Southern Saskatchewan

Fair to Good Duck Habitat in the Grasslands

Southern Saskatchewan
Written by Phil Thorpe
Saturday, May 12, 2012

Photo of Phil Thorpe.Sarah and I took our mandatory rest day today. After a string of 4 weather days, we finally started flying again and flew 6 straight days and covered lots of ground. We made the move to Saskatoon yesterday and are just about done with the grassland survey units. The recent rains have replenished water levels in many wetlands, but dry areas are still apparent and most of the grasslands appear only fair in regards to duck production. The Missouri Coteau, a unique ridge of glacial deposits that runs from South Dakota through Saskatchewan, has better wetland and upland habitat conditions and probably will be classified as having good potential for duck production. Even with the rains replenishing wetland levels and adding temporary wetlands to the landscape, the grassy margins that grew up around wetlands last year have been tilled under this year because water levels were lower and the mild spring allowed landowners to get out and work their fields. In some cases, the loss of these wetland margins is not all bad. Ducks tend to nest in the wetland margin when it is present. Duck predators can easily search this narrow band of cover, find hens and nests and destroy them. Larger tracts of upland cover are needed to allow ducks to have a chance at getting broods recruited into the population. Increasing fall crops has helped in some intense agricultural areas because the crops provide cover for early nesting species and farmers aren’t harvesting the crop until after the eggs have hatched and the brood has moved to a wetland. A win-win for farmers and ducks!

Weather Delays...

Southern Saskatchewan
Written by Phil Thorpe
Friday, May 04, 2012

Photo of Phil Thorpe.OK, so much for the early start. We are now on weather day number 3. Low ceilings and fog kept us grounded for another day. The forecast is not looking too good for the next several days, either. We might get another flight in by the time we normally start on 6 May! The good news is the rain is replenishing some of the wetlands. However, my wife doesn’t think of it as good news…

And We're Off!

Southern Saskatchewan
Written by Phil Thorpe
Tuesday, May 01, 2012

Photo of Phil Thorpe.We flew our first survey lines today in southern Saskatchewan. There isn’t much temporary water, but the seasonal and semi-permanent wetlands had suitable water levels and ducks were counted in good numbers. All species were present and late migrants (i.e., gadwall, wigeon) were already in pairs and groups of 3-4 birds. We even saw a few Ruddy ducks, which tend to be late arrivers onto the breeding grounds.

Changes in Crew; Changes in Conditions

Southern Saskatchewan
Written by Phil Thorpe
Thursday, April 26, 2012

Photo of Phil Thorpe.Sarah Yates (nee Folsom) and I arrived in Regina today. Sarah flew with Walt Rhodes in 2010 as his observer. Lots of things have happened to Sarah since that survey. She flew the better part of a year for a wildlife-related non-profit research company doing migratory bird telemetry flights over the Deepwater Horizon oil spill in Louisiana. She got married. In her spare time she had a baby boy. And most recently, she is our new wildlife biologist-pilot-in-training. Pat Devers, my observer for the last 3 years, is working on black duck harvest models and hopes to return to the survey in a year or two. In the meantime, Sarah will be training with me this May and reviewing procedures she already knows and maybe learning a few new tricks of the trade.

Spring is EARLY!

Southern Saskatchewan
Written by Phil Thorpe
Tuesday, April 24, 2012

Photo of Phil Thorpe.Well that was a crazy winter, or lack thereof. Spring has arrived early on the prairies. March was the warmest month on record for 25 states east of the Rockies. For an additional 15 states, the month ranked in the top 5 for warmest Marches. The winter as a whole across the US will go into the record books as the 4th warmest. Only the winters of 1991-1992, 1998-1999, and 1999-2000 were warmer.

Survey Complete in Southern Saskatchewan

Southern Saskatchewan
Written by Phil Thorpe
Wednesday, June 08, 2011

Photo of Phil Thorpe.Pat and I finished up the remaining 325 miles of survey lines to complete the southern Saskatchewan waterfowl population and habitat survey. We had some microphone/voice relay problems (Pat wore the button out this year) at the beginning of the first survey line and I had to land at a little grass landing strip so we could reconfigure the wiring on the computers. I've been using the survey program long enough that I have lots of spare parts—and had them right up front in easy reach. We plugged in the extra items, tested them, and were back on the survey line in about 20 minutes. It's good to be prepared.

Ground Crew Member Takes to the Air

Southern Saskatchewan
Written by Jean-Michel DeVink
Friday, June 03, 2011

Photo of Jean-Michel DeVink.This is my first year in the waterfowl biologist position with CWS, and I was fortunate enough to get to fly one transect with Phil Thorpe and Pat Devers. This gave me a much greater appreciation for the pilot-biologists and observers’ tasks of counting ducks and ponds, while cruising along at 100mph and being bounced around by turbulence. We departed Saskatoon at 6am, after a short but thorough briefing on the plane’s safety equipment and procedures. We encountered good weather for the duration of the flight, and seeing SK from 3,500 feet gave me a very different perspective than what we see on the ground.

Wrapping Up the Ground Counts in Southern Saskatchewan

Southern Saskatchewan
Written by Jean-Michel DeVink
Friday, May 27, 2011

Photo of Jean-Michel DeVink.The ground crews ended their counts on Friday, with one last transect just north of Prince Albert, Saskatchewan. Overall, the northern prairies of Saskatchewan were dryer than in the south due to less spring precipitation, but held good numbers of waterfowl nonetheless. We observed many canvasbacks, redheads, and other divers in the north, along with the usual dabbler species found along the forest.

Moving North -- and Treacherous Gophers!

Southern Saskatchewan
Written by Jean-Michel DeVink
Monday, May 23, 2011

Photo of Jean-Michel DeVink.For the last few days, we’ve been moving north and completing transects in the northwest part of prairie Saskatchewan. Conditions in this part of the province are good, but not nearly as wet as south of highway 1 (i.e., South of Regina). The snow and spring precipitation that hit the southern part of the province entirely missed the northwest, and with slightly less snowfall than in the south, the northwest is a little dryer. Most large catchment basins are full or even flooded, but the small, temporary or seasonal ponds are rarely holding water. There are good numbers of ducks in this area, with good numbers of blue-winged teal, divers, and some cavity nesters starting to be seen on ponds. Fewer ponds and ducks is easier work for the ground crews, but this also means fewer breeding waterfowl contributing to the fall flight.

Nearly Done in Southern Saskatchewan

Southern Saskatchewan
Written by Phil Thorpe
Monday, May 23, 2011

Photo of Phil Thorpe.We’ve covered a lot of ground since our last entry. We've completed the southwest short grass prairie, the large mixed grass prairie, and the northwest aspen parkland survey strata. We’ve had a few weather days along the way, but are moving along with the survey. We currently have 2 flying days left, plus a down day to make sure the ground crew is able to finish what we’ve flown. After 3 ½ weeks on the road, Pat and I are hoping for a Memorial Day weekend at home with our families.

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