Southern Saskatchewan

Wet Conditions Challenge Waterfowl Banding Crews

Southern Saskatchewan
Written by Mark Koneff
Monday, August 15, 2016

Photo of Mark Koneff.Water and mud have been the story so far for the 2016 Western Canada Cooperative Banding Program season, at least in our prairie stations. The drier conditions observed across much of the prairies during the aerial survey in May have been erased in many areas following a some very wet summer months. A persistent upper level low pressure system has turned the normally sunny, warm, and dry August prairie into a quagmire in areas. Particularly hard hit have been areas of western SK and eastern AB. Farmers who looked forward to a bumper crop just a few weeks ago now express concern about whether they will be able to get crops off the fields. Some old timers have indicated that they have never seen it so wet in western SK at this time of year. Banding crews have observed abundant broods suggesting a strong late nesting/renesting effort. For our banding crews, all this moisture can be challenging. Access can be difficult on muddy/slick section roads and some productive sites are simply not accessible to crews on the ground. The amount of water on the landscape also tends to distribute birds rather than concentrate them. Flooded pea, lentil, and grain fields also attract waterfowl and make bait grain at trap sites less attractive. Finally, in some areas basins that have been recently dry were reflooded creating access to an abundance of natural foods that again make bait piles less attractive to ducks. Despite the challenges, at least some of our crews are finding and banding birds, and a few cold fronts sweeping out of the western boreal forest will hopefully provide an influx of new birds and provide a little more incentive to take advantage of some free barley at our trapping stations. Finally, in an effort to increase our mallard catch, we are experimenting with some methods we've not used recently on the prairies including bungee-nets and air cannon propelled nets. We've not yet deployed these nets but hope to find suitable locations soon.

Just Like That, It's Over

Southern Saskatchewan
Written by Phil Thorpe
Saturday, May 21, 2016

Photo of Phil Thorpe.We finished the survey on Friday, 20 May and the ground crew finished up the next day to finalize the 2016 Southern Saskatchewan Waterfowl Breeding Population and Habitat Survey. This is the first time in my memory that the ground crew will have Monday off for their long weekend, a nice bonus for them.

We Aren't the Only Observers

Southern Saskatchewan
Written by Phil Thorpe
Wednesday, May 18, 2016

Photo of Phil Thorpe.The other day, one of the Canadian Wildlife Service biologists was talking to a landowner while completing an air-ground comparison segment. The landowner told the biologist that he saw the plane yesterday and it looks like they got a new one this year. In fact we did start flying a wheeled Quest Kodiak this year. I have always wondered how many people that live on our transect lines recognize us. We see people wave along the way, and some of those people really wave with enthusiasm, almost as if they were waiting for us and spring to come. Since the survey has flown along the same lines for 60+ years in Saskatchewan, some people have grown up with the orange plane flying by their house each May. I had another landowner come out to a rural grass airport that I stopped in for a break one year. He came right up to us and asked, "What are you doing?!". I said, "Counting ducks." He replied with some relief, "Ah, that explains it, for years I've seen you fly by and I assumed that you were doing something with the powerline, but the powerline turns north and you always just kept going east!".

Less Water and Fewer Ducks

Southern Saskatchewan
Written by Blake Bartzen
Monday, May 16, 2016

Photo of Blake Bartzen.Thus far, the theme for Saskatchewan has been less water and fewer ducks. We had a very warm winter with below-average snow precipitation, and the above-seasonal temperatures continued into spring. As a result, large flocks of mallards, northern pintails, and American wigeons were moving into the province by late March, a time when there can often still be lots of snow and no open water. By the time we did our first ground survey on May 6, all of the ducks were in place and much of the vegetation had greened up to a level that we usually don’t see until near the end of the survey.

Pilgramage to "The Chalkboard"

Southern Saskatchewan
Written by Phil Thorpe
Saturday, May 14, 2016

Photo of Phil Thorpe.Stephen and I stopped in Luseland, SK, the other day to pay a visit to “the chalkboard.” I've heard about this chalkboard for years, but I've never made the pilgrimage to it. The white-fronted goose survey crews have signed it for at least the last 13 or so years, maybe more. Of course, we had to add our names to the board so the breeding survey was represented.

