Eastern and Northern Ontario

A Day in the Life of a Survey Air Crew

Eastern and Northern Ontario
Written by Stephen D. Earsom
Wednesday, May 11, 2011

Photo of Stephen D. Earsom.Some of you may be wondering what the life of a pilot/biologist is like.

One thing is certain: some things have changed a great deal since the pioneers started this survey in the 1950s. Camping lakeside for the air crews is less common now—wouldn’t work too well for us anyway since our Partenavia doesn't have floats! Also, data are recorded entirely electronically via an elaborate mix of computers, GPSs, wires, gizmos, and I hear there is even a flux capacitor (remember Back to the Future!?) installed somewhere behind the instrument panel. Nonetheless, here is a quick breakdown of a typical flying day:

Stratum 54 Complete

Eastern and Northern Ontario
Written by Stephen D. Earsom
Tuesday, May 10, 2011

Photo of Stephen D. Earsom.A string of several good weather days allowed us to complete Stratum 54 today, and we'll spend the night in Kingston, Ontario. For the uninitiated, our May surveys are broken into large geographic areas called strata. Ontario has a total of 8 strata that were delineated in part on timing of waterfowl nesting. This year we are responsible for Strata 54, 52, 51 and 57, which is the order that we'll complete the surveys. One of the indicators we use to determine when to start surveying is the ratio of lone mallard drakes to mallard pairs. Our data through the first three surveys days indicated a 1:1 ratio, which is ideal. Also, water levels appear relatively high, and many farm fields in the southern end of the stratum had standing water. All in all, it looks like a set up for a relatively productive year in this area.

Cinco de Mayo

Eastern and Northern Ontario
Written by Stephen D. Earsom
Thursday, May 05, 2011

Photo of Stephen D. Earsom.Carl Ferguson and I celebrated this Mexican holiday by completing our first practice survey north and west of Toronto. Most of the species we saw—which included mergansers, buffleheads, Canada geese, mallards, teal, scaup, ringnecks and others—have winter ranges that go well south of the US border. Thus, Cinco de Mayo is a good reminder that our migratory waterfowl are a shared resource, and that Canada, the US and Mexico must continue to work together to conserve the wetland habitats on which these species depend.

Preparing to Head North

Eastern and Northern Ontario
Written by Stephen D. Earsom
Wednesday, May 04, 2011

Photo of Stephen D. Earsom.The Eastern Ontario crew (Steve Earsom and Carl Ferguson) has tested all its survey equipment, filed the necessary paperwork, and is now waiting for weather to clear before we head north in our Partenavia aircraft. The Partenavia is popular as a survey aircraft because it has excellent visibility, good handling at our survey speed of 90 knots, and long-range fuel tanks that are critical to completing flight legs that can last several hours. Once we arrive in Canada, we will spend a couple of days doing reconnaissance and refreshing our waterfowl ID skills. We hope to start surveys in the southern part of Ontario around Saturday.

Eastern and Northern Ontario Crew wraps up the 2010 survey

Eastern and Northern Ontario
Written by Thom Lewis
Wednesday, May 19, 2010

Thom LewisAs we moved north we seemed to catch up with spring. Leaf-out was noticeably later on the deciduous trees, the goslings in goose broods were much younger and waterfowl pairs were more evident. It also dried out as we moved north. The boreal forest regions have much more stable water conditions than other waterfowl habitats like the prairies. However, low winter and growing season precipitation has allowed many areas to dry out, creating fair to poor conditions for waterfowl this spring in stratum 51. Many lake, river and stream levels looked more like it was late summer than spring. In contrast, stratum 54 received ample precipitation and conditions were rated good in most areas. Waterfowl production in eastern Ontario will be impacted by the early spring and variable habitat conditions. Overall production will probably still be good in the south, but only fair to poor in the northern portions of the survey area.

Video clip: See how it looks from the cockpit

Eastern and Northern Ontario
Written by Thom Lewis
Friday, May 14, 2010

Thom Lewis

I hope this video gives you a perspective of what we see while counting waterfowl on survey transect. We fly “low and slow” by aviation standards, but at 90 knots you have to be constantly scanning the survey area to locate, count and identify waterfowl within the transect boundary. We count all waterfowl within 200 meters on both sides of the plane. You will notice black stripes on the aircraft wing strut. We use a clinometer to set these marks as a guide to how far out we count when at survey altitude. At 150 feet above the ground, when you look out the window, the bottom strip corresponds to 100 meters and the top is set at 200 meters.

Northern and Eastern Ontario Crew completes Stratum 54

Eastern and Northern Ontario
Written by Thom Lewis
Friday, May 14, 2010

Thom LewisAfter waiting for the weather to clear on Wednesday morning, we were able to get a half day of survey work completed. Thursday was our first full day without weather or aircraft delays and we were able to finish stratum 54 and begin Stratum 51. We are now in the Nickel Belt and we have left agriculture behind us for now. As we have moved north, the trees and wetland plants are noticeably “behind” those in the south (spring is a little later), but there is continued evidence that the waterfowl breeding season is well advanced. We’ve seen a few late nesters like blue-winged teal and gadwall that are often missed in this survey area. Drake mallards are getting flocked up, indicating that many hens have already begun incubation.

Northern and Eastern Ontario Crew Gets Started

Eastern and Northern Ontario
Written by Thom Lewis
Tuesday, May 11, 2010

Thom Lewis The weather finally cleared and we made it to London, Ontario, completed a reconnaissance flight, tested the survey computers and flew our first transect on Sunday, May 9th. We were able to survey Monday and part of Tuesday before rain moved in, forcing us to head back to London. We completed a scheduled oil change and some maintenance on the aircraft in hopes of getting back on transect on Wednesday.

Weather Delays Start of Eastern Ontario Survey

Eastern and Northern Ontario
Written by Thom Lewis
Saturday, May 08, 2010

Thom LewisKevin Fox, the FWS regional aviation manager for Alaska, is the pilot-biologist for the Eastern Ontario crew area this year. He arrived on 6 May from Alaska. We completed final aircraft preparations and ferried the amphibious Cessna 206, N728, to Buffalo, NY on 7 May. Rain and strong gusty winds necessitated our stopping short of our intended start point in London, Ontario. The bad weather continued today, so we stayed in Buffalo and attended to survey computer review tasks and made other preparations so we can hit the ground running when we get to the survey area. Pre-survey reports from the survey area suggest an early breeding season with fair to good habitat conditions in southeastern and eastern Ontario. We are eager to get started and see if these reports are true.

Eastern and Northern Ontario survey completed

Eastern and Northern Ontario
Written by Mark Koneff
Wednesday, June 03, 2009

Photo of Mark Koneff.We finished the survey today. Although we did not see anything notably different from the information in my last report, I have uploaded a few more photos.

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