Northern Saskatchewan, Northern Manitoba

3 Rides in Northern Saskatchewan

Northern Saskatchewan, Northern Manitoba
Written by Walt Rhodes
Thursday, May 12, 2011

Walt RhodesLearning something new can be challenging, frustrating and rewarding all at the same time. When it comes to learning a new airplane, the consequences can be, well…let’s not go there. The start of the 2011 Breeding Population and Habitat Survey has been extremely busy for me. It actually began last fall with transitioning into a new aircraft, and continued almost literally up until the day I left for the survey. Over the last three years I will have now flown this particular crew area in three different airplanes. I flew a 19?? Cessna 206 amphibian in 2009, a 1980 Cessna 185 amphibian in 2010 and this year’s ride is a 2010 Quest Kodiak amphibian. The newest plane offers improved visibility, greater hauling capacity and the reliability and benefits of a turbine engine. The training involved learning new systems, building enough time in the plane to become proficient and finally passing a check ride. All of this was in addition to the usual preparation required for conducting a survey—which in the case of this crew area covers an area over 200,000 square miles in size.

Nuts, Bolts and Breast Clouds

Northern Saskatchewan, Northern Manitoba
Written by Walt Rhodes
Sunday, May 30, 2010

Walt RhodesNo more than every 100 flight hours, our airplanes go in for a mandatory inspection. It’s best to have this done before leaving the States so an inspection doesn’t slow progress while on survey. Unfortunately, our survey plane, named Boston by my 4-year-old daughter, didn’t have enough hours since its last 100-hour inspection to justify another inspection before embarking for the North. Closing in on our 100 hours and faced with an ugly weather forecast, we opted for an inspection in Flin Flon, Manitoba. When this far north you always hope for a painless inspection, because getting parts can result in a lengthy delay. So, when the plane is in the hangar and its guts are exposed you cringe when the cell phone rings and the mechanic’s number is on caller ID. I had three such scares, but all resulted in minor maintenance events. The plane was buttoned up yesterday, but not in time to survey.

North of 59

Northern Saskatchewan, Northern Manitoba
Written by Walt Rhodes
Wednesday, May 26, 2010

Walt RhodesBenchmarks provide a measuring stick in life. A 16th birthday, graduation or 50-year wedding anniversary are prime examples. For travelers, crossing certain lines is the standard. The most obvious is someone sailing or flying across the Equator or International Date Line. Lines of latitude are also significant crossings. Two notable lines of latitude are the 49th and 60th parallels. The 49th is the border between the United States and Canada and the 60th is the border between the prairie provinces of Canada and the Northwest Territories and Nunavit of Canada. After two days of flying and now grounded by weather, we are holed up in Stony Rapids, SK, located north of the 59th parallel. Even though we won’t cross the 60th parallel, the only crew from the Lower 48 states operating in a more northern area is pilot-biologist Fred Roetker and his observer Caleb Spiegel in the Northwest Territories.

Smoke on the Water

Northern Saskatchewan, Northern Manitoba
Written by Walt Rhodes
Thursday, May 20, 2010

Walt RhodesAn early spring can be a mixed blessing. After enduring winter, Canadians welcome the warm temperatures and sunny skies of an early spring. But an early spring without much moisture can mean forest fires.

We pulled out of Prince Albert, SK, just in time. Four days ago we continued transects northward towards La Ronge, SK. Pairs of scaup were seen dotting boreal wetlands. Once into La Ronge we noticed a number of fire bomber planes departing the airport to the south. Back at the hotel that evening we learned there was a fire that had shut down the Prince Albert airport due to smoke. The fire bombers were still running the next day and reports trickled in of other fires scattered across the North. Record warm temperatures and windy conditions were adding further fuel to the fires. We worked another day out of La Ronge before departing to Fort McMurray, AB.

