Western Dakotas and Eastern Montana

Dakotas Completed and the Dry Conditions Continue

Western Dakotas and Eastern Montana
Written by Rob Spangler
Thursday, May 16, 2013

Rob SpanglerWe’ve finished stratum 43 in North Dakota and conditions continue to be really dry. Wetland conditions improved around Bismarck and Dickinson, but overall they are still poor with many basins dry or at 20-30% capacity. I am very fortunate to have Jon Klimstra, my observer, with me this year and this is the driest he has seen it over the past few years. Additionally, the vegetation is still behind from the late winter and many of the ponds that exist are vacant or have low waterfowl densities. It is possible the birds kept flying north to nest in the excellent conditions found to the north in Canada. Oil and gas development has really taken off with many oil drilling rigs, pumps, tanks and roads spreading like wildfire across the landscape and we can’t help but wonder what the long term effects will be.

Dry, Dry, and Almost Noth'n But Cow Pies

Western Dakotas and Eastern Montana
Written by Rob Spangler
Friday, May 10, 2013

Rob SpanglerWe’ve just finished stratum 44, and cow pie numbers are up and duck numbers are down. As ground crew leader Pam Garrettson already mentioned in her first report, water is scarce this year with drought conditions continuing this spring. Conditions in western South Dakota are poor at best. Many streams are dry, with a few puddles and basins holding about 0 to 30% of their capacity. Ponds that are holding water have very little vegetation for nesting cover, either because the moisture is not there or the vegetation has been grazed and trampled. We predict a bust year for stratum 44.

Spring Comes Late to the Prairies

Western Dakotas and Eastern Montana
Written by Pam Garrettson
Thursday, May 09, 2013

Pam Garrettson.We started the ground survey portion of the Western Dakotas\Eastern Montana crew area on May 7th, about a week later than normal. Delayed starts are typical of the prairie crew areas this year, where a cold and snowy spring kept wetlands frozen, and set back duck breeding behavior. Survey timing is based on duck activity and should not commence until early-nesting species have settled on territories. Hence the later survey starts. This crew area tends to run about 3-7 days earlier than others. My colleague Brent West and I are set to survey portions of the much larger transects that the air crew will fly. This provides a correction factor for waterfowl not seen from the plane. We’ll keep you posted on how things are looking here; be sure to check for updates from other crew areas to get the big picture.

N705 Is Back in Home Territory

Western Dakotas and Eastern Montana
Written by Rob Spangler
Wednesday, May 08, 2013

Rob SpanglerAfter a hiatus of a few years, N705 returns once again to fly the hills of the Western Dakotas and Eastern Montana for the Waterfowl Breeding Population and Habitat Survey. Both the former Chief, Jim Volzer, and Pilot/Biologist Ray Bentley flew N705, a turbocharged, retractable gear 182 built by Cessna in the year I graduated from high school. I met up with my aerial observer, Jon Klimstra, to test our computer system and tune up our duck ID and transect width. Jon has flown the survey the past few years and he will be a great help to me as I am new to this crew area. We spent a day with our ground crew, Pam Garrettson and Brent West, to go over logistics and track the breeding chronology. It looks like conditions are perfect to start. The divers and geese have moved north and we are seeing pairings of mallard, gadwall, shoveler, blue-winged teal, and northern pintail.

Done for the Year—Not as Good as 2011

Western Dakotas and Eastern Montana
Written by Shawn Bayless
Thursday, May 17, 2012

Shawn BaylessJon and I finished the last transect today and are headed home tomorrow. Habitat conditions since we arrived in central Montana have been poor to fair. All temporary and seasonal basins are dry, most type III and type IV wetlands are only half full, and most stock ponds are, at most, only half full. As one would expect, we counted ducks on existing water, but I think it is safe to say production here will be less than normal. Additionally, many CRP fields have been sprayed and/or burned preparatory to tillage, which obviously does not bode well for any upland nesting birds.

Ahead of Schedule

Western Dakotas and Eastern Montana
Written by Shawn Bayless
Thursday, May 10, 2012

Shawn BaylessWe are about a week ahead of last year's survey, due in large part to the uncommonly nice weather, but also to the early start of the survey. The ground crews have finished their air-ground segments (used to obtain visual correction factors) and have headed home. Only Jon and I remain and, if the nice weather persists, we should finish by the end of this week. Habitat conditions are somewhat variable, with fair-to-good values in ND, SD and NE Montana, and poor-to-fair values in north- and south-central Montana.

The Super Cub - A Blast From the Past!

Western Dakotas and Eastern Montana
Written by Shawn Bayless
Thursday, May 10, 2012

Shawn BaylessI wanted to take the opportunity to tell a little about our survey aircraft. The Super Cub (model PA-18) is a two seat, tandem aircraft made by Piper Aircraft since 1949. Piper discontinued production of the Cub in the 1980s, but a few other manufacturers currently produce similar models (Aviat Aircraft, Top Cub and others). Originally designed as a trainer, wildlife biologists have long recognized it for its superior visibility, slow survey speeds and short takeoff and landing capabilities. Ours, N704, belongs to Charles M. Russell National Wildlife Refuge in Lewistown, MT. We contracted a well known Super Cub rebuilder from Baker, MT, (Roger Meggers of Baker Air Service) to build one three years ago. He acquired a wrecked 1959 model and literally rebuilt it from the ground up. With the exception of the original dataplate, the entire aircraft is new, including fuselage, wings, empennage, engine, avionics and interior. He installed larger tires and extended, heavy duty landing gear as well as a baby bushwheel tailwheel , which allows us to operate on unimproved landing areas without concern of damaging the gear or prop. Top speed of our Cub is about 110 mph. Wish I knew the last time a Super Cub was used on this survey, but would guess in the 1960s. We are flying retro!

Dakotas Nearly Done

Western Dakotas and Eastern Montana
Written by Shawn Bayless
Monday, May 07, 2012

Shawn BaylessAll the survey transects in South Dakota are complete, all but the northern-most transects in North Dakota are complete, and we've flown two days in southeastern Montana. Overall, wetland habitat conditions are fair-to-good, with a few areas in southern SD and southeast Montana rated as poor. We are currently grounded in Baker, MT, due to high winds, so we took the opportunity to complete scheduled maintenance on N704, the mighty Supercub.

Survey Started Fast

Western Dakotas and Eastern Montana
Written by Shawn Bayless
Monday, April 30, 2012

Shawn BaylessMy observer Jon Klimstra and I just completed the first two transects west of Pierre, SD, today. Survey timing is a bit earlier than normal this year due to the balmy spring we've enjoyed, which seems to have kicked the breeding behavior into high gear this week. We are flying a FWS-owned Supercub (PA-18). This is the first time a Cub has been used for this survey in a long time, but we had no other options due to lack of other available fleet aircraft.

Stuck in Montana

Western Dakotas and Eastern Montana
Written by Jon Klimstra
Wednesday, May 18, 2011

Photo of Jon Klimstra.We have been stuck in Ft. Peck, Montana for the last 4 or 5 days. Although not a bad place to be, we are hoping to move to the west to finish up the survey.

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