Southern Manitoba and Southeastern Saskatchewan

2014 Survey Complete in Southen Manitoba

Southern Manitoba and Southeastern Saskatchewan
Written by Sarah Yates
Wednesday, May 28, 2014

Sarah YatesJohn 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. Counting birds in Stratum 36 is drastically different than most of the other strata we survey in Manitoba. I believe we counted a total of 129 in 36. Compare that with an average day in a typical prairie pothole habitat (counts of up to 6,000 birds in stratum 34) and there is a large difference. Our more northern lines are more like the boreal forests of northern Saskatchewan and Manitoba and the bird densities are not as great. You also see fewer species as you go north. However, it’s also nice getting into some different habitat to break up the survey. Once we finished our survey we headed back to Brandon, so N728 could undergo a 100-hour (maintenance) before the 11-12 hour trip home. The trip home included a stop in Winnipeg, Manitoba, to drop off John Bidwell so that he could catch a flight to Halifax, Nova Scotia, to continue surveys as observer for Mark Koneff in the Maritime Canadian provinces. He’s a high demand observer! Huge thanks to John for putting up with me for another year. I’m very lucky to have flown with him two years in row now. Also, a big thank you is owed to Dave and Karen Wall and the entire crew at Maple Leaf Aviation in Brandon for keeping N728 going during the surveys and providing friendly and reliable service (as well as some company and meals during the survey). I know how lucky I am!

Manitoba Ground Crew Finishes 2014 Survey

Southern Manitoba and Southeastern Saskatchewan
Written by Marc Schuster
Thursday, May 22, 2014

Photo of Marc Schuster.After a relatively smooth survey with only one weather day, the Manitoba ground Crew was almost able to finish on Monday, May 19. I say almost, because we had finished 27 of 28 ground segments when the rains came that Monday morning. We were close enough to Winnipeg that we decided to head home and wait out the weather and come back to finish our Moore Park Transect. In hindsight it was a wise decision, because it rained for 2 days straight, with some areas of Southern Manitoba receiving 2 inches of rain! Eventually we were able to complete the ground survey on May 22, after Sarah Yates re-flew the segment for us on May 21. In spite of all this, and the unusually late spring in Manitoba this year, we were able to finish a full week ahead of last year.

Habitat Conditions Looking Good in 2014

Southern Manitoba and Southeastern Saskatchewan
Written by Sarah Yates
Monday, May 19, 2014

Sarah YatesSince 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). This is a pretty rare occurrence here in Manitoba and we took advantage of it. At this point we have finished stratums 34, 35, 38, 39, and 40. We have two long days of flying left to finish our most northern lines in stratums 37 and 36. Habitat conditions are still looking great throughout the majority of the crew area. Southeastern Saskatchewan does seem slightly drier than Manitoba and as usual there are some drier segments along the Saskatchewan/Manitoba border. The driest area in Manitoba is stratum 38, which is pretty much devoid of water and seems extremely dry compared to the rest of the survey area. We did see some improvement in the far southern line of stratum 38 (along the U.S. border) compared with last year. There is a lot more sheet water. However, in general, stratum 38 lacks sufficient habitat and most of the water you do see is in man-made dugouts. I would say overall habitat conditions are good to excellent in 2014. Unlike last year, we are running into some ice along our northern segments in stratum 40 and it will be interesting to see what conditions look like in our far–northern transects over the next couple of days.

Manitoba Ground Crew Reaches Half-way Point

Southern Manitoba and Southeastern Saskatchewan
Written by Marc Schuster
Thursday, May 15, 2014

Photo of Marc Schuster.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. So far, habitat conditions have ranged from good to excellent, especially in stratum 39. Wet conditions prevailed on the ground portions with some transects yielding record numbers of ducks. One air-ground segment had almost 1,000 indicated ducks, the most it has ever had in more than 25 years. Today we surveyed the western portion of Stratum 35 and noticed that this area was dry compared to other areas surveyed so far. That, however, is not unusual for the Regina Plains. Tomorrow we move on to the Yorkton area while we begin to survey Stratum 35. Hopefully, the trend of average to higher than average duck numbers continues as we carry on the second half of our survey.

A Great Start to the Survey

Southern Manitoba and Southeastern Saskatchewan
Written by Sarah Yates
Monday, May 12, 2014

Sarah YatesSo 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. We had perfect weather for the start of survey on the 9th and 10th. We flew southeast and southern lines to start, and these included a line in stratum 38 and the majority of lines in 39. Conditions look excellent so far. The first thing we’ve noticed is how much more water is around this year compared with last year. Unlike last year, we are seeing A LOT of sheet water and most of the depressions are full or flooded along our survey lines to date. All major water bodies are flooded, including the Assiniboine River and Whitewater and Oak Lakes. Timing of the survey is looking good and we’ve had an even mix of mallard pairs and lone drakes. Similar to what Phil Thorpe is reporting in southern Saskatchewan, we are also seeing more green-winged teal than last year. We’ve been down a couple of days due mostly to gusty winds, but are hoping to start survey day three in southeastern Saskatchewan on the 13th.

