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pilot biologist report


Breeding Grounds Surveys: This and That - Musings of a Grey-Haired Biologist, Pilot

In general, many areas this year in the prairies were dry, and many areas in "the bush" regions were good. There is evidence of an overflight of ducks that may have passed over the dry prairies (see previous pilot reports). Just because the duck numbers and habitat may not be good in one area, does not mean there will be a poor fall flight this year.

Breeding Grounds Surveys: Overflight

When the prairie habitats are wet, without question they crank out a lot of ducks. During those times, the boreal habitats support production of the usual diver species, namely buffleheads, scaup, goldeneyes, mergansers, and ring-necked ducks, and mallards, wigeon, and green-winged teal remain the common puddle ducks. But when the prairies start to get a little dehydrated, this is when the boreal lends a helping hand.

Breeding Grounds Surveys: Wrapping up the Maine and Atlantic Crew Area

After frequent weather or equipment-related delays, we arrived in Labrador on the first of June to be greeted by a short window of forecasted favorable weather. We made the most of it, flying several long days in a row to finish off our survey area and ferry part way home prior to rain, snow, and ice shutting things down again in Labrador.

Breeding Grounds Surveys: 2015 Alaska Survey Resumes

The Alaska waterfowl breeding population surveys began in late May. I completed the BPOP surveys in southern and central Alberta on May 25. As I was stepping into the plane to head home, I got the call from my supervisor.

Breeding Grounds Surveys: Montana is Complete

When the weather finally cleared we had six straight days of good flying weather. After sitting for six days due to rain, it was surprising how little water was seen on the landscape.

Breeding Grounds Surveys: Chasing Shadows

This survey, being the furthest north of the traditional survey area, has its share of unique “bush” individuals. After 30 years of flying the North Country, it is no surprise that my esteemed pilot, Fred Roetker, has met or interacted with 95% of them.

Breeding Grounds Surveys: Pass the Juju

Like much of eastern Canada, our crew area had its share of snow over the winter, but the spring has been dry, and the majority of the habitat is judged to be in variable, but fair, condition. See the accompanying photos of beaver ponds and string bogs for the visuals. Waterfowl numbers are mixed in our crew area, with some showing gains and others, losses, but bolstered as always by the permanent waters of the region.

Breeding Grounds Surveys: Finally Some Moisture

We have turned the corner in the eastern Dakotas. After six consecutive days of sitting in the rain, things have improved substantially—on the ground and in the air. We have now flown six consecutive days and things are looking a lot better. We thought we would get to fly on the 15th, and that turned out to be a false start.

Breeding Grounds Surveys: Blocking High

The habitat so far looks a little drier this spring. But this is mostly permanent-water habitat and it is really only the very small wetlands that seem to be starved for moisture, and these are not used much by waterfowl anyway. The flip side, especially in regards to the previous two springs, is that the ice has gone out early, making an abundance of habitat available to arriving waterfowl.

Breeding Grounds Surveys: Finally to Newfoundland...

On May 15 we finished Nova Scotia and returned to Bangor, ME, for a required inspection on N769. We were down 5 days, and every day was beautiful flying weather. Naturally, the weather began to deteriorate on Thursday, May 21—the day we left to return to Canada and resume the survey.

Breeding Grounds Surveys: Stratum 43 Complete and Conditions Improved Somewhat

Greetings from the Treasure State and the Montana/Dakotas aerial crew. We’ve completed North Dakota (Stratum 43) and have made our way to our current base in Lewistown, Montana—located in the geographic center of the state.

Breeding Grounds Surveys: Quick Notes for Early Progress

The survey is moving along quickly and keeping the crew here quite busy. So much so, that I've only just gotten around to gathering my thoughts on it all to provide the updates below.

Breeding Grounds Surveys: Off To a Good Start

We've had excellent weather conditions and have made good progress on the survey. The southern grasslands are drier than last year, but the consensus is the area is about average overall. There isn’t any excess water (i.e., sheetwater), but the basins are full and providing good habitat for ducks.

