Southern Saskatchewan

Southern Saskatchewan Complete

Southern Saskatchewan
Written by Jean-Michel DeVink
Saturday, May 18, 2013

Photo of Jean-Michel DeVink.The Saskatchewan ground crews finished our last transects in the south today out of Swift Current and Regina. After this morning, we head north to work several transects out of Saskatoon. The south has been interesting, with many areas a bit dryer than last year, but some areas with really good moisture. The ducks are in the south in good numbers and the water is there to provide good nesting conditions, but not quite at the same levels as last year. There also isn’t quite as much moisture in the fields to prevent seeding in large areas, which provides good nesting cover for ducks, but we should still see a good nesting effort in southern Saskatchewan.

Back on Track

Southern Saskatchewan
Written by Jean-Michel DeVink
Thursday, May 16, 2013

Photo of Jean-Michel DeVink.Today we finished our wind-delayed transects. Conditions improved greatly and we’re back on track. The beginning of one of our transects has been invaded by oil and gas development. I counted five oil rigs drilling within sight of the beginning of our transect, and the gravel grid road the survey follows has been built up and improved, likely to accommodate heavy truck traffic. A few new wells are within the transect boundary, and some well pads and approaches have decimated a few smaller ponds. Conditions in the southcentral portion of the province are again good, but not excellent. Wind seems to have played a part in the distribution of snow on the landscape, as some sections are full of water while ones nearby look quite dry. Farmers are taking advantage of the dryer weather we’ve had for several weeks to treat and seed fields for hopefully another bumper year of production. It’s always good to have happy farmers when one goes to ask permission to hunt their fields in the fall, and a bumper crop year usually goes a long way to help with that.

Is It Too Windy? Yes, It Is

Southern Saskatchewan
Written by Jean-Michel DeVink
Wednesday, May 15, 2013

Photo of Jean-Michel DeVink.Today, we were in the southcentral part of the province on some more rigorous transects that traditionally hold lots of water. Unfortunately, we had high wind conditions that pushed the Standard Operating Proceedure (SOP) limits. We received a text at 5:45 this morning from our pilot, Phil Thorpe, indicating that winds were exceeding his limits, so he wouldn’t be flying. However, we had hope that the winds were lighter further south, where yesterday, Phil flew transects that we need to ground truth this morning or tomorrow morning at the latest. Our SOP gives us a maximum of 48 hours to run our ground surveys on any transects counted by air. If by chance we had two days of bad weather that prevented us from running our ground transects, the pilot and observer would have to fly the transects again. So, we headed out, hoping the weather gurus were correct that things were better south of Regina. As we arrived at our transects after a 1.5-hour drive, the wind hadn’t let up. After a few checks and double-checks with our handheld anemometer (see picture), and some discussion with other crews, we made the call that it was too windy. We’ll have to come back tomorrow.

Better Late Than Never!

Southern Saskatchewan
Written by Jean-Michel DeVink
Tuesday, May 14, 2013

Photo of Jean-Michel DeVink.We’re into our second day of the ground surveys in Southern Saskatchewan after a one-week delay from normal to account for the very late spring melt this year. It’s the complete opposite from what occurred last year and our very early start. On Day 1, we ground-truthed our southwestern transects, which were looking fairly decent with water in many ponds, but others being dry. We saw fairly decent numbers of birds in the southwest. Day 1 is always interesting as we get our minds and legs back into survey mode and test out the greenhorns. Conditions in the southwest were ahead of the rest of the province, with leaves already out on most trees. Farmers are also a bit ahead of the rest of the province, with seeders going full tilt.

On Your Mark, Get Set...

Southern Saskatchewan
Written by Phil Thorpe
Friday, May 10, 2013

Photo of Phil Thorpe.We spent today driving south of Regina and tallying all ducks that we saw. After a few hours, the sample size got big enough that we could get an idea of species composition and social groupings. We came up with all species accounted for and early nesting species like mallards and pintails split with about 50% lone drakes and 50% pairs. This split is one of the indicators that we use to determine survey timing. Other indicators that we look for are presence and social groupings of blue-winged teal and gadwall. Blue-wings were present in good numbers and were common on our drive into the Missouri Coteau. This area is more of a breeding area for local ducks rather than some of the larger water bodies frequented by northern migrants. We observed most of the blue-wings in pairs and “spares,” meaning a pair and an extra lone drake. This is normal for them at this time since they nest a little later than mallards and pintails. Gadwall were also present in pairs and small groups. They are another late nester and many times can be seen in larger groups, along with wigeon during the early part of the survey. Their presence in the Coteau also indicates that these were probably local breeders. The survey sample that we collected along with observations taken during two reconnaissance flights all indicated that we should start the survey even though some of the habitat was still 2 weeks behind normal. Our plan is to start on May 11th.

