Finishing Strong

Written by Terry Liddick
Monday, June 01, 2015

Terry LiddickThe Eastern Dakota’s survey has wrapped up and it turned out quite a bit different than the way it started. After seven days of waiting for the skies to clear and the rain and snow to depart the area, we resumed flying and found quite a different picture than what I reported earlier. We finished the last two days of the survey from Devil’s Lake, ND, and completed the survey on May 25th. North Dakota continued to look good and the ducks responded well to the recent rain. When we first arrived, it appeared that North Dakota was in better shape than South Dakota, and there was no doubt about that after a few more days of rain.

We continued to find seasonal wetlands at least half full of water and the permanent and semi-permanent wetlands looked good as well. The coteau regions were looking good as usual and most wetlands contained some number of pairs of ducks. From the time we resumed flying on May 19th until the end of the survey on May 25th, we continued to see sheet water as well, indicative of how much rain fell across the state during the recent seven-day stretch of precipitation. However, some drying began to occur in the last few days of the survey, and some farmers were seen resuming work in the areas that didn’t see the whole 10 inches or so that fell in that period prior to the 19th.

As it turned out, with North Dakota being in better shape that South Dakota, the overall numbers for the entire survey area were not as bad as we were seeing when we left South Dakota. The number of total indicated birds was down overall by about 18%, but we were down 30% as we were leaving South Dakota. North Dakota was able to make up some of that early deficit. Many of the numbers in North Dakota were comparable to the 2014 survey. That said, it certainly appeared that many ducks continued the migration north when they arrived and found the Dakota region of the pothole country pretty dry.

So that wraps up the 2015 Eastern Dakota’s waterfowl breeding pair and habitat survey. In summary, it started out looking very bleak, as southern South Dakota was extremely dry. Habitat improved somewhat as we moved north and improved substantially as we got into North Dakota. In total, we had nine days of bad weather, seven of those were consecutive. All of the moisture that fell was sorely needed, so that eased the pain of sitting and staring out the window and watching the weather forecasts to see when we could fly again. Production will be down somewhat in the eastern Dakotas this year, but hopefully most of the birds we didn’t count found their way to greener pastures and wetter wetlands to the north.

Bakken oil rigs on transect. West-southwest of Minot, ND. May 23, 2015. Video by Dave Fronczak, US FWS