Tough Year Shaping Up

Written by Terry Liddick
Tuesday, May 12, 2015

Terry LiddickIt’s shaping up to be a tough year all the way around for the Eastern Dakotas survey. So far, we are only batting .500 on flying days, having only been able to fly 4 out of eight days so far due to weather. The forecast doesn’t seem to show any signs of increasing efficiency either. We were able to fly today for the first time in the Aberdeen, SD, area after sitting for the past two days. We saw a bit of everything the past two days as far as weather goes. We had a lot of rain, a little snow, a lot of wind and were able to depart Mitchell just before a tornado passed through the area just to the south, decimating the town of Delmont, near our Parkston air-ground segment that we had flown just the day prior. And believe me, that is the good news as far as the survey goes.

Although things seemed to have improved slightly as we moved into the Aberdeen area, it is still a sad sight for waterfowl production in South Dakota this year. It is still extremely dry. Let me put it into perspective. After sitting the past couple days while a lot of rain moved through the area, we anticipated seeing better conditions, and we did. While we were sitting, the area experienced 5 inches of rain, more in some areas and less in others, but a lot of rain. Comparing this year’s pond count to the same two lines last year, which were incredibly dry then, we were down 150 natural water bodies this year. Remember, that is after 3-7 inches of rain in the past two days! Comparing natural water bodies for the first four days of 2014 to 2015, we are down over half. Read that as we have less than half of the water we had during 2014, which was an extremely dry year in itself!

I’m not preaching doom and gloom. This is obviously just a part of the natural wet/dry cycle, but I am saying that so far, after four days, don’t expect much production out of the South Dakota portion of the prairie pothole region this year. We are seeing some tiling and draining occurring, but that isn’t the cause of this year’s dryness. It has just been an extremely dry winter and spring in South Dakota and duck production will pay the price.

On the upside, we did see some dispersal of ducks already today into the water created the past two days. Species that were grouped, such as blue-winged teal, northern shovelers and gadwall, may yet have time to respond and settle into territories they otherwise may not have had the opportunity to use. With more rain forecast in the next several days, things can only improve, even if only slightly. So far, comparing the first four days of 2014 and 2015, total indicated birds are down by 30%, and down 48% from 2013. I hear there are a lot of ducks and probably a lot more water in southern Saskatchewan, so overall, it may not be a bust!

Check back soon.

Several views from above of the landscape across south central South Dakota.
Several views from above of the landscape across south central South Dakota.
Several views from above of the landscape across south central South Dakota.
Several views from above of the landscape across south central South Dakota.
Several views from above of the landscape across south central South Dakota.
Several views from above of the landscape across south central South Dakota.
Several views from above of the landscape across south central South Dakota.
Several views from above of the landscape across south central South Dakota.
Several views from above of the landscape across south central South Dakota.
Several views from above of the landscape across south central South Dakota.
Several views from above of the landscape across south central South Dakota.
Several views from above of the landscape across south central South Dakota.

Several views from above of the landscape across south central South Dakota. Photo by Dave Fronczak, USFWS

North of Brookings, South Dakota.

North of Brookings, South Dakota. Photo by Dave Fronczak, USFWS

Approaching the Madison Air Ground.

Approaching the Madison Air Ground. Photo by Dave Fronczak, USFWS

Take off and transects south and east of Aberdeen South Dakota. Video by Dave Fronczak, USFWS