Breeding Grounds Surveys: Tough Year Shaping Up

It's shaping up to be a tough year all the way around for the Eastern Dakotas survey. So far, we are only batting .500 on flying days, having only been able to fly 4 out of eight days so far due to weather. The forecast doesn't seem to show any signs of increasing efficiency either.

Breeding Grounds Surveys: Mechanical Issues

Generally, duck numbers on the southern air-ground comparison segments were slightly higher than last year, and although water conditions on some of the more northern grassland segments such as Loreburn, Tichfield, and Hanley seemed good, duck numbers appeared to be slightly lower.

Breeding Grounds Surveys: Yep, It's Dry Out Here!

I don't want to add more gloom and doom to what Terry Liddick, the biologist pilot for our survey area, wrote in his report, but I can only heartily agree that it is DRY!!!!!!! Plus, the few wetlands that do have water are often empty of ducks.

Breeding Grounds Surveys: Beautiful Weather

We survey crews can be an odd bunch sometimes. Everybody knows that beautiful weather means sunny skies, maybe a light breeze, say around 80 degrees, right? Nope. For us on surveys, there are two kinds of beautiful weather.

Breeding Grounds Surveys: Back in the Saddle

We just completed surveying the small section of land just north of Lake Ontario (Toronto area). This area is mostly agriculture. I have seen all the fields, silos, and barns that I can possibly stand. However, waterfowl utilize ditches, cattle ponds, and an occasional creek or stream in these areas.

Breeding Grounds Surveys: We Have a Plane and a Plan

This is only my second year as a pilot-biologist on the survey, but lucky for me I have waterfowl biologist Deb Groves’ 25 years of observer experience to lead the way. After wrestling with the ever-present aircraft logistics, we finally have a plan. We’ll be using our Cessna 206 Amphibian (N9623R) to complete this year’s survey, and we’re off to Cordova on 12 May to begin the survey.

Breeding Grounds Surveys: A Tale of Two Seasons...

Back in March, looking out the window of our Maine farmhouse at 8-foot snow piles in the dooryard and 4-foot ice pack on local lakes, I would have bet good money that in May we’d be worried about flooding and enjoying a prolonged mud and productive black fly season. I’m glad I’m not a betting man because nothing could be further from the truth.

Breeding Grounds Surveys: Onwards and Upwards

The parklands have been relatively wet over the last few years and they look decent again this year. Hopefully some good production over the last few years will result in high duck numbers this year.

Breeding Grounds Surveys: Alberta Ground Crew Off and Running

The Alberta ground crew for the waterfowl breeding population and habitat survey gathered on Thursday, May 7th in Medicine Hat, Alberta. It looked like a winter wonderland in the Edmonton area this morning.

Breeding Grounds Surveys: Traveling Light

Tony and I have finished all the air-ground segments in South Dakota, but tonight find ourselves back at our starting point, the capital city of Pierre, SD (pronounce it “Peer” or they’ll know you’re not from around here).

Breeding Grounds Surveys: Ground Crew Temporarily Grounded

We started our first day of ground surveys today, and they went very smoothly—for about two hours. I'm out here with Tony Roberts, a biologist who started with the Division of Migratory Bird Management several months ago.

Breeding Grounds Surveys: Maine and Atlantic Canada Crew Contemplates Survey Start

A slow spring warm-up led to a fortuitous, gradual thaw across the area. While aggravating to sun- and warmth-starved souls up here, it meant that ice damming and flooding were kept to a minimum despite the ice and snow pack. Waterfowl arrived right on schedule in April, only to congregate in available open inland water and in coastal areas to wait on ice out.

Breeding Grounds Surveys: Survey Begins in Eastern Dakotas

The Eastern Dakota’s survey crew is assembled and ready to go. The survey got underway Sunday, 3 May when the aircrew and part of the ground crew arrived in Mitchell, SD. The following day, the rest of the ground crew arrived and began reviewing and training. The aircrew is again this year—for the fifth consecutive year—comprised of pilot/biologist Terry Liddick and observer Dave Fronczak. The ground crew will once again be led by Kammie Kruse.