Survey Planning - Spring Is Delayed

Southern Saskatchewan
Written by Phil Thorpe
Wednesday, May 08, 2013

Photo of Phil Thorpe.The coordination and planning for my 16th waterfowl breeding population and habitat survey (BPOP) in Southern Saskatchewan began about a month ago in earnest. Talks with the Canadian Wildlife Service (CWS) biologists that I work with centered on how late spring phenology was, the amount of snow and ice on the landscape, and the lack of our main survey participants – the ducks! In mid-April the CWS ground crew biologists started to survey selected transects each week to determine species composition, abundance and social groupings. By late April things were still 2-3 weeks behind “normal.”

Saskatchewan Ground Crew Survey Summary

Southern Saskatchewan
Written by Jean-Michel DeVink
Thursday, May 24, 2012

Photo of Jean-Michel DeVink.Well, another May breeding waterfowl population survey in southern SK has come and gone. This year was very different than last year for several reasons. First, spring conditions in SK started out very advanced through late winter and into early spring, and that meant the earliest scheduled start date for surveys in our crew area. Arrival dates of most waterfowl were weeks ahead of normal and paired ducks and geese were settling on nesting ponds soon after the official start of spring. Things always have a way of changing in a hurry on the prairies, though, and by mid-April we saw cooler weather bring most things, like bud burst on trees and insect emergence, back on track. The second difference was that CWS implemented changes to the level of effort for the ground comparison segments of the survey in the Prairies. In southern SK, our reduced effort meant that we were running our surveys with smaller crews. Instead of the previous 3 crews of 3, we had crews of 2, 2 and 3. While this occasionally resulted in eliminating a transect, it often resulted in smaller crews running transects that were previously done by a crew of 3. It also meant that there were fewer people for data entry once back at the hotel after transects, so everyone rolled up their sleeves and focused on getting it done. The third reason things were quite different from last year: water. I should say, rather, the lack thereof. By the end of the winter, many in the prairies were throwing around the dreaded “D” word. Precipitation maps were certainly indicating drought conditions over the last six months. The end of winter and early spring did bring some much needed water, though. During surveys many of our transects in the Southeast and Northeast had decent water, thanks to some late winter/early spring precipitation, but much of the western portion was still relatively dry. Some of the western transects had very disappointing pond counts with as high as 80% of pond basins being dry.

Southern Saskatchewan Survey Complete!

Southern Saskatchewan
Written by Phil Thorpe
Friday, May 18, 2012

Photo of Phil Thorpe.Sarah and I finished up the 2012 survey today. The forecasters were a little optimistic on their printed forecast and some weather early on required some in-flight planning and re-routing, but we got the last transects done. We had ideal survey conditions with cloud cover (clouds help eliminate sun glare that can make species identification difficult) and calm winds.

Another Weather Delay

Southern Saskatchewan
Written by Phil Thorpe
Wednesday, May 16, 2012

Photo of Phil Thorpe.We planned on starting the last survey stratum today, but winds once again have delayed us. The ground crew is in the northwest survey area with calm winds, which is good. We needed to go east and winds in the east are gusting to 30 knots. Curse the SOP. It seems that weather delays near the end of the survey are harder to deal with than the ones at the start of the survey. Wind delays are especially difficult to handle since you can be looking at a clear blue sky and calm winds where you are based. Rain is in the forecast for the next few days, so we are crossing our fingers that the forecast is wrong, or at the least, the rain is scattered.

Survey Starts in the Aspen Parklands

Southern Saskatchewan
Written by Phil Thorpe
Monday, May 14, 2012

Photo of Phil Thorpe.We started surveying the Aspen Parklands today. Wetland conditions were pretty dry along the Alberta border, but improve to the east towards Saskatoon. We ended the survey early because winds started blowing above 22 knots (25mph). The Standard Operating Procedures (SOP) for the survey limit us to surveying below those wind limits because: 1) it starts redistributing the birds to leeward shores and, 2) the air starts getting turbulent and the pilot-observer spends less time counting ducks and more time controlling the plane. You have to remind yourself that it’s a duck survey and if you’re doing a poor job counting ducks then you should stop surveying them. Tomorrow’s forecast looks better for flying and counting.

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