By Scott Stephens, PhD
It seems at times that the business of managing the day-to-day conservation of waterfowl habitat can get in the way of actually seeing some of that habitat first hand. This past week provided an opportunity for me to remedy that situation by touring some of the best waterfowl habitat on the prairies, in the Alan Hills landscape southeast of Saskatoon, Saskatchewan.
Wetlands conditions remain very good with many shallow seasonal wetlands still holding water. Due to an unusually late spring across the prairies, we know that duck production was delayed this year, especially for early nesting species like mallards and pintails. However, during our tour we saw plenty of broods of all species across the landscape, so duck production appears to have been quite good overall. We expect brood survival also to be high this year, given the good wetland conditions, which provide an abundance of food and cover for ducklings. It is also clear that late nesting species were also successful this year, as we saw many young broods of blue-winged teal and gadwalls. These late-hatched broods will likely still have time to fledge, but they may be a little late leaving the breeding grounds this fall.
The delayed spring also had an impact on crops planted across the prairies, with the first fields of winter wheat being harvested last week in Manitoba, while the harvest in Saskatchewan is still a week or two away. I'm sure there will be quite a few newly fledged ducks and geese that will take advantage of the waste grain left behind when these crops are harvested.
All in all, it's shaping up to be another good year for waterfowl production on the prairies, and there should be plenty of ducks winging south again this fall. Like waterfowl hunters everywhere, I'm anxiously awaiting the first hint of cooler weather and the welcome whistling of wings. It won't be long now!
DU Canada biologist Dr. Scott Stephens is an Iowa native who has been an avid waterfowler since his late teens. Based at Oak Hammock Marsh in Stonewall, Manitoba, he oversees DUC's conservation programs on the prairies. He routinely posts reports on the Ducks Unlimited Migration Map.