By Terry Liddick, USFWS pilot biologist
, Eastern Dakotas
We are making good progress in the Eastern Dakotas Survey Area and we have flown 3 more days since the last blog. Since then we have finished South Dakota and moved up to Jamestown, North Dakota. Things are starting to improve. North Dakota has significantly more water and ducks than South Dakota and that is apparent already.
Actually, we started seeing improvement on the last two transects north of Aberdeen. The closer we got to North Dakota, the better it became. On May 10th we departed Aberdeen and flew 2 transects between Aberdeen and the North Dakota border. More water was apparent on the landscape and we counted more ducks, although still not great. However, a cursory look at the data comparing 2013 to 2014 and we appear to be down in ducks across South Dakota. That is not really surprising considering how dry the state is this year. The drought may have ended, but it is apparent it will take above seasonal rainfall this spring and through next year to improve conditions in the long term. It looks like things could easily slip back into drought otherwise.
On May 11th, we departed Aberdeen and flew the first 2 lines in southern North Dakota. Conditions were better, but I would still only call them good—a long way from excellent. Timing of the survey still looks good as far as breeding pairs go, but from a vegetation perspective, spring still seems to be a long way off. Green is a rare color across the landscape. Temperatures remain slightly below average and it doesn't look like it's going to warm up anytime soon. After flying this morning, we moved up a notch to Jamestown, North Dakota. That puts us at the beginning of the ¾ done stretch.
May 12th the wind the wind blew and the rain came so we took a down day to catch up on some administrative duties, get our data submitted back to Laurel (the Patuxent Wildlife Research Center is in Laurel, MD) and other things of the sort. This morning, we were able to get a flight in in the Jamestown area. We flew 2 lines south of Jamestown and parts of 2 lines that are just north and south of town. Again, conditions seem to be improving and there was plenty of sheet water across the landscape today from yesterday's rain. The typical disheartening view of eastern North Dakota along the Minnesota border remains, as most of that part of the state has been drained. Much draining is still occurring across both Dakotas and it paints a bleak picture for the future.
So we are five or six flying days away from finishing the survey. We have another 2 days here in Jamestown and then we move up to Devil's Lake. Check back soon for the latest on conditions in North Dakota as we continue.
Get more information about the 2014 BPOP Survey and other waterfowl surveys at Flyways.us
Find more breeding waterfowl and habitat updates on the DU Habitat Map