Preparing for Early May Start

Written by Phil Thorpe
Friday, May 01, 2015

Photo of Phil Thorpe.I started making inquiries regarding survey timing in early April with our Canadian Wildlife Service (CWS) partners. CWS biologists have been out on the ground each week in April surveying traditional routes for species composition and social status. They compare previous year’s observations to the current year to determine how things are progressing with waterfowl migration and habitat conditions. I also review crop reports to get an idea of timing from an agricultural standpoint. Overall, farmers are ahead in their field work (e.g., seeding, fallowing) when compared to the long term average and in a few cases, way ahead compared to 2014 timing. In the southwest part of the province, they are about 18% ahead of last year’s seeding progress.

Stephen Chandler will be my observer again this year; this will be his third year coming back to the Southern Saskatchewan survey crew. I’ve said it in the past, there is nothing like getting a returning seasoned observer to make the job of a pilot-biologist easier and safer. Returning observers are more aware of the survey, hazards, and are better at species identification. All qualities that allow me to divert less attention to him and more to what’s ahead on the survey transect. Stephen has been tasked with getting the truck up to Regina so we can use it during the month. It will also be used later in the summer for our waterfowl banding operation.

I plan on leaving on May 2nd for my 19th survey of southern Saskatchewan. Every year seems different no matter how many times I go back and fly the same transect lines. Habitat conditions are always changing and timing of the survey varies a little every year. Last year, the waterfowl timing was about normal, but the habitat phenology was about two weeks behind normal. We didn’t see leaves emerging until mid-May and we observed ice-covered ponds into the third week in May. This year appears much more normal for phenology, and once a few more species arrive and fill in the habitat, for waterfowl too.

The Southern Saskatchewan aerial crew for 2015: Phil Thorpe (left) and Stephen Chandler.

The Southern Saskatchewan aerial crew for 2015: Phil Thorpe (left) and Stephen Chandler. Photo by Phil Thorpe, USFWS