Survey Planning - Spring Is Delayed

Written by Phil Thorpe
Wednesday, May 08, 2013

Photo of Phil Thorpe.The coordination and planning for my 16th waterfowl breeding population and habitat survey (BPOP) in Southern Saskatchewan began about a month ago in earnest. Talks with the Canadian Wildlife Service (CWS) biologists that I work with centered on how late spring phenology was, the amount of snow and ice on the landscape, and the lack of our main survey participants – the ducks! In mid-April the CWS ground crew biologists started to survey selected transects each week to determine species composition, abundance and social groupings. By late April things were still 2-3 weeks behind “normal.”

Plan A is always to arrive in Regina on May 3rd and start about May 6th. That plan quickly went out the window with the delayed spring habitat phenology and waterfowl migration. Winter remained fully entrenched in the survey unit. Temperatures really didn’t climb above freezing and start the spring melt until the beginning of May. Humans like schedules and dates for big events and the BPOP is a big event. However, wildlife surveys require us to remain flexible and wait for the surveyed species to set the timing of the survey, so we waited.

After a short delay, we decided to at least get into the survey area so when things warmed up we would be ready. My observer Stephen Chandler and I arrived on May 7th. I knew things were different on the flight up from Denver. Snow started to appear in the wind rows in northern Montana and it became more widespread in Saskatchewan. I was pleased to see that wetland and water conditions were excellent in northern Montana and on the flight into southern Saskatchewan and Regina. What was different than any other year that I can remember is the ice cover on many of the ponds south of Regina. Another surprise was seeing Old Wives Lake completely frozen; I’d never seen this during my tenure in this survey unit. I queried my predecessor to see if he had ever seen the lake frozen. He responded that he’d seen it dry once or twice but never frozen. Every year is different, so even though I’ve been in this survey unit for a while, each year is unique in terms of habitat quality, waterfowl numbers, and equipment functionality.

2013 Southern Saskatchewan air crew: Pilot Jim Thorpe (left) and observer Stephen Chandler (right).

2013 Southern Saskatchewan air crew: Pilot Jim Thorpe (left) and observer Stephen Chandler (right). Photo by Phil Thorpe, USFWS

En route flight to Regina. Good to excellent wetland conditions, unusual to see so many still ice covered.

En route flight to Regina. Good to excellent wetland conditions, unusual to see so many still ice covered. Photo by Phil Thorpe, USFWS

Good habitat conditions for ducks, not so good for farmers.

Good habitat conditions for ducks, not so good for farmers. Photo by Phil Thorpe, USFWS

Located southwest of Moose Jaw, Old Wive's Lake was still almost completely frozen when observed on May 9th.

Located southwest of Moose Jaw, Old Wive's Lake was still almost completely frozen when observed on May 9th. Photo by Phil Thorpe, USFWS