Breeding Grounds Surveys: What the Catbird Knows

I’m honored to play a role in the 60th annual Waterfowl Breeding Population and Habitat Survey, and excited to have Nick Wirwa returning as my observer. We’ll be surveying southern Ontario and southern Quebec, an area roughly bounded by the Great Lakes on the southwest and the US border on the southeast.

Breeding Grounds Survey: Early Start Expected in Manitoba and Saskatchewan

Looks like surveys will be starting earlier than usual this year in Manitoba and Saskatchewan. Kevin Fox and his observer John Bidwell picked up N728 on April 26th and headed west on the 27th.

Breeding Grounds Survey: Another Journey Begins

After months of preparations, the journey north to Canada started again for me on April 24, 2015. This will be my 28th year of flying aerial surveys in Canada. It is easy to fly north to the incredible waterfowl breeding areas in Canada. However, it is never easy leaving one’s spouse and family back in the states. After flying up to Canada for portions of four decades, this pilot has never gotten used to the separation from family.

Breeding Grounds Survey: 2014 Ungava Peninsula Survey Complete

The 2014 Ungava survey is complete. We roared to the finish line and on home with four full days of flying and (mostly) friendly weather.

Breeding Grounds Survey: Survey Complete for the Saskatchewan Ground Crew

Some areas in the very east and west of the province were drier than they have been in recent years, but much of the central grassland area of the province, stretching from south of Moose Jaw up to Saskatoon, was extremely wet.

Breeding Grounds Survey: Eastern Shoremen Finish the North

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.

Breeding Grounds Survey: Beginning the Ungava Survey

So began this year's Ungava survey for me. After a quick weekend at home upon completing the May BPOP survey, I traveled commercially to Bangor, Maine, to pick up N723, which had been undergoing routine maintenance.

Breeding Grounds Survey: Steve's Otter Song

Fred and I have traveled over 5,700 miles (in 318 segments) at bird-view (150 ft.) and I now sit in a wood recliner, belly full of Arctic Char, and four feet from the waters of Great Slave Lake in Yellowknife's Old Town.

Breeding Grounds Survey: The Northwest Territories' Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat

Also colorful are the variations of habitat at 150 feet. Color livens, inspires, and directs life, and I could give the reader another blog about our day-to-day experiences, but I don’t think a narrative of where we flew does any justice to the sights.

Breeding Grounds Survey: Maine and Atlantic Canada Survey Area Completed

Overall, conditions across the survey area were good for breeding waterfowl, despite the late start to spring. With some more seasonal temperatures and drier conditions during the primary brood rearing period, the outlook could improve further.

Breeding Grounds Survey: Summer in Northeast Manitoba

The EPP CAGO population is primarily associated with nesting areas in northern Manitoba; migration areas in southern Manitoba, Minnesota and Iowa; and wintering areas in Missouri and Arkansas.

Breeding Grounds Survey: Superhero Escape...

Nick and I are down to the final transect, which will take us about two hours to complete if weather cooperates tomorrow. Otherwise the door closes: the white flowers, red buds and green leaves finish their springing forth, blocking our view to the waterfowl using many of the small creeks and wetlands.

Breeding Grounds Survey: On to Quebec...

After a long stretch of good flying weather, Mother Nature finally caught up with us in northern Quebec. Having finished up Stratum 50 with its abundance of water and relatively rolling terrain, we have crossed over into Stratum 69 and Quebec.

Breeding Grounds Survey: 2014 Survey Complete in Saskatchewan

Conditions were varied in this part of the survey area because winter and spring precipitation was variable. More precipitation fell in the center of the parklands between Saskatoon and Prince Albert than on the western or eastern parts of parklands.

Breeding Grounds Survey: Observations from a Midwest Observer

I have spent the last 5 years feeding ducks as they make their way south each winter and more importantly on their way back north each spring.

