Pilot biologist Thom Lewis was lost on June 23, 2011 in a fatal aircraft accident. Thom worked as a pilot biologist for the Migratory Bird Program, and had been involved for the past nine years in the May Breeding Population and Habitat Surveys that are documented via the pilot biologist reports found on this website. Thom and his instructor were conducting early morning instructional flights on Eglin Air Force Base near Fort Walton Beach in Okaloosa County, Florida.
Thom grew up and attended high school in Maryland where he became an avid outdoorsman. Thom attended Anne Arundel Community College, University of Maryland, and most recently Texas A & M University where he was a M.S. Candidate working with Whooping Cranes. Since 1992, Thom was the Refuge Biologist at St. Vincent NWR in the Florida panhandle until he joined the Division of Migratory Bird Management as a pilot biologist in 2007. He had a great passion for his work, detailed in his final flight log from just a few weeks ago.
With the Waterfowl Breeding Population and Habitat Survey of Canada and the northern United States complete, many pilot biologists flying those surveys continued northward to survey the various populations of sub-arctic and arctic nesting geese. Pilot biologist Mark Koneff reports on the condition of habitats for the Atlantic Population of Canada Geese. Overall conditions in the Ungava peninsula in northern Quebec are excellent and the survey timing appears to be quite good with respect to the breeding behavior of the geese. Despite harsh mid-Atlantic winter conditions last year, increased numbers of breeding and non-breeding geese were spotted across the survey area.
May Waterfowl survey begins. Photo by Murray Gillespie (Ducks Unlimited Canada).
The first week of May marked the beginning of the 2011 Breeding Population and Habitat Survey, as the first of 12 air crews took to the skies and associated ground crews began their field work. For a first hand account, check out the Pilot Biologist Reports where some great stories and pictures are already flooding in from around Canada and the northern U.S. This is your entree to see what the air crews see as they fly fixed-wing aircraft at low altitude (150 ft) over transect lines through waterfowl habitat areas. Over 55,000 miles of transects are flown every year. That’s like counting ducks in a single line over two times around the world!
A cooperative effort of the United States Fish and Wildlife Service, the Canadian Wildlife Service, and state, provincial, and tribal agencies, this survey currently covers more than 2.1 million square miles of the northern United States and Canada, and includes most of the primary duck nesting areas in North America.
Want to learn more about sea ducks in Alaska and across the globe? Then join scientists from around the world for a stimulating and educational conference on sea duck conservation and research. The Sea Duck Joint Venture (SDJV) has helped sponsor a North American Sea Duck Conference once every three years since 2002. The 4th international conference will be held September 11-16th, 2011 at the Alaska SeaLife Center in Seward. These conferences provide opportunities for researchers, managers, or anyone interested in sea ducks to share information and research results, conduct workshops on specific issues, and to hold related meetings. Field trips to Kenai Fjords are available as well as an evening of entertainment by Mr. White Keys!
When the next Waterfowl Breeding Population and Habitat Survey is conducted in May 2011, many of the pilot biologists will be taking flight with a brand new set of wings. During the 2010 EAA AirVenture aviation show in Oshkosh, Wisconsin, it was revealed that the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service has received nine new Kodiak float planes to replace some of the older, smaller planes that have been used to fly the surveys across North America. According to Jim Wortham, pilot biologist and chief of the migratory bird survey program, the new planes have a high saftey rating and greater performance range, and the new turbine engines will offer greater reliability in the field, increasing the overall efficiency of their misson.
Final results from the 2010 Waterfowl Breeding Population and Habitat Survey are now available. Preliminary reports are confirmed -- a total duck population estimate of nearly 41 million birds in the traditional survey area, which is similar to the 2009 tally and 21 percent above the long term average.
The latest Migratory Bird Hunting Activity and Harvest Report has been released, reporting that over 13.1 million ducks were harvested in the United States during the 2009-2010 waterfowl hunting season, down from 13.6 million from the previous season. The number of harvested geese also decreased somewhat, from about 3.8 million harvested in the 2008-2009 season to 3.3 million harvested nationally in the 2009-2010 season.
In addition to downloading the full report, you can also generate custom harvest trends reports to quickly and easily view the information that is important to you. With these custom reports, you can view harvest trends for a specific species in a specific state; or you can view results for all ducks or all geese on a national level or within a selected flyway; or you can see the total of all ducks and geese at the national level. Results from these custom reports are presented in line graph format to easily illustrate harvest trends from 1961 through 2009. To view harvest activity reports for previous years, visit the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service Migratory Bird Management website.
Preliminary results for the 2010 Waterfowl Breeding Population and Habitat Survey are now available. The estimate of 40.9 million birds is similar to last year’s estimate of 42.0 million, and was 21% above the long-term average. The total pond estimate was 6.7 million, which was similar to last year’s estimate and 34% above the long-term average. Habitat conditions were characterized by average to below-average moisture and a mild winter and early spring across the entire traditional (including the northern locations) and eastern survey areas. Note: Estimates sometimes change between the preliminary numbers and final results.
While the spring waterfowl population survey results are expected to indicate that population sizes of most duck species and breeding habitat conditions are good this year, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service remains "very concerned" about the impacts of of the gulf coast oil spill. With millions of waterfowl and other migratory birds beginning their fall migration to wintering and stopover habitat along the Gulf Coast in just a few weeks, those impacts will continue to be monitored and taken into account when establishing hunting frameworks for the upcoming season.