Mechanical Issues

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Written by Blake Bartzen
Tuesday, May 19, 2015

Photo of Blake Bartzen.My technician, Keith Warner, and I had been doing preliminary reconnaissance in the month of April and early May, so we knew conditions were going to be a little drier this year compared to the most recent years. Saskatchewan did not have as much snow this year and spring came earlier compared to the last two years. April was warm, dry, and windy causing the ice to come off even the larger water bodies, such as Lake Diefenbaker. However, conditions were very wet last spring and we had some major deluges during the summer, which kept many wetlands full into freeze-up last autumn. Consequently, although this year is slightly drier than the most recent years, there are still many full or nearly full wetlands.

We met with Phil Thorpe and Stephen Chandler, the USFWS pilot-biologist and observer, respectively, for Saskatchewan on Monday, May 4. We spent a couple hours looking at ponds and ducks around the Loreburn area, located just east of Lake Diefenbaker. It is good for us to meet with the pilot and observer before the season to discuss conditions and any issues or concerns, as well as to get recalibrated on pond typing from the air and ground. Phil and Stephen flew their first transects on May 5th, but those transects did not have any air-ground comparison segments on them. The next day, May 6th, was wet and windy, so the air crew did not fly that day. However, the air crew did manage to fly the next day, surveying our first air-ground comparison segments in Southwestern Saskatchewan.

Once we got the call from Phil that the air-ground segments were completed, we mobilized the ground crew to travel from Saskatoon to Swift Current; but not before having to scramble up another truck because mine started leaking transmission fluid. After a couple hours delay, we were on the road to Swift Current.

Conditions on our first morning of survey, May 8, were clear with no wind, but cold: -3 ° Celsius at daybreak. Small ponds on the first part of my segment actually had a thin layer of ice on them. Another crew started their survey by changing a flat tire right at the start-point of their transect! As expected, conditions in the Southwest were drier than last year, but the wetlands that were holding water were full and had lots of ducks, likely a result of several years of good duck production conditions, and, perhaps, drier conditions in the Dakotas. With the exception of an extremely wet area north of Moose Jaw, I would characterize most segments in southern Saskatchewan as slightly drier than most recent years but still with good to above-average water conditions. Generally, duck numbers on the southern air-ground comparison segments were slightly higher than last year, and although water conditions on some of the more northern grassland segments such as Loreburn, Tichfield, and Hanley seemed good, duck numbers appeared to be slightly lower.

We managed to complete the last of the grassland segments on May 16th, but the air crew discovered an oil leak on the plane, which is delaying the start of the parkland portion of the survey. To date, we have had great weather and the long-term forecast looks good. However, this survey is shaping up to be one characterized by mechanical issues; so far, we have had transmission problems, a flat tire, and a shock had to be replaced on one of the trucks. Currently, my truck is headed back to the shop as the transmission problem is persisting. Truck issues have been relatively easy for us to deal with, but the oil leak on the plane is not as easy to remedy; it did not help that the issue was discovered on the Friday before a long holiday weekend. Keeping our fingers crossed that the plane will be back in the air and the air crew will be surveying by Thursday, May 21st and that the good weather persists!

Two redhead pairs on a semi-permanent pond on the Loreburn segment.

Two redhead pairs on a semi-permanent pond on the Loreburn segment. Photo by Blake Bartzen, Canadian Wildlife Service

Quintessential pothole country of the Allan Hills, Hanley segment.

Quintessential pothole country of the Allan Hills, Hanley segment. Photo by Blake Bartzen, Canadian Wildlife Service