laurel, MD. We will not know the final results until that data analysis is completed. They will compare the results of our air counts, with the data gathered from the ground crews, to arrive at a waterfowl breeding population figure for this survey area. It continues to be a pleasure to work with the very professional and friendly ground crews from the Canadian Wildlife Service, Province of Alberta, and Ducks Unlimited.

The bright side of the survey is the good to excellent habitat conditions in the area from the MT border to the area between Edmonton and Red Deer. The turnaround from the dry conditions of 2 years ago, and even the improvement from last year, seems remarkable. Many wetland basins are full, and the ducks responded in force. It was one of the highlights of my career to see the Alberta Prairies wet again. Barring a cataclysmic event, I expect this area will “pop out” a lot of ducks this year.

Habitat conditions became drier as we approached Edmonton, and continued to deteriorate as we travelled further north. The ducks responded to the lack of water and it was almost as if we crossed a no fly zone. Our final flight lines ran from Grande Prairie, AB; to Dawson Creek, BC; to Ft. St. John, BC; to Peace River, AB; by Lake Utikuma and back to Grande Prairie. The “Peace Country” is dry, unlike the good to excellent habitat conditions in the southern part of the province. An example of the dry conditions in Central Alberta, are the devastating wildfires that are already occurring, one of which destroyed almost 1/3 of the town of Slave Lake in Central Alberta.

Prior to the start of these surveys, I always have a lot of anxious and excited anticipation to do what I really love doing up here. Now that the surveys are completed for this year, I also have a lot of anxious and excited anticipation to return home to my best friend and lovely wife, Tammy. Until next year…I continue to wish you many enjoyable days afield!

This video captures the view and the sound of the survey plane flying overhead from the ground. Video by Jason Caswell.

This photo is typical of a large portion of the habitat in the central portion of Stratum 76, between Peace River and Grande Prairie, Alberta.  These heavy agricultural practices do not provide for optimal duck breeding and production habitat.

This photo is typical of a large portion of the habitat in the central portion of Stratum 76, between Peace River and Grande Prairie, Alberta. These heavy agricultural practices do not provide for optimal duck breeding and production habitat. Photo by Kevin Doherty, US FWS

This is a typical boreal forest pond, in the

This is a typical boreal forest pond, in the "undisturbed" portion of Stratum 76. It is in the NE corner of the stratum, by Utikuma Lake. Photo by Kevin Doherty, US FWS

Most of the wetland basins near Calgary, Alberta have water in them. This is a stark difference from a few years ago.

Most of the wetland basins near Calgary, Alberta have water in them. This is a stark difference from a few years ago. Photo by Jim Bredy, US FWS

Excellent upland and wetland habitat conditions in the aspen parkland region near Red Deer, Alberta.

Excellent upland and wetland habitat conditions in the aspen parkland region near Red Deer, Alberta. Photo by Kevin Doherty, US FWS