Spring has been typical, with periodic rain and snow. Although this has improved soil moisture somewhat, it has had little impact on wetland water levels. During the last weekend in April, most of the province was affected by a rain and snow event. Some of the heaviest precipitation occurred along the Saskatchewan border, where over 20 mm of rain and 15 cm of wet snow improved habitat conditions.
Although April precipitation totals were close to or above normal in the western Aspen Parkland, Boreal Transition Zone (BTZ) and Peace Parkland, totals were well below normal in the eastern Aspen Parkland and Prairie.
Since September, precipitation remained below normal throughout the agricultural zone of Alberta. Across most of the Prairie, totals vary from less than 40 to 60 per cent of normal, with slightly higher totals (60–85 per cent of normal) in the west. A similar precipitation pattern continues into the Aspen Parkland and BTZ, with drier conditions prevailing in the east compared to the west. Precipitation totals are slightly higher in the Peace Parkland, at 60–85 per cent of normal.
Runoff was well below average in the Prairie. There was some recharge of wetland projects, particularly those on natural drains, but most are just full or below full. Ephemeral and temporary wetlands were essentially non-existent in the southern Prairie. Some semi-permanent wetlands have carryover from 2011, but are 0.6–1.0 m below last year's levels. Given the record snowpack in the mountains, there should be an abundance of water this summer to recharge and maintain southern Alberta irrigation habitat. Overall, Prairie habitat conditions are rated as poor with the exception of an area east of Hanna (along the Saskatchewan border), which is rated as fair.
In the Aspen Parkland, conditions are fair in the west, including the Buffalo Lake, Pine Lake and Cooking Lake landscapes, where spring runoff was below average. Some ephemeral and temporary wetlands are present, and there was good carryover from 2011 in semi-permanent wetlands, which are flooded into the emergent vegetation. Further east, runoff was much below average and conditions are rated as poor for spring. There were very limited ephemeral and temporary wetlands, and water levels are below the emergent vegetation. There are some pockets of fair conditions, including in the Viking moraine. The eastern Aspen Parkland has benefited from the recent rain and snow.
Conditions in the BTZ are rated as fair to good. There has been some runoff, and wetland projects are close to full. Late-season snowfall has helped this area as well as the Peace Parklands. DUC projects are full in the Peace Parklands, where many natural semi-permanent basins are slightly below full.
As the frost leaves the ground and fields dry, farmers have started seeding operations in the Prairie and southern Aspen Parkland.
Overall, recent rain and snow have ended the dry conditions that prevailed since last September. While there was good carryover in some wetlands from 2011, spring runoff was generally below average.
Significant precipitation will be required to improve and maintain wetland water levels through the late spring and summer.
Most locally-breeding waterfowl have returned to agricultural areas, and the migration continues for northern-nesting birds including snow geese, white-fronted geese and swans. Blue-winged teals and ruddy ducks have been reported in the Aspen Parkland since late April. Large flocks of northern pintails have also been reported in the Aspen Parkland and BTZ. Field reports indicate that more ducks are present in the Aspen Parkland than in the past couple of years, which could reflect drier condition in the Prairie this year.
Locally, nesting Canada geese are well into the egg-laying and incubation. The first goose broods should be hatching by mid May in the Prairie. Lone drakes and three-bird flights of mallards and northern pintails are now being observed as nest initiation commences.
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