Observations from a Midwest Observer

Written by Brad Pendley
Sunday, June 01, 2014

Photo of Brad Pendley.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. A common saying at our refuge is “it is good to feed them on the way down, but critical that we feed those hens on the way back up.” That statement has hit home for me as I have spent the last week making my way up to Ontario and Stratum 50. Stratum 50 covers most of Western Ontario and is pretty heavily forested with more lakes than I could ever hope to count. This year the water is high and many of the bigger lakes are just breaking up after a long, cold winter. There are pockets of water everywhere and it seems like there is more wet than dry.

After a few practice runs on my way up with my pilot, Jim Wortham, I was as ready as I would ever be. You see, I am used to seeing “my ducks” at eyeball level in mixed flocks of 5-10,000 on moist soil units. I can stop and glass all I need and pretty much take my sweet time about getting it right. We count the eyeballs and divide by two, pretty simple stuff. This flying and counting is an entirely different ballgame. One blink and you might misidentify the lone goldeneye drake hiding down there, blink twice and you didn’t even know he was there. It is very different and fun at 150 feet and 100 miles per hour. Lesson from day one, don’t blink. Lesson from day two, when the plane starts to pull away from the dock under power, jump on the float you fool! I am sure more lessons will come as we finish up with stratum 50 this week and head to Quebec.

Some water is just too hard for a duck to use.
Video by Brad Pendley/USFWS.

Beautiful falls observed as we leave Ontario.

Beautiful falls observed as we leave Ontario. Photo by Brad Pendley, USFWS

It is a long way to everywhere.

It is a long way to everywhere. Photo by Brad Pendley, USFWS

Sometimes there just are no runways.

Sometimes there just are no runways. Photo by Brad Pendley, USFWS

Still some snow cover just inland from Hudson Bay.

Still some snow cover just inland from Hudson Bay. Photo by Brad Pendley, USFWS

Some snow just off Hudson Bay.

Some snow just off Hudson Bay. Photo by Brad Pendley, USFWS

Caribou trails in the lichen.

Caribou trails in the lichen. Photo by Brad Pendley, USFWS

Down for the night at Lake Nimmis Ontario.

Down for the night at Lake Nimmis Ontario. Photo by Brad Pendley, USFWS

La Grande River was low and still had some ice floating in it.

La Grande River was low and still had some ice floating in it. Photo by Brad Pendley, USFWS

On down days it is nice to see birds at a slower pace.

On down days it is nice to see birds at a slower pace. Photo by Brad Pendley, USFWS

Airports in the north country are often busy. From the smallest Cesna to these guys, you have to be on the lookout.

Airports in the north country are often busy. From the smallest Cesna to these guys, you have to be on the lookout. Photo by Brad Pendley, USFWS