This and That, Musings of a Grey-Haired Biologist/Pilot

Written by Jim Bredy
Sunday, June 14, 2015

Photo of Jim Bredy.As I sit here at Pikes Landing in Fairbanks, the last 7 ½ weeks have been a bit of a surreal experience. My journey started out from Albuquerque, NM, on April 24, took me through the waterfowl surveys in the southern 2/3 of Alberta, and the last two weeks on a counterclockwise circuit of Alaska. The following are a few personal thoughts on duck surveys. These thoughts are not “statistically defensible with confidence intervals,” but are just a few musings from a grey-haired flyway biologist for one to consider.

1) In general, many areas this year in the prairies were dry, and many areas in “the bush” regions were good. There is evidence of an overflight of ducks that may have passed over the dry prairies (see previous pilot reports). Just because the duck numbers and habitat may not be good in one area, does not mean there will be a poor fall flight this year. One needs to look at the overall picture of the continental waterfowl population. We in the Division of Migratory Bird Management of the FWS, have a great Branch of Population and Habitat Assessment, with a dedicated staff of professionals who are hard at work now, pulling together all of the data. This will ultimately culminate in the “Status of Waterfowl” report.

2) I do not know what the reproductive success is going to be with the birds that had to expend extra energy to fly north. However, I personally feel that once a brood is hatched, that it has a much better success of survival from predators up in the northern regions, than in the dry prairies. One also needs to be mindful of extreme weather challenges to nesting success up north, such as the potential arrival of an early winter before broods take flight.

3) I saw many areas this year in the dry prairies and agriculture areas that had fragmented habitat, such as ponds surrounded by a thin ring of vegetation in a dry field or a plowed field, whereas up north here in AK, everything looks good, with expanses of unbroken good to excellent habitat as far as the eye can see.

4) The Yukon-Kuskokwim Delta (or “YK Delta” for short) is a waterfowler’s dream world. There is no other place like it in North America. It is an incredible expanse of waterfowl habitat that is beyond description. If one is a die hard “duck-head,” then this area needs to be on their lifetime “bucket list” of places to visit. It is so special that it still brings a tear to my eye now, knowing that there are still places like this on our earth.

One of my main lifetime goals has always been to be part of something that is much bigger than myself. I really do feel privileged to be but a small part of this incredible waterfowl fraternity of extremely dedicated professionals.

I start the trip south tomorrow: Whitehorse, Yukon Territories; Fort St. John, British Columbia; Edmonton Alberta; and then a commercial flight to NM. I will leave the plane in Edmonton for my return in August for a trumpeter swan survey. When I am old and senile (no cracks from the peanut gallery on that last comment, please), the memories my brain has assembled over portions of the last four decades, will still be there. And last, and the most important musing of all, is that I am proud to be married to a truly incredible woman, Tammy Bredy. Thanks again Tammy for loving me! I love you too! See you soon!

Aerial view of the Yukon-Kuskokwim (YK) Delta coastal-plains  tundra ponds, near Chefornak, AK.  USFWS photo by Jim Bredy

Aerial view of the Yukon-Kuskokwim (YK) Delta coastal-plains tundra ponds, near Chefornak, AK. USFWS photo by Jim Bredy

This plane always seems to draw a crowd, wherever it goes.  After finishing duck survey transects east of Kotzebue, AK, we stopped for a break to stretch our legs in Shungnak.  Shungnak (Isiŋnaq or Nuurviuraq in Iñupiaq) is a city in Northwest Arctic Borough, Alaska. At the 2010 census, the population was 262.  USFWS photo by Jim Bredy

This plane always seems to draw a crowd, wherever it goes. After finishing duck survey transects east of Kotzebue, AK, we stopped for a break to stretch our legs in Shungnak. Shungnak (Isiŋnaq or Nuurviuraq in Iñupiaq) is a city in Northwest Arctic Borough, Alaska. At the 2010 census, the population was 262. USFWS photo by Jim Bredy

After a long day of flying duck survey transects in rural "bush" AK, we put the plane to bed in Bettles.  USFWS photo by Jim Bredy

After a long day of flying duck survey transects in rural "bush" AK, we put the plane to bed in Bettles. USFWS photo by Jim Bredy

The Old Crow Flats, is located in the northern portion of the Yukon Territories.  The excellent wetland and upland habitat conditions here present an optimum area for the waterfowl that travel this far northward to benefit from it.  USF&WS photo by Jim Bredy

The Old Crow Flats, is located in the northern portion of the Yukon Territories. The excellent wetland and upland habitat conditions here present an optimum area for the waterfowl that travel this far northward to benefit from it. USF&WS photo by Jim Bredy

We flew through the Alaska Range this morning.  We were enroute to our last waterfowl breeding survey area of 2015 in the Glennallen Valley.  USFWS photo by Jim Bredy

We flew through the Alaska Range this morning. We were enroute to our last waterfowl breeding survey area of 2015 in the Glennallen Valley. USFWS photo by Jim Bredy