Finally Some Moisture

Written by Terry Liddick
Sunday, May 24, 2015

Terry LiddickWe have turned the corner in the eastern Dakotas. After six consecutive days of sitting in the rain, things have improved substantially—on the ground and in the air. We have now flown six consecutive days and things are looking a lot better. We thought we would get to fly on the 15th, and that turned out to be a false start. We sat the whole morning waiting on ceilings and visibility to improve and they did, but not until nearly noon. So, with the way the forecast was going, it looked like if we moved from Jamestown, ND, from Aberdeen, SD, we may get to fly somewhere on the 16th, so move we did.

Although even getting the weather to move was a struggle, it turned out to be of no avail. Saturday the 17th was just as bad in Jamestown as it was in Aberdeen. So we sat in Jamestown for another three days while nearly 8” of rain fell over that period. Finally, the morning of the 19th, the day dawned bright and clear and we were able to resume the survey after seven consecutive days of rain.

We departed Jamestown and finished the two northernmost transects in South Dakota. After seven consecutive days of rain, things looked dramatically different than what we had encountered so far as well. The seasonal wetlands began to fill and the ducks appeared to respond. There were still quite a few ponds vacant; however, it did appear that many of the late nesters relished the new water. The groups of gadwall, blue-winged teal and shovelers seemed to have dispersed and more pairs were visible. The next several days we flew to the south and to the north of Jamestown and discovered much more of the same. The seasonal wetlands had water, there were potholes everywhere that contained water and waterfowl, and the landscape had dramatically changed from the early days of the survey in the Mitchell, SD, area.

We have now flown every day since the 19th, as high pressure now dominates the survey area and we are making great progress. North Dakota seems to have ample pairs of waterfowl of all the expected species; however, we are still down significantly from last year. Many of the birds apparently flew farther north earlier in the spring when they encountered the dry conditions present prior to the past week of rain. We are down 25% on total indicated birds over last year in South Dakota and down 40% over last year. Soon we will start seeing how North Dakota looks compared to last year. At least there are now wetlands for the ducks to find and settle on if it isn’t too late for this year.

Fair numbers of pairs were are being encountered in both states in the coteau regions, as expected, but numbers there appear lower than last year. Stratum 47 in the Red River Valley region of eastern North Dakota is still poor and will raise few ducks again. Even after all the rain, there are still very few wetlands in that stratum as a result of the historical draining. We continue to observe wetlands being drained in both states.

We are now in Devil’s Lake, North Dakota, with two survey days remaining. It looks as if the weather will cooperate and don’t forget to check back soon to see how 2015 compares to last year. Thank goodness for the timely rain, the ducks and the farmers will appreciate it, I’m sure.

Jamestown ND, May 20, 2015. Video by Dave Fronczak, US FWS

Northeast of Jamestown, ND. May 19, 2015. Credit: Dave Fronczak, USFWS

Northeast of Jamestown, ND. May 19, 2015. Credit: Dave Fronczak, USFWS

Northeast of Jamestown, ND. May 19, 2015. Credit: Dave Fronczak, USFWS

Northeast of Jamestown, ND. May 19, 2015. Credit: Dave Fronczak, USFWS

Northeast of Jamestown, ND. May 19, 2015. Credit: Dave Fronczak, USFWS

Northeast of Jamestown, ND. May 19, 2015. Credit: Dave Fronczak, USFWS

Transition between transects, NW Aberdeen, SD.  May 19, 2015. Credit: Dave Fronczak, USFWS

Transition between transects, NW Aberdeen, SD.  May 19, 2015. Credit: Dave Fronczak, USFWS

Transition between transects, NW Aberdeen, SD.  May 19, 2015. Credit: Dave Fronczak, USFWS

Transition between transects, NW Aberdeen, SD. May 19, 2015. Credit: Dave Fronczak, USFWS

Northwest of Aberdeen, SD. May 19, 2015

Northwest of Aberdeen, SD. May 19, 2015

Northwest of Aberdeen, SD. May 19, 2015

Northwest of Aberdeen, SD. May 19, 2015

Northwest of Aberdeen, SD. May 19, 2015

Northwest of Aberdeen, SD. May 19, 2015. Credit: Dave Fronczak, USFWS

Southwest of Fargo, ND.  May 20, 2015. Credit: Dave Fronczak, USFWS

Southwest of Fargo, ND.  May 20, 2015. Credit: Dave Fronczak, USFWS

Southwest of Fargo, ND.  May 20, 2015. Credit: Dave Fronczak, USFWS

Southwest of Fargo, ND.  May 20, 2015. Credit: Dave Fronczak, USFWS

Southwest of Fargo, ND.  May 20, 2015. Credit: Dave Fronczak, USFWS

Southwest of Fargo, ND.  May 20, 2015. Credit: Dave Fronczak, USFWS

Southwest of Fargo, ND. May 20, 2015. Credit: Dave Fronczak, USFWS

2015 Cover Photo: EDakotas. Credit: Dave Fronczak, USFWS

2015 Cover Photo: EDakotas. Credit: Dave Fronczak, USFWS

White Pelican colony, Chase Lake NWR, ND.  May 21, 2015. Credit: Dave Fronczak, USFWS

White Pelican colony, Chase Lake NWR, ND.  May 21, 2015. Credit: Dave Fronczak, USFWS

White Pelican colony, Chase Lake NWR, ND. May 21, 2015. Credit: Dave Fronczak, USFWS