“A funny thing happened on the way to the survey”

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Written by Fred Roetker
Friday, May 21, 2010

Photo of Fred Roetker.We began surveying Northern Alberta on May 16. The logistics determining our route to the survey area began on a cold January evening over a Louisiana swamp. Paul Anderson, an Alaska pilot biologist, and I were flying a practice instrument approach into Lafayette, LA, over the Atchafalaya Basin when we heard and felt a loud bump. “How did we manage to encounter another aircraft in a radar environment?” I thought, as Paul voiced, “BIRDS!” We asked the controller if he was painting any bird activity around us, the response was negative, although he offered that sometimes they do “see” birds on radar. Upon landing we discovered four individual strikes; one on the left horizontal stabilizer, a second on the right horizontal stabilizer, one on the left landing gear leg, and one removed an antenna. There was lots of blood, some guts, and feathers. Our guess was the birds were either mallards or gadwall. I’ve cleaned lots of ducks and the windpipe from one still stuck on the tail sure looked mallard size. Also, we had noticed some mallards in the air just prior to dusk. Paul is a licensed aviation mechanic, and he and others conducted an inspection and concluded that although the dent on the tail was a bit unsightly; the aircraft could still be used to finish winter surveys. During a later inspection, although still airworthy, we decided the best practice would be to return the aircraft to the factory in Sandpoint, Idaho. The horizontal stabilizer was subsequently re-skinned and we were back to normal for the spring survey.

I met my right seat observer, Caleb Spiegel, in Idaho, and we crossed the continental divide to the Alberta prairies. After training across prairie, parkland, and boreal habitats en route to northern Alberta, we began our survey near Slave Lake, AB. After four survey days, we are currently weather bound in Fort Nelson, BC. Conditions are dryer than last year; however we are seeing lots of birds in the ponds available. Beaver ponds are the key, more on that in our next blog.

Crossing continental divide southwest of Calgary.(Credit: F. Roetker, USFWS)

Crossing continental divide southwest of Calgary. Credit: F. Roetker, USFWS