Eastern Dakotas are Complete

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Written by Terry Liddick
Friday, May 18, 2012

Terry LiddickWell, after a rainy and windy start, we were able to complete the eastern Dakota’s survey area on May 17th! Since our last blog, when we were moving from Aberdeen, SD, to Jamestown, ND, we only lost one day to weather and flew 11 out the past 12 days! That is the upside, well, that and the fact that we are finished with the survey. The downside is North Dakota continued to be as dry as we first witnessed as I flew from Aberdeen to Jamestown. Habitat conditions in North Dakota are not as good as South Dakota, and they weren’t great in South Dakota!

The Red River Valley in eastern North Dakota continues to be poor with all of the uplands pretty well drained in stratum 47. I only counted one duck on the northernmost four segments. That was not surprising, however. Even if there was water, there is virtually no grassland habitat to support nesting anyway. Stratum 45 and 46 were fairly dry as well. There was no habitat in either state that was rated as excellent this year. Eastern South Dakota may have improved after we moved on with some much needed recent rain, but North Dakota continued to be dry in May.

With the exception of the coteaus on the eastern and western boundaries of the survey area, most of the habitat was rated as poor to fair. The coteaus looked good (but not excellent), and that is where we found most of the ducks. Of course, comparing 2012 to 2011, the differences were stark, but the picture wasn’t totally dismal. Duck numbers were down from last year, but still pretty good. Grassland continues to disappear as agriculture conversion continues to take over.

Throughout North Dakota, with the exception of the coteau regions, nearly all of the temporary and seasonal wetland basins were dry. The permanent wetland basins contained enough water to support decent production, providing they didn’t get too crowded with ducks! Breeding territories will be at a premium this year.

Matching the pace of grassland conversion in the eastern half of the survey area is the oil production pace in the western half of the survey area. Besides the constant air traffic chatter on the radio near Williston, the vehicle traffic on the section roads was amazing! Semi-tractor trailers everywhere you looked! Indicative of how dry it was, they caused visibility issues from the dust they were raising. As we proceeded west past Minot, there appeared to be unforecast weather ahead. I zoomed out on the GPS to gain a larger scale view on the XM weather, and it indicated no rain or clouds. As we proceeded, it became apparent that the visibility was a result of the traffic raising dust on the section roads. You could see columns of dust being stirred every direction you looked and as far as you could see, which wasn’t very far. It was like that from Minot west to the Montana border!

So, for 2012 in the eastern Dakota’s, I would expect production to be OK. Habitat conditions ranged from poor to good, with no segments being rated as excellent this year. The coteau regions of both states were in pretty good shape and there were pretty good numbers of most species. The timing of the survey appeared appropriate. More moisture is needed! Even with that, however, the agriculture conversion pace could pose a bleak future. See you next year!