Preparations for the May 2014 Survey

Southern Manitoba and Southeastern Saskatchewan
Written by Sarah Yates
Wednesday, May 07, 2014

Sarah YatesIt’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. I’ve been relying on Marc Shuster (Canadian Wildlife Service out of Winnipeg) and Dave Wall (owner-operator of Maple Leaf Aviation in Brandon) for updates regarding weather, ice out, and the arrival and phenology of waterfowl. It looks like we’ll be able to start the survey sometime around May 9-10th if all goes well. They’ve had another long cold winter (like most of the U.S.) and so things are delayed by a week in southern Manitoba.

Manitoba Survey Completed—Looks Good in General

Southern Manitoba and Southeastern Saskatchewan
Written by Sarah Yates
Sunday, June 02, 2013

Sarah YatesWe finally got the two days of good weather we needed and completed the survey on June 2nd. The last survey day was quite enjoyable, with clear skies and little to no wind. In total we counted and identified 14,678 ducks. The habitat looked good throughout southern Manitoba and southeastern Saskatchewan and improved during the survey with all the rain from the low pressure systems blowing across the upper U.S. Only a small area near the Manitoba-Saskatchewan border and most of stratum 38 was considered fair to poor in 2013. Stratum 38 just doesn’t have a lot of great habitat in general due to the high proportion of agriculture throughout that southeastern portion of Manitoba.

Manitoba Crew Finishes

Southern Manitoba and Southeastern Saskatchewan
Written by Marc Schuster
Thursday, May 30, 2013

Photo of Marc Schuster.After numerous weather days and delays for both the ground and flight crews, the Manitoba ground crew was finally able to finish on Thursday, May 30. Checking back through my records for the past 15 years, there was only one other time when we finished this late. That was on June 1, 2004. That year, a late spring blizzard hampered our efforts -see pictures below from that year. This year, an unusually late spring slowed us down. That being said, habitat conditions were good throughout most of the survey area, with only some slightly drier conditions in the western parts of Stratums 40 and 39. Overall, 2013 appears to be a normal year for water conditions in this part of the survey area. The abnormality came in the weather delays we experienced. Pilot Sarah Yates speaks to that in her posting, but I concur that we are not used to seeing inclement weather hanging around for as long as it did this year. The old saying “If you don’t like the weather, wait five minutes”, certainly didn’t come into play this year!

Fighting With the Weather...

Southern Manitoba and Southeastern Saskatchewan
Written by Sarah Yates
Thursday, May 30, 2013

Sarah YatesWow, this is not normal prairie weather. From what I’ve been told, systems blow through here in a day. Most years, you’ll have a weather day every once in a while. Well, this year, and especially the last week, we’ve really had to the fight the weather to get any surveying done. If it’s not gusty winds from the east (we’ve had easterly winds since we arrived in Brandon--which is never a good sign), it’s low ceilings and low visibility and fog brought on by the stagnant low pressure systems that seem to linger here for days. It’s all part of the same weather system that’s causing all the tornadic activity throughout the mid-western United States. We’ve had almost two weeks of marginal weather, and while we’ve flown some mornings, we’ve been turned around almost every day due to low ceilings, low visibility, and fog. While yesterday (May 29th) was a full survey day, we still had to fight with low visibility on a few lines, meaning some segments were missed or only partially completed. We were able to finish up all our air-ground segments after 6 hours of flying, and we’ve now completed all but Stratum 37. So, we have two days of flying left. It’s just a matter of when the weather will allow us to fly.

Windy Days in Manitoba

Southern Manitoba and Southeastern Saskatchewan
Written by Sarah Yates
Saturday, May 25, 2013

Sarah YatesWe’ve had a good run in southern Manitoba. So far we’ve completed Stratum 39, 35, and 38. We’ve flown seven survey days, and had a few weather days too. One thing I’m learning about the prairies is that it can be extremely windy! There has been but maybe one day without winds gusting up to thirty knots by the time we get back to our base in Brandon. The survey standard operating procedures (SOP) requires that we begin our surveys not more than an hour after sunrise and transect flying is to be completed by 12:00 noon local time each day. This means some really early mornings for us; especially when we have to cruise for an hour to get to our first lines of the morning. This means a 4:00 am start to check weather, talk with a local weather briefer about current and forecast conditions, file a flight plan, and pre-flight the airplane before takeoff. We try to be in the air around 6:00 to 6:30 am. Wind and visibility conditions are better earlier in the morning, and after fighting the late morning and early afternoon winds for over a week now, I understand the importance of early starts in the prairies. Regardless of some windy days in the prairies we are observing lots of birds. After 31 hours of flying we have counted and identified 10,777 ducks, 797 Canada geese, and 976 American coots! Mallards top the list making up 30% of our observations, followed by: northern shoveler (14%), blue-winged teal (12%), gadwall (9%), canvasback (7%), northern pintail (7%), redheads (6%), American green-winged teal (5%), American wigeon (4%), and small numbers of scaup, bufflehead, ruddy ducks, ring-necked ducks, mergansers, goldeneye, and scoters. You never know what you might see in the prairies and the abundance of ducks to count and identify makes survey days go by in a flash!

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