Back to Saskatchewan

Southern Saskatchewan
Written by Stephen Chandler
Wednesday, May 11, 2016

Photo of Phil Thorpe.Ahhh! Back on the Saskatchewan prairie. This is my fourth year as an aerial observer sitting to the right of Phil Thorpe in the southern Saskatchewan crew area. What an awesome opportunity this has been—flying and counting with Phil who is starting his 20th year of surveys here—and now it begins again. I arrived in Regina, SK, on Saturday, April 30th, and after a few weather delays, Phil followed on May 2nd. I was able to get out on the landscape on Sunday, May 1st, to do a little recon from the ground and found some of the driest conditions since I began the survey in 2013. I drove a 25-mile route on the Regina Plain (SE of Regina) to count ponds and to get a pair-to-lone drake ratio. This gives us a better idea of spring progression on the prairie. On that route, I found 6 wet and 40 dry wetlands. Last year, almost all of those were wet. So, I decided to drive another route, this time 85 miles east to west and only found 6 natural wetlands that had water. When I did find ducks, there seemed to be a good mix of pairs and lone drakes, so the timing looks about right. Our May 3rd recon flight confirmed what I saw from the ground. It’s dry! We began the 2016 Breeding Waterfowl and Habitat Survey on May 4th. After a few days of flying transects, the dry trend continued. We were counting less than half of the ducks and ponds we counted in the previous years. I hope we see more water (and ducks) as we move north.

Twenty Years and Counting

Southern Saskatchewan
Written by Phil Thorpe
Wednesday, May 11, 2016

Photo of Phil Thorpe.Wow, this will be my 20th waterfowl breeding population survey! Where did that time go? I can say every single year has been different: dry years, wet years, and stressful years. All different though. I’ve had nine different observers, which isn’t too bad as far as turnover goes in crew areas. Thom Lewis flew with me for five years, which is the most so far. Stephen Chandler is on his fourth year now, and I think he has the potential to break Thom’s record. That will be OK by me; having the same observer every year makes the survey easy. When you have a reliable observer you don’t have to worry about their data collection, or about them missing things, and they become an important part of the flight crew. They manage the computers, help with the aircraft chores and overall reduce the mental and physical workload of the pilot biologist quite a bit.

Finished Up in Southern Saskatchewan

Southern Saskatchewan
Written by Phil Thorpe
Sunday, May 24, 2015

Photo of Phil Thorpe.Stephen and I flew our last survey lines today. Other than the down time for the oil leak, we had a great month and beautiful survey weather. As we continued our survey north, habitat conditions in the northern grasslands continued to show good potential for waterfowl recruitment. The aspen parklands, although starting to dry out in some areas, have widespread good wetland conditions to support brood rearing.

Mechanical Issues

Southern Saskatchewan
Written by Blake Bartzen
Tuesday, May 19, 2015

Photo of Blake Bartzen.My technician, Keith Warner, and I had been doing preliminary reconnaissance in the month of April and early May, so we knew conditions were going to be a little drier this year compared to the most recent years. Saskatchewan did not have as much snow this year and spring came earlier compared to the last two years. April was warm, dry, and windy causing the ice to come off even the larger water bodies, such as Lake Diefenbaker. However, conditions were very wet last spring and we had some major deluges during the summer, which kept many wetlands full into freeze-up last autumn. Consequently, although this year is slightly drier than the most recent years, there are still many full or nearly full wetlands.

Blew a Gasket

Southern Saskatchewan
Written by Phil Thorpe
Friday, May 15, 2015

Photo of Phil Thorpe.We flew this morning, and when we brought the plane in for an oil change, discovered a leaking engine-driven fuel pump gasket. Of course, as is typical in aviation, it also happens to be the Friday before the Canadian long May weekend. So, the part we need will arrive Tuesday, and then the work of getting it replaced—along with all the accessories that they took out to reach the fuel pump. We hope to get a leak check done on Wednesday afternoon and possibly get back on the survey Thursday.

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