Back to the Eastern Dakotas

Written by Terry Liddick
Monday, April 30, 2012

Terry LiddickThe 2012 Waterfowl Breeding Population and Habitat Survey is upon us and we are ready to go. This year, the aircrew is the same as 2011, with myself as the pilot for the second year in the Eastern Dakotas and joined again by Dave Fronczak as the observer. I am pleased to have Dave back and we are looking forward to a great survey. The ground crew will be led this year by Kammie Kruse, who has many years of experience on the eastern Dakotas’ ground crew. Survey preparations began several months ago as I began watching the weather over what was an extremely mild and dry winter. I put my plane into maintenance on the 1st of April to prepare it with a fresh inspection.

In late February and early March, I began communicating with state biologists and other folks in the Dakotas and surrounding states and provinces to determine conditions. By the end of March, it became apparent that the mild winter was going to have things starting a little earlier this year. I spent the first week of April making reservation changes and changes to other logistics that were set in place as early as January. It takes considerable advance planning to conduct this survey, particularly for hotel accommodations, because May is a busy month for proms, graduations etc., throughout the Dakotas. So I usually take my best guess as to where we will be when and then make changes as we get closer and hope we can still get a room!

After a lot of coordination with Dave, Kammie, and other crews adjacent to our crew area in the eastern Dakotas, I determined that we should and could meet in Mitchell, South Dakota, on April 27th. As it goes, the best laid plans never seem to materialize. I attempted to depart Spearfish, SD, on the 27th, but the first rain in a while resulted in low ceilings and poor visibility and the departure was delayed. We certainly needed the rain, however, so it wasn’t too disappointing. I tried again on the 28th, but again, a rain/snow mix, low ceilings, high winds, and poor visibility prevented my departure. Finally, on Sunday the 29th, I was able to depart Spearfish. Our hope at that point was for Dave and I to fly some afternoon reconnaissance upon my arrival to Mitchell, and to begin the survey on the 30th. Once again, weather became an issue. I was able to fly from Spearfish to Chamberlain, SD, until I caught up to some low ceilings and had to land and wait several hours before proceeding for Mitchell.

Now in Mitchell and hopeful to start the survey on the 30th, we sat in fog the entire morning. Finally, the fog dissipated around 11:00, so we flew some practice and reconnaissance in the afternoon. We did actually begin the survey this morning, but it was short-lived. After flying just one segment, we returned to Mitchell as the ceilings in the survey area began to lower and the winds increased to limits outlined in the standard operating procedure.

So, here we are in Mitchell, SD, ready and waiting to continue with the 2012 BPOP. Breeding phenology looks right based on yesterday’s reconnaissance, although it certainly is different than last year. Because of the warm and dry winter, there is much less water across the landscape than we have seen in the past few years. It does not appear to be as dry as 2008, but significantly dryer than the last three years—particularly last year. Stay tuned.