By the Numbers

Written by Pam Garrettson
Friday, May 24, 2013

Pam Garrettson.We finished the last of our air-ground transects on May 24th. That last air-ground, in northeastern Montana, had more water than the other areas we had covered, but it wasn’t great. Stock dams were typically at least half full, with quite a few ducks, but there were no small wetlands, so there was a lot of crowding on what was available. We did count quite a few pintails, and the upland cover was in better shape for them than the desolate pastures in the southern part of the crew area.

Although the estimates from the crew area are a closely guarded secret, at least until the waterfowl trend report comes out in early July, here are some summaries from our trip:

Most numerous duck counted (1,130): mallard

Duck least frequently counted (2): wood duck

Miles driven: 5,947 (including to and from Maryland)

Sharp-tailed grouse lek: 1 (very cool)

Pounds of sunflower seeds eaten (by the crew): 2

Number of days in which I didn’t eat beef: 2

Brent’s hairstyle changes : 2 (shaved his head, then his beard)

Artificial wetlands: 78

Streams: 54

Other natural wetlands: 179

I was wrong in predicting that most of the water we would count would be artificial wetlands. Why? First, a lot of stock dams and dugouts were completely dry. Second, many streams had partially dried up, so what would have been counted as a single stream segment was broken up into several distinct wetlands that, according to protocol are counted as separate. So in a dry year, there can be a bias toward the pond count, making the habitat conditions look better than they are. Over 85% of the artificial wetlands had birds on them, while only 41% of natural wetlands (including intact streams) held birds. Numbers are important, but so is interpreting them. Stay tuned for the report. Thanks for letting us tell you a story about our part of the survey in numbers, pictures and words.