Pass the Juju

Written by Steve Earsom
Wednesday, May 27, 2015

Photo of Stephen D. Earsom.I’ve been reading some of the flight logs from other crews taking part in this year’s BPOP, and I almost feel bad about hogging all the juju.

Crews have had aircraft nose wheels come off the rims, oil leaks, good weather when the plane is in for maintenance and bad weather when it comes out, tornadoes, snowstorms and howling winds. I even saw a picture of one of our trucks on the bed of a tow truck.

In contrast, Nick and I just wrapped up our portion of the BPOP with a six-day sweep through eastern Ontario and western Quebec. It’s rare that we are able to fly so many days in a row, and it happened twice on this survey. That allows us to get the survey done quicker, but it also appears a harbinger of habitat quality.

Like much of eastern Canada, our crew area had its share of snow over the winter, but the spring has been dry, and the majority of the habitat is judged to be in variable, but fair, condition. See the accompanying photos of beaver ponds and string bogs for the visuals. Waterfowl numbers are mixed in our crew area, with some showing gains and others, losses, but bolstered as always by the permanent waters of the region.

The last day of our survey may have been the best I’ll ever experience. We took off from a glassy lake where we had spent the previous night—which meant the day was already a success—and surveyed with a solid overcast and light winds. We were rewarded with a count that included ring-necks, buffleheads, common and hooded mergansers, a wood duck, scaup, black ducks, mallards, sandhill cranes, and common loons. After fueling in Tamiskaming and checking to ensure our data were complete, I encountered what would turn out to be the largest obstacle of the day: finding on the Memorial Day holiday an airport on the US side of the border that had Customs officers who could leave their port to come meet us, an FBO that would answer the phone, and weather good enough for us to land. After a dozen phone calls, looking at several alternates, and negotiations with Customs, the models finally converged on the airport where I had originally planned to go and we departed for Michigan.

Canada disappeared in the mist, and the next thing we saw through the windows was the approach path lighting of the runway at Sault Ste. Marie. The customs officers were cordial, the fueling punctual, and we were again airborne toward St. Paul in half an hour. The folks at Wipaire in Minnesota will be removing the floats from N723, which will increase our safety margins for my next survey in the Ungava Peninsula. Fortunately, Mr. Wiplinger himself was there to meet us, and within an hour and a half after landing I had traded the flight suit for street clothes and was on a commercial flight home.

So to the rest of the flight crews still hard at work, Nick and I hereby pass to you our good juju. Kindly hand it back in a couple of weeks when I travel north for the Ungava survey!

Easy no-go decision. Lake Gowganda, Ontario. Photo Credit: Steve Earsom, USFWS

Water and nesting habitat are certainly available, but levels have dropped with a lack of precipitation since snowmelt. Near North Bay, Ontario.  Steve Earsom, USFWS.

Water and nesting habitat are certainly available, but levels have dropped with a lack of precipitation since snowmelt. Near North Bay, Ontario. Steve Earsom, USFWS.

Nick Wirwa pumping water from the floats to start the day. Lake Gowganda, Ontario.  Steve Earsom, USFWS.

Nick Wirwa pumping water from the floats to start the day. Lake Gowganda, Ontario. Steve Earsom, USFWS.

Scattered snow showers did not slow our progress, nor did they provide significant additional moisture to wetlands.  Steve Earsom, USFWS.

Scattered snow showers did not slow our progress, nor did they provide significant additional moisture to wetlands. Steve Earsom, USFWS.

A fairly dry string bog north of Kapuskasing, Ontario.  Steve Earsom, USFWS.

A fairly dry string bog north of Kapuskasing, Ontario. Steve Earsom, USFWS.