Breeding Grounds Survey: 2014 Survey Begins in Western Ontario

A few aircraft delays kept us from launching the survey as planned from Maryland. Now that we are piloting flying computers, we have to ensure that the software is in order.

Breeding Grounds Survey: A Snapshot of the Canadian Prairies

On May 31, I departed Calgary, Alberta, in the morning, and flew to Winnipeg, Manitoba, to commence another survey. The following photos are a snapshot of the conditions I saw along that route.

Breeding Grounds Survey: Status Update from Stratum 51

As we are nearing the end of our survey I look back and think about the territory we have covered. So far we have flown over 8,000 miles of terrain throughout southern Ontario and Quebec.

Breeding Grounds Survey: Newfoundland in the Books, on to Labrador

A ridge of high pressure moving south out of Labrador finally moved the persistent low off the east coast of Newfoundland, and the beleaguered east coast saw a rare glimpse of sun on May 29. It didn't last long, but it was enough to give us the window we needed to complete the Newfoundland survey.

Breeding Grounds Survey: Eastern Dakotas Ground Crew All Done

We finished up another ground survey in the Eastern Dakotas. Our overall duck numbers are slightly down from last year with one interesting note that our scaup numbers were higher than they have been in a few years.

Breeding Grounds Survey: 2014 Survey Complete in Southern Manitoba

John and I finished the survey in the northern most survey area near Swan River on May 22nd. Conditions continue to look good with lots of water on the landscape. We did run into some ice on the larger lakes, including Lake Manitoba; however, it seems that things are breaking up as conditions warm.

Breeding Grounds Survey: Overall Conditions Improved from Last Year

We have finished our survey this year and headed back home to our families and offices. Overall, the better conditions have continued throughout the survey area compared with last year.

Breeding Grounds Survey: Knocking Off Deltas

Pilot biologist Fred Roetker and I now sit in Fairbanks, Alaska, waiting for our Kodiak to clear an annual, 100-hour inspection and maintenance check. We have finished Alberta and British Columbia, and are thus 34% done with our segments.

Breeding Grounds Survey: A Gorgeous Day to Fly

Regarding habitat, except for the occasional beaver dam that broke leaving a pond down from its edges, the semi-permanent depressional wetlands and permanent lakes look fantastic.

Breeding Grounds Survey: Take Home Messages

It is May 25th and the survey is over. One last night in a hotel for me and then Jim Bredy and I part ways. He will head for eastern Canada to start a Canada goose survey. I have a flight to Portland and a reunion with Jessica, Morgan, Jackson, and three dogs.

Breeding Grounds Survey: Heaven on Earth

Joe Sands and I completed the Southern and Central Alberta BPOP survey area yesterday. I feel blessed to have been able to work with this very capable waterfowl man.

Breeding Grounds Survey: Not Much, But We'll Take It

After sitting 7 of 8 days in Halifax, Nova Scotia, the air mass over the Maritimes and Gulf of St. Lawrence finally "warmed" enough that we could enter the clouds and ferry to Stephenville, Newfoundland, on Sunday, May 25.

Breeding Grounds Survey: Prince Edward Island and Nova Scotia Done, Fog Grounds Crew in Halifax

The Maine and Atlantic Canada survey crew completed Prince Edward Island on May 16 and made it into Halifax, Nova Scotia.

Breeding Grounds Survey: Northwest Parklands Showing Good Waterfowl Production Potential

Another good day of flying and we've finished up the northwest parklands and will move to working the last 5 transects in the northeast parklands for the rest of this week.

Breeding Grounds Survey: Southern Montana Looking Better Than Last Year

Since our last post we have flown a few thousand more miles of transects across Montana. As ground crew leader Pam Garrettson noted in one of her earlier posts, southern Montana does not naturally contain a great deal of waterfowl habitat.

Breeding Grounds Survey: Done with the Grasslands and Starting the Aspen Parklands

We are making progress. We have finished the grasslands stratum and flew our first day in the northwest parklands stratum on Sunday. In the grasslands, areas are drier than last year, especially as we headed north and west.

