An Observer’sTale: Hurry Up and Wait

Written by Mike Rabe
Saturday, May 12, 2012

Mike RabeOn May 7 I flew from Phoenix, Arizona, to Bismarck, North Dakota, to meet my pilot, Kevin Fox, who is picking up the plane in Delaware and flying it here for the northern Saskatchewan-northern Manitoba surveys. Kevin flies planes for the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service in Alaska. I am the waterfowl biologist from Arizona Game and Fish Department. This is my third year helping the Fish and Wildlife Service as an observer for the May Breeding Population Survey. I was the observer last year in this same survey area. Last year’s survey pilot for this area, Walt Rhodes, is flying the Northwest Territories this year. I was eager to start the survey this year and looking forward to flying with Kevin. The plane was in the shop in preparation for the surveys, so we anticipated it would be in tip-top shape.

Anyway, you know what they say about planning. Kevin picked up the plane on schedule but had to return to the shop three times because of broken alternator belts. Planes can fly just fine without alternators (the engines themselves supply the electricity needed for ignition) but the radios and the computers we use for counting waterfowl don’t work for very long without the alternator. So I sat in Bismarck (thanks to the internet I could still do my day job—the emails don’t stop) while Kevin sorted out the plane issues with the shop.

When he finally got things sorted out maintenance-wise, he ran into severe weather on the flight from Delaware to Bismarck and had to stop in Ohio and cool his heels for almost 2 days. I wasn’t the only one stuck in a motel room. At last, Kevin shows up in Bismarck on the 11th of May. Despite the delays, I am eager to get started. We leave for Regina, Saskatchewan, the next day and spend the evening there with Phil Thorpe and Sarah Folsom. Phil and Sarah are doing the southern Alberta surveys. Phil coaches us both on managing and operating the computers. When you do something only once a year, the memory gets fuzzy and I am glad to get the refresher. And as it turns out, this is just about the same time we started the survey last year and conditions look good as we start north. Although spring is well underway in the northern prairies, it is just getting started in the boreal forest north of Prince Albert. Water conditions look good and most of the ducks we see are paired up; looks like we got it about right despite the delays.