Chasing Shadows

Written by Steve Olson
Thursday, May 28, 2015

Steve OlsonI sit state-side in Fairbanks, AK, as we regroup, pound out some data transcribing, and await the completion of an annual maintenance check of our Quest Kodiak. We have flown 10 days of surveys and completed just over 60% of our segments. A few days of rest, sourdough pancakes, and catching up with old pals and sleep is more than welcoming.

This survey, being the furthest north of the traditional survey area, has its share of unique “bush” individuals. After 30 years of flying the North Country, it is no surprise that my esteemed pilot, Fred Roetker, has met or interacted with 95% of them. Pick your favorite cliché, because this year, more than ever, we have been in the right place at the right time, struck gold with our ace in the hole, rekindled old spirits, seized the day, and made hay when the sun shined.

This survey effort being only my second, I reflect on the prior year’s habitat conditions, natural processes, and the migratory nature of both the birds we’re counting and ourselves. We are figuratively chasing our shadows from last year and the shadows of over 50 years of other surveyors. I think about the number of people who have sat in our seats, seen the same wetlands and forests, and witnessed a few-second snapshot of life at that time and place. It is up to us wildlife biologists to piece together and report a general summary of the habitat conditions and species-specific migration shifts, but in no way can we fully capture or understand what we witness for every snapshot. It is that which inspires my daily curiosities, knowing all along that I will never fully understand the last frontier’s intricacies.

A few general observations on habitat and waterfowl conditions in the far north.

  • Drier south.
  • Normal average water levels north.
  • More Mallard, Pintail, Shoveler, and Wigeon in the Boreal. Fewer sea ducks than normal.

We are chasing shadows daily, so please enjoy a compilation of snapshots in time and space, forever leaving a mark on the animals, the landscape we cover, and ourselves.  Photos by Steve Olson, USFWS-Pacific Flyway.

We are chasing shadows daily, so please enjoy a compilation of snapshots in time and space, forever leaving a mark on the animals, the landscape we cover, and ourselves. Photos by Steve Olson, USFWS-Pacific Flyway.

The 2015 Northwest Territories crew: Fred Roetker (left) and Steve Olson (right). Photo Credit: Steve Olson, USFWS

The 2015 Northwest Territories crew: Fred Roetker (left) and Steve Olson (right). Photo Credit: Steve Olson, USFWS