2012 Spring Habitat Conditions in Canada 

Posted May 9, 2012
The following is a compilation of environmental conditions relative to breeding waterfowl submitted by DUC field staff. These observations are not based on systematic surveys or intended to describe hunting conditions.

Summary

In the British Columbia/Western Boreal Forest Region, nesting has been delayed along the British Columbia coast. Birds arrived at the usual time in the territories, where ponds are just starting to open up. 

Habitat conditions have improved in several portions of the Prairie Region, although spring runoff was generally below normal in Alberta. Spring arrived early in Saskatchewan and Manitoba, where early-arriving ducks are now nesting. Spring was also early in the Eastern Region. March temperatures were much warmer than usual, and most migrants arrived early.

British Columbia

The coast experienced wet conditions through much of March and April. This moisture, combined with cooler temperatures, has resulted in a higher-than-normal snowpack for the south coast and Vancouver Island regions. This may cause flooding in local rivers depending on May temperatures. The wet weather has delayed Lower Mainland and Vancouver Island farmers from getting into the fields. Many ducks and geese have moved through the area to breeding grounds further north, after fueling up in fields and foreshore areas. Resident waterfowl have begun nesting, but were likely delayed by the cooler conditions. 

In the northern Interior, cool and wet spring weather has led to a large snowpack at high elevations. Snow conditions at lower elevations were average at best. A high runoff is expected for river-fed wetlands, while more-isolated wetlands should experience normal spring conditions. 

Despite recent spring showers, conditions are relatively dry in the southern Interior due to below-average winter snowfall at low and moderate elevations. Many high-value wetlands still have relatively low water levels (as they did last year). It is particularly dry in the West Chilcotin area, where the only basins recharging are those with associated stream flows. Most waterfowl returned at approximately normal times, and breeding effort appears to be proceeding as usual. Canada geese goslings have been observed since late April. 

Snow conditions were above average this winter in the southeast Interior, which received some good late-winter snowfalls. Wetland conditions should be better than average. 

In the Peace region, runoff was below average due to a lack of winter snow at low and moderate elevations. In the agricultural zone (and much of the boreal plains and taiga plains), winter precipitation was below normal. So far, spring precipitation been 115–200 per cent of normal, and much of this moisture soaked into the ground. There may be more runoff if the rain persists, but spring wetland conditions are mostly below average. Upland conditions should be good after the current rains. Early nesters, such as Canada geese and mallards, have likely initiated nests. Trumpeter swans arrived in mid April, and tundra swans are in the process of migrating through. Good numbers of common mergansers, Canada geese and common goldeneye were on the Peace River in early April.  

Western Boreal Forest

A larger-than-normal snow pack is slowly melting across most of the Yukon, where late-winter temperatures were cooler than normal. Precipitation has been slightly above normal overall, and 5 cm of snow fell in the last week of April. Birds are moving through, with peak swan migration occurring slightly earlier than usual. Mallards, pintails, goldeneyes and wigeons have arrived, which is typical. Ponds are just starting to open up, so most birds are on rivers or outlets of large lakes. 

The Northwest Territories experienced cool April temperatures, although they fluctuated from day to day in Whitehorse. Warmer late-April temperatures helped melt snow, but there was still 20 cm on the ground in some places as of April 24 (which is not typical). Norman Wells was slightly warmer than normal, and has received very little precipitation. Most ponds and lakes are still covered in ice, although some small water bodies, creeks and rivers are opening up. Birds are arriving, and mallard pairs have been observed along the Yellowknife River. 

Northern Alberta experienced warm conditions through April. The High Level area received more than 41 mm of precipitation overall, including 17.4 mm in one event. The Peace River area experienced much the same, although snowfall accumulated over a longer period of time. Further south, the Slave Lake area only received 11 mm. Conditions look to be average around Edmonton. Over 500 pintails were observed on one DUC project, and all other species are present including wigeons, ring-necked ducks, lesser scaups and buffleheads. 

In northern Saskatchewan, La Ronge received almost 40 mm of precipitation in April, which is above the average of 32 mm. Good numbers of Canada geese have arrived, as have snow geese and white-fronted geese. Mallards, scaups, canvasbacks, pintails and other species have also been observed. 

In the Saskatchewan River Delta, temperatures have been above average for the past 10 months. The area has received a little over 15 per cent of its normal precipitation since November, which has led to typical spring runoff. 

Many wetlands had average water levels at freeze-up, so average snowfall amounts coupled with a slow spring thaw are producing good conditions in The Pas area. Temperatures have recently been cool, with single-digit daytime highs followed by below-freezing nights. The cold snap should end shortly, and temperatures are expected to reach the double digits in early May. The first returning Canada goose was spotted on March 16, and ducks were quick to follow. 

Lots of mallards, pintails and geese are in saturated fields. Some hunters are taking advantage of the early-season snow goose hunt, but flocks have not been as large as in recent years. The Saskatchewan River opened on April 7, which is roughly two weeks earlier than normal. Some smaller, shallower wetlands are beginning to open, while larger wetlands and lakes remain frozen.  

Spring arrived early in the Cranberry Portage area of Northern Manitoba. Most lakes are still mostly frozen, although some shoreline areas are opening up. Creeks and inlets at the mouths of lakes are now open. Since early April, waterfowl have been slowly drifting in, including Canada geese, common goldeneyes, common mergansers and mallards. Moisture conditions are very good. Some areas received close to 50 cm of snow in the past month. 

Alberta

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. 

Saskatchewan

Spring started early in Saskatchewan. Record-breaking high temperatures prompted spring runoff and an early waterfowl migration in March. Temperatures then dropped below normal in April, and several areas experienced late snowfall events. These late storms improved runoff conditions, especially in central and eastern portions of the province. Generally, spring wetland conditions have been good to excellent in most agricultural areas due, in part, to carryover from wet conditions last year. The only exception is in the extreme west, along the Alberta border, where conditions have deteriorated due to dry fall conditions and low winter precipitation. 

