For the past three summers, Ducks Unlimited has hired research crews to survey the effects of the Bakken oil development on breeding duck populations. As of August 18, the data collection phase of this project is finally completed. DU research scientists will soon start data analysis.
“Even though the crew was down a member due to an injury, they were still able to work through the season and finish on time. Each week brought different challenges, but the crew rose to meet them,” said Mason Sieges, one of the DU research scientists who oversaw the project and worked closely with the technicians.
One challenge the crew faced toward the end of the season was distinguishing some of the older ducklings from adults. The crew learned that many older-looking ducklings are still growing their wing feathers and lack the ability to fly. The birds swim away or scuttle off into thick vegetation when they realize a human is nearby, but adults choose to fly away. When adult ducks molt or lose their wing feathers and briefly become flightless, they tend to choose larger wetlands, which were excluded from the study.
This wasn’t the only challenge the crews faced this season.
“Counting broods became more difficult because of the dry conditions in North Dakota. Since many basins dried up during the summer, those that still contained water were congested with broods, which made them harder to count and age accurately,” Sieges said.
The research team walked up to 12 miles a day to collect data across the Bakken. They surveyed 64 plots, many encompassing more than 100 wetlands each. Technicians appreciated their encounters with all kinds of wetland wildlife, including salamanders, frogs and turtles.
Once the data is entered and equipment is returned, the technicians travel to all corners of the United States, beginning new jobs or continuing with school.
Ducks Unlimited is thankful for the hard work of their technicians and researchers, as well as the support of private landowners in the area. We would not be able to conduct our research without their continued participation. Additionally, the continuation of this project could not have occurred without support from our partners. We thank the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, Habitat and Population Evaluation Team, N.D. Game and Fish, Central Flyways Council, Prairie Pothole Joint Venture, and Enbridge Minnesota Association of Resource Conservation and Development Councils.