Rest Day in Order

Northern Saskatchewan, Northern Manitoba
Written by Walt Rhodes
Saturday, May 15, 2010

Walt RhodesOur aviation regulations require crews to take a rest day after a certain number of flight hours are reached. After 6 straight days of flying a rest day was in order. These are usually welcomed unless it is a beautiful day to survey. It allows me to catch up on administrative duties and do laundry, but also make future logistical arrangements. Unless the weather is bad, we rarely stay in a town more than 3 days, and will stay in nearly a dozen towns and villages before the survey is complete. Because our schedule is weather- and maintenance-dependent, we can’t book hotels too far in advance. A rest day allows time to make upcoming reservations on short notice as well as check on fuel availability, which can get tenuous as we progress farther north.

N. Saskatchewan Crew Out of the Blocks

Northern Saskatchewan, Northern Manitoba
Written by Walt Rhodes
Thursday, May 13, 2010

Walt RhodesIt’s been a busy start but an incredible run of good weather has aided our beginning. I spent late last week getting ready to depart the States. Typical startup duties include updating the databases in my GPS, repacking survival gear, setting up onboard computers, making initial lodging arrangements, and finalizing details at home. I had the added distraction of spending 2 days chasing an electrical issue in my survey airplane, which is a 1980 Cessna 185 on amphibian floats with over 5,500 hours on her airframe. The problem turned out to be a faulty voltage regulator. I was able to spend one day at the beach with my family before leaving South Carolina on Mother’s Day.

Survey Nearing an End

Northern Saskatchewan, Northern Manitoba
Written by Walt Rhodes
Thursday, June 04, 2009

Photo of Walt Rhodes.Someone once said that when you see the light at the end of the tunnel be careful because it could be the train.

Waiting For Spring

Northern Saskatchewan, Northern Manitoba
Written by Walt Rhodes
Wednesday, May 27, 2009

Walt RhodesSpring needs some muscle.  After leaving La Ronge, SK, we began surveying the lower lines in Stratum 21 and 23 near Buffalo Narrows, SK. All of the small wetlands and lakes were ice free. The very largest lakes remained frozen, as expected, but the margins were thawed for several feet from the shoreline. We were optimistic about the timing of the survey as we headed towards Ft. McMurray, AB for the night. We picked up the next lines north out of Ft. McMurray the following morning on May 23 and flew east across the entire province of Saskatchewan towards Lynn Lake, MB for fuel. Along the way we witnessed several flocks of snow and white-fronted geese, swallows and ducks migrating north. The age-old pattern was repeating itself once again. As we neared Manitoba, however, winter remained. There was more ice than open water. It was 34 degrees in Lynn Lake when we landed. We had left Ft. McMurray in short sleeves, and when we landed back there that afternoon the temperature was in the low 70s. A 40-degree difference in only 350 miles.

Spring Snow Slows Crew

Northern Saskatchewan, Northern Manitoba
Written by Walt Rhodes
Wednesday, May 20, 2009

Photo of Walt Rhodes.What a difference 12 hours makes. After surveying under perfect conditions for 4 days, nearly 5 inches of snow greeted us this morning. After we finished our last line yesterday, we could see the weather moving in and 2 hours later it was snowing. Despite the return of winter weather, all of the small wetlands and the margins of all lakes are ice free. Some of the larger lakes still have ice in the main body of water, especially to the east near Flin Flon, Manitoba. Buffleheads, ring-necked ducks, mallards and scaup are the most dominant species observed with smaller numbers of mergansers, green-winged teal and goldeneyes. Once the weather breaks, we will continue to move north through Saskatchewan towards Lake Athabasca before shifting east to N. Manitoba. The influence of Hudson Bay causes spring to arrive later in N. Manitoba.

Northern Surveys Underway

Northern Saskatchewan, Northern Manitoba
Written by Walt Rhodes
Monday, May 18, 2009

Photo of Walt Rhodes.Given winter’s reluctance to release its grip on northern waterfowl habitats, the crews surveying in the Bush start later than Prairie crews. We began our first survey lines out of Prince Albert, SK on May 16. Habitats in this region are a mix of agricultural fields and aspen and spruce forests. This is the transition area from the Prairies and Parklands to the Boreal Forest. There was a large variety of species prevalent on wetlands and occasional flocks of white-fronted geese were observed moving north to Arctic nesting areas. Locally, timing of the survey seems to be excellent since we have observed a mix of paired birds as well as scattered small flocks of only drakes. Survey conditions have been excellent with light winds and high overcast skies.

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