Ducks and geese arrived earlier than normal this spring, and mallards, pintails, Canada geese and snow geese were being observed before the end of March. After a brief delay in migration (during a cold spell), things are now back on track. Blue-winged teal and ruddy ducks are present, mallards and pintails have begun nesting, and Canada geese have been incubating nests since early April. Good numbers of arctic geese are now staging in traditional spring staging areas. 

Spring farming operations have begun in western and southern areas, but it will be another couple of weeks before farmers on the east side of the province will get on the land due to wet conditions. 

Manitoba

Wetland conditions have been quite variable, both between and within regions. Larger wetlands and/or wetlands situated lower in the watershed are in better condition than shallow basins that got a shorter-term benefit from last year's flooding. These latter basins are now suffering from a lack of precipitation since last July. 

Although pairing opportunities will be adequate for waterfowl, settling opportunities will become limited as seasonal and temporary basins continue to dry up. Wetland conditions generally improve towards the Saskatchewan border. 

Spring arrived early in Manitoba, and runoff was underway in southern breeding ranges by March 11. The runoff period was short throughout the south, largely due to a lack of winter snowpack and above-normal temperatures that prevailed until early April. Although precipitation has been frequent, accumulations remain below average. 

The first Canada geese were observed on March 10, and mallards and pintails arriving shortly after. There was an initial influx of early arrivals by most species this year. However, given the more seasonal temperatures of April, the overall migration was only slightly ahead of the norm. There was a large reverse migration of snow geese in late March, when they ran into adverse conditions in northern Manitoba. 

Large groups were not readily observed after that. 

Weather does not appear to have affected breeding and nesting efforts this year. Geese are well into incubation, and early-arriving ducks species are nesting. Upland conditions remain favourable, and winter wheat survival is good — beyond most expectations. 

Nesting efforts and success of diving ducks, such as canvasbacks and redheads, will likely be lower than normal. This is especially true in the Minnedosa pothole region, where poorer wetland conditions reduced availability of flooded vegetative habitat. This is due, in part, to last year's flood, which resulted in an expanded cattail ring that is now dry due to receded levels. Upland-nesting species should be less impacted by such conditions. 

Ontario 

In March, several records were set for warm temperatures — many not seen since the 1940s. These conditions, coupled with a mild winter, culminated in a record-low snowfall for southern Ontario. April temperatures were close to normal, and significant mid-month precipitation helped recharge many wetlands that were in the process of becoming dryer than usual. The excep-tion was southwest Ontario, which did not receive significant rain events. 

Northern Ontario had an early spring as well, with warmer-than-normal temperatures. Water levels are somewhat lower than usual in many parts of the northeast, although northwest Ontario received above-average precipitation in April, which recharged many wetlands and watercourses. A new rainfall record was set in Sioux Lookout (54.6 mm), surpassing a benchmark that stood since Ducks Unlimited Canada was created in 1938. 

Overall, wetland habitat conditions are good for most of the province (with the exception of southwest Ontario). Sheet water, temporary and ephemeral pairing habitats are much reduced. However, semi-permanent and permanent wetland habitats are just below normal levels thanks to recent rainfall events. Healthy beaver populations have somewhat compensated for lower-than-normal spring water levels. 

Given the early spring habitat conditions, waterfowl migration was 2–3 weeks earlier than usual this year. Canada geese goslings are just starting to appear. Mallards are in their initial peak of nest incubation. They are expected to have a good start for this year's production, as long as brood-rearing habitat can be sustained with timely rainfall events. 

Québec

Overall, habitat conditions remain good in Québec. 

Spring arrived early this year. Similar to February, March was unseasonably warm. Temperatures reached 4–6 C higher than normal, especially in eastern areas. They even reached higher than 20 C in mid March, which is exceptional for this time of the year. April temperatures were generally closer to normal throughout the province. 

March precipitation was 28 per cent lower than normal. A spell of mild weather contributed to an early spring thaw, and the snow pack melted rapidly. Runoff was complete by the end of March, which is earlier than usual. In April, total precipitation was generally close to normal, except in eastern regions, where it was slightly above normal.  

In March, the average St. Lawrence River water level was 50 cm above normal. A major rise in water levels did not occur in April, which helped to avoid flooding of early nesters. 

The early spring created favourable conditions for resident Canada goose populations, which are high in the Ottawa Valley region. For early-nesting duck species, the nesting season started earlier than usual. Although one might have expected the greater snow goose migration to happen earlier as well (due to early spring conditions), April weather was closer to average, which normalized migratory activity for many species. 

Atlantic Canada

This spring has been unusual. The season started with extremely warm sunny periods, but has recently become cold and rainy. 

The initial warm period was enough to melt all of the limited snow cover, thawing the ground and drying the landscape quicker than usual. Daytime high temperatures broke all-time records, across the Maritimes, for nearly a week. Some were even worried about early forest fires given the summer-like dry conditions. The last two weeks have consisted of cold days with periods of rain. 

Some areas have seen rain amounts of 60-80 mm over the course of a few hours! 

Early, mild temperatures resulted in earlier-than-normal ice break-up. Several lakes and wetlands were open a full month before normal. Migrating waterfowl were detected earlier as well. Canada geese have been nesting for several weeks in Nova Scotia, New Brunswick and Prince Edward Island. Ducks have been paired up for some time, and males have been actively pursuing lone hens recently. 

Late April brought water levels closer to typical spring-like conditions. The warmer, drier days ahead should be appreciated by many early-nesting hens. Overall, habitat conditions are good in Atlantic Canada.