Breeding Grounds Survey: Eastern Shoremen Finish the North

June 15, 2014 - Northern Saskatchewan, Northern Manitoba
By Walt Rhodes, USFWS biologist, Northern Saskatchewan, Northern Manitoba

With apologies to Rick Harrison of Pawn Stars, I never know who's is going to be in the right seat of the airplane. I have not kept a record of everyone over the years, but there have been countless individuals of various backgrounds and personalities. Some leave an impression while others you'd like to forget. And, yes, some get airsick, but most don't.

Sometimes we are able to recruit our own observer for the survey while other years it's a wild card based on who is able to volunteer. My observer this year was unique in that he and I shared a link despite our almost generational gap in age.

Miles Simmons is a bio-tech at Blackwater National Wildlife Refuge in Dorchester County on Maryland's Eastern Shore and a native of adjoining Talbot County. I too grew up on the Eastern Shore of Maryland in nearby Queen Anne's County. In fact, if you drew a line as the duck flies, our childhood stomping grounds were less than seven miles apart, separated only by Eastern Bay. When you spend six hours in an airplane together and have breakfast and dinner together every day for nearly a month, it's important to be able to get along, or the survey becomes a little less fun. During many conversations throughout the survey, Miles and I talked about the Shore, the pressures on the area, the good ol' days from each of our perspectives, and the future of the region. While my family and I recently moved to Oregon, I felt right back at my roots when talking to Miles.

After our start-and-stop beginning to the survey, we progressed across northern Saskatchewan and Manitoba fairly quickly. The habitat appears to be some of the wettest I've seen since I started surveying the region in 2009. Lots of the beaver ponds had water overflowing their dams and many permanent ponds had water to their margins. It was encouraging. All of the usual species, such as mallards, scaup, buffleheads, and ring-necked ducks, were present, as well as Canada geese, including many molt migrants from the South that were arriving as we were finishing up. During the survey we cross over thousands of lakes and ponds. Any pond can hold a surprise, much like the right side of the airplane when the door opens.

Morning cumulus clouds reflect in a lake near The Pas, Manitoba, while the float reflects in the wing mirror, forming a micro-macro reflection scene. Photo by Walt Rhodes, USFWS

Many wetlands across the north were charged and runoff was staining nearby streams and rivers. Photo by Walt Rhodes, USFWS

Get more information about the 2014 BPOP Survey and other waterfowl surveys at

Find more breeding waterfowl and habitat updates on the DU Habitat Map