Perfect

Written by Steve Olson
Wednesday, June 10, 2015

Steve OlsonVery few times can one truly admit to perfection. Most of us have a loose definition of the word, don’t believe in its possibility, or are so overwhelmed in emotion that it momentarily seems like the right word.

Fred and I have finished our Tour de Arctic and have been back to the quicker-paced hustle and bustle of the southland for three days. I wished I could have written more blogs this year, but logistics of staying in a new place almost every night, remote locations, and literally living out of our Kodiak seems to inhibit this ability. We reached the Arctic Ocean May 31 and it was still locked up in ice, per the usual. The tundra lakes and streams were full and running, however, and loaded with ducks. Anecdotally, we witnessed general increases in typically southern prairie-nesting ducks we presume were an overflight from the prairie regions of the US and Canada.

This year, we stopped at our common haunts for fuel and lodging, but also explored other fly-in only lodging and my wallet now holds fishing licenses for three provinces. The weather treated us well for the duration of our trip, and we only had to battle scattered snow clouds for four days around the Arctic. We finished in record time, according to my two-year tenure. We met old buddies, new buddies, and continued a long tradition of spreading the Duck’s Word.

Was this the perfect survey?

Last year, I summarized my experience with a play on words by writing “Steve’s Otter Song,” which was my final blog and an ode to bush planes and their extensive use in the North Country. But this year being possibly the proverbial Swan Song of Pilot Biologist, Fred Roetker, I feel compelled to share a bit more about the buddy that keeps me alive in the air, puts me on the birds so I can count, and has stories more numerous and entertaining than I can ever describe in text.

The last two years have been an absolute pleasure and honor for me to fly with Fred Roetker. I got to sit beside a true representative of the waterfowl world, with as much passion for a three-bird flight as me, and a man that can do more work with his mouth than an auctioneer. The shadows we chased were real, because Fred had a story from all the pilots and crews that flew before him. The fact that Fred had a buddy in every single place we stopped, and even sometimes in the air from other traffic, made me feel as if I was flying with a legend of the bush country, and a legend of the waterfowl world. These were the guys I read about in old reports, legends that blazed trails in wildlife surveys and operations. “And here I am,” was a daily realization of the fact.

Fred’s passion for his 30+ years of flying waterfowl surveys was most evident on segment #309 of 309, just east of Yellowknife, NT, and was a moment I’ll never forget. Passion is what got me here, as it was passion that got everyone else here before me. A passion for the birds, a passion for believing what we do actually helps us better understand their nature and guides better management, and a passion for the methods. Flying is Fred’s life, it’s not merely a job and a paycheck, and his passion is what also makes him a legend in my mind.

Despite knowing but not indulging, or truly not knowing if he really would be retiring this year, Fred successfully said goodbye to many buddies of the North, crossed off tasks from an old, crusty mental checklist, and made peace on the east end of Great Slave Lake on segment 309. Was this the perfect survey? I’ll quote a legend as my answer. “The whole survey, and even the mallards flushing into the sunset…was just, perfect.”

Scattered snow storms in the Mackenzie River Delta for four days didn’t hinder us much.  Photo Credit: Steve Olson, USFWS-Pacific Flyway.

Scattered snow storms in the Mackenzie River Delta for four days didn’t hinder us much. Photo Credit: Steve Olson, USFWS-Pacific Flyway.

Fred’s buddies, and some of Northern Canada’s finest.  Photo Credit: Steve Olson, USFWS-Pacific Flyway.

Fred’s buddies, and some of Northern Canada’s finest. Photo Credit: Steve Olson, USFWS-Pacific Flyway.

Catching dinner after long days of flying.  Thank goodness for long light of the North.  Some of Northern Canada’s finest.  Photo Credit: Steve Olson, USFWS-Pacific Flyway.

Catching dinner after long days of flying. Thank goodness for long light of the North. Some of Northern Canada’s finest. Photo Credit: Steve Olson, USFWS-Pacific Flyway.