Breeding Grounds Surveys: Even the Drier Areas Have Ducks

The trend of many more wetlands and ducks continued, even as we made our way into arid eastern Montana. On the Garrison, ND, air-ground segment (our only one east of the Missouri River) we even saw quite a few diving ducks, relatively rare in this survey area.

Breeding Grounds Surveys: It's a Roller Coaster

While I am completely focused on counting waterfowl and helping Steve watch for obstacles, I do find myself getting caught up in the wonder and beauty of nature and this earth.

Breeding Grounds Survey: Habitat Conditions Looking Good in 2014

Since our last post, John and I have been extremely busy. We’ve had six days of gorgeous weather and great survey conditions. This means clear, sunny days with little to no wind (the only thing better would have been overcast skies and no wind).

Breeding Grounds Survey: The Weather Caught Up To Us

The Alberta ground survey crew has been able to complete stratum 29, 28, and 27 in southern Alberta and have started on stratum 26. Weather has cooperated up until now, allowing our pilot Jim Bredy and observer Joe Sands to stay ahead of us.

Breeding Grounds Survey: Good Ol' Stratum 54

As we finished up Stratum 54 this week, the conditions seem to be looking positive. Having never flown the Breeding Population Survey before, Stratum 54, the block that we were flying this week, was not what I was expecting to see.

Breeding Grounds Survey: Manitoba Ground Crew Reaches Half-way Point

This year we started the ground portion of the survey on May 10 and have been going ever since. We completed stratum 39 in southwestern Manitoba on May 12 and moved into stratum 34 in southeastern Saskatchewan on the 13th.

Breeding Grounds Survey: Who Moved My Calendar?

Calendars and clocks are artificial scorecards for humans. For the previous six years my old calendars have indicated that I have been in Canada on this date and yet today I am still at home in central Oregon.

Breeding Grounds Survey: Digesting Spaghetti

Staring at the tangle of wires and connections reminded me of a plateful of spaghetti and meatballs, but this serving of pasta didn’t look too appetizing. Due to a series of maintenance issues, my plane and I have been separated for nearly eight months.

Breeding Grounds Survey: Good Luck for the Saskatchewan Ground Crew in the South!

Although the air crew had to delay their start by a day due to weather, we have not had a weather delay since then. We traveled from Saskatoon to Swift Current, Saskatchewan, on May 8th to begin surveys in the southwest the next day.

Breeding Grounds Survey: New Brunswick Survey Completed

The Maine and Atlantic Canada survey crew today completed Stratum 63, which corresponds to New Brunswick, Canada. Like Maine, New Brunswick endured a long, cold, and snowy winter with significant snow falling just 2 weeks ago.

Breeding Grounds Survey: More Water as We Move North

We are making good progress in the Eastern Dakotas Survey Area and we have flown 3 more days since the last blog. North Dakota has significantly more water and ducks than South Dakota and that is apparent already.

Breeding Grounds Survey: Western South and North Dakota Complete

We have finished our work in the Dakotas (Strata 43 and 44) and conditions look good there overall. Most reservoirs, dug outs, and natural wetlands that were dry or low last year are full with sheet water present in some areas.

Breeding Grounds Survey: Conditions Good in Southern Saskatchewan, But Drier Than Last Year

We started the survey on May 7th and have had six good flying days. So far, conditions look good across the southern grasslands; drier than last year but wetland conditions are still good.

Breeding Grounds Survey: Only 100 Things Left to Do

My observer Nick Wirwa probably thought I was a bit twisted when, after the unavoidable last minute preparations and occasional snafus, I told him I thought we had progressed to having less than a hundred items left to do before departure for the spring survey.

Breeding Grounds Survey: Road Warriors

We have now finished all the air-ground segments in North Dakota, and did our first day of surveying in Montana today. The ground crew's job is to count a sample of the segments that the air crew surveys, and the ratio of the number of ducks (by species) that we see to the number that the air crew sees is used as a correction factor in calculating population estimates.

Breeding Grounds Survey: Ground Crew Wrapping Up South Dakota

The Eastern Dakotas ground crew is going to survey the last air-ground correction segment in South Dakota tomorrow, and my overall impression so far is that South Dakota was pretty dry and the duck numbers are a little down.

Breeding Grounds Survey: Tongue-tied

After some unexpected winter-type weather delayed our survey start, Joe Sands and I finally got under way on May 08. We were greeted with variable habitat conditions in the short-grass prairie area to the south and east of Lethbridge, Alberta, over to the Saskatchewan border.

Breeding Grounds Survey: Holy Hanna!

The Alberta ground survey crew has been able to complete strata 29 and 28 in southern AB and is currently working on stratum 27 out of Hanna. Weather has cooperated, allowing our pilot Jim Bredy and observer Joe Sands to survey each day since they started on May 8th.

Breeding Grounds Survey: Alberta Ground Crew Prepares for the Survey

The Alberta ground crew for the waterfowl breeding population and habitat survey gathered today (Thursday, May 8th) in Medicine Hat, Alberta. During the drive down from Edmonton we witnessed some good wetland conditions through the parklands. Conditions appeared to improve further south, in the prairies.

Breeding Grounds Survey: A Great Start to the Survey

So, things did go as planned and John and I arrived in Manitoba on the 6th. We had to spend a couple of nights in Winnipeg due to marginal weather in Brandon, but we did arrive in Brandon on the 8th and were ready to start the survey on the 9th.

Breeding Grounds Survey: Back in the Prairies

We did some aerial and ground reconnaissance today and, although we did see some large flocks of green-winged teal, which seemed unusual, all other prairie nesting species were present and in small groups or pairs.

Breeding Grounds Survey: "Crunchiness"

"Crunchiness." That's what Brent West said to me when I asked him what I should write about. We're out here together again doing the air-ground corrections in the Western Dakotas-Eastern Montana crew area, and we just finished up South Dakota.

Breedings Grounds Survey: Preparations for May 2014 Survey

It’s that time of year again and I’ve been preparing for quite a while. It will be a little easier this year since it’s my second survey in the left seat and I’ll be returning to Brandon, Manitoba, with my extremely experienced observer and retired biologist-pilot John Bidwell.

Breeding Grounds Survey: Southern Alberta Survey Start Delayed Due to Weather

While some portions of the US are basking in 80 and 90 degree temperatures, it is windy here and the snow is blowing sideways. This type of weather is not conducive to safely flying a low-level waterfowl survey. Temperatures that last week were in the 20° C range (68° F), have given way to sub-freezing temperatures, snow, and freezing fog. This has put the survey on hold, for now.

Breeding Grounds Survey: 2014 Survey Begins!

This morning we kicked off the 2014 Breeding Population and Habitat Survey. We took off out of Pierre, South Dakota and flew almost directly west for our first transect line.

Breeding Grounds Survey: Met With Ground Crew - Everything is Ready

Today, we met up with our excellent ground crew (waterfowl biologists Pam Garrettson and Brent West) and went out to look at a dozen wetlands in the area.

Breeding Grounds Survey: Calibrating for the Survey

Brenda and I took to the air today to calibrate our transect width—to ensure we are only counting birds within 200 meters on either side of the aircraft. The survey calculations are based on this transect width, so it is very important that all flight crews calibrate their observations.

Breeding Grounds Survey: Arriving in South Dakota

We've packed N705 and are headed to Pierre, South Dakota to start our survey. This year I have Brenda Kelly as my observer, a very experienced waterfowl biologist and aerial observer from Wisconsin.

Follow the Waterfowl Breeding Population and Habitat Survey

This week, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS), Canadian Wildlife Service, and state and provincial agencies will begin the 59th North American Waterfowl Breeding Population and Habitat Survey. This survey is the most extensive wildlife census in the world. Follow along!

Breeding Grounds Survey: Time Flies By, and So Do We!

The first report filed by a FWS pilot biologist in 2014 as they prepare to begin the North American Breeding Waterfowl and Ponds Survey.

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