Waterfowl Banding Blog

The Western Canada Cooperative Waterfowl Banding Program (WCCWBP)

WCCWBP is a long-term, large- scale pre-season waterfowl banding program. The program is a joint effort between the United States Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS), Canadian Wildlife Service (CWS), state and provincial wildlife management agencies, the Flyway Councils, First Nations, and non- governmental waterfowl advocacy and research organizations.

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Every year ducks are banded throughout North America, with increased efforts in the prairie-pothole regions of the United States and Canada. This cooperative effort has been ongoing since the early 1950s. WCCWBP banding data have increased our knowledge of waterfowl population dynamics and helped inform management decisions. Banding and recovery data are a critical input for the annual Adaptive Harvest Management (AHM) process.

Below are detailed accounts from crew leaders out in the field that band in Canada during the month of August each year. This effort consists of eight USFWS- run banding stations throughout the provinces of Manitoba (MB), Saskatchewan (SK), Alberta (AB) and the Northwest Territories (NT) and one Mississippi Flyway- run banding station located in Saskatchewan. All efforts are made to satisfy the banding needs presented in the draft 2013 Banding Needs Assessment. The overall objectives of the banding program are:

  1. Determine the distribution of harvest of birds from various breeding and to define the breeding source of birds harvested in a specific area. This information is developed from band recovery data.
  2. Determine changes that may occur in harvests of various populations. This information is obtained by studying band recovery and/or harvest rates.
  3. Determine a measure of productivity of breeding populations. This information is developed by adjusting age ratios in wing survey data by the relative vulnerability of juveniles and adults from preseason band recovery information.
  4. Determine annual or long-term survival rates of specific populations. This information is obtained by analyzing band recoveries accumulated over a period of years.

The text above was taken from the following report: Yates, S.F. 2014. Western Canada Cooperative Banding Program-Final Report 2014. USFWS. 116 pages.

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Willow Lake, Northwest Territories

Written by Steve Olson

Thursday, September 15, 2016

Trials, Tribulations, and Traditions in the North Country

This was my second crew-leading mission of continuing a 19-year duck banding operation at Willow Lake, Northwest Territories, Canada.  This location is the furthest north (290 miles south of the Arctic Ocean and 53 miles west of Great Bear Lake) of all duck banding stations, and arguably the most remote.  The two closest towns (Norman Wells and Tulita) are not accessible from a paved road in non-winter months, and Willow Lake is only accessible by jet boat or aircraft. 

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The many skies over the outlet of the Loche River on Willow Lake, NT, Canada. This is the shoreline of our banding camp. Photo Credit: Steve Olson, USFWS.
The many skies over the outlet of the Loche River on Willow Lake, NT, Canada.  This is the shoreline of our banding camp.  Photo Credit: Steve Olson, USFWS.

The Willow Lake banding station has traditionally been run by waterfowl biologists (USFWS and NT's Environment and Natural Resources) who hired banding technicians from the local village of Tulita.  This unique cooperation has forged a connection of two very different worlds.  I arrive with all the experiences and education to successfully collect data on trapped ducks, and the banding technicians arrive with all the experiences and knowledge of surviving in the bush.  They provide the observations and questions and I provide the biological explanation.  This is what is unique about this station; an opportunity for both entities to live with and learn from each other, all while trapping and banding ducks.

Jim Bredy, Antoine Horassi, and Philip Clement (left to right) banding Northern Pintails during our final day banding in particularly cold, rainy, and windy conditions on Willow Lake, NT, Canada. Photo Credit: Steve Olson, USFWS.
Jim Bredy, Antoine Horassi, and Philip Clement (left to right) banding Northern Pintails during our final day banding in particularly cold, rainy, and windy conditions on Willow Lake, NT, Canada.  Photo Credit: Steve Olson, USFWS.

This year, James Bredy, or just Jim or Bredy (as most know him), was also able to join us on what could be his final duck banding assignment.  Jim has been a duck-centric maniac and a professional duck chaser and bander for the better part of four decades.  Jim's focus on waterfowl began when he was a child and first saw Canada geese flying over his head.  He embraced that moment and has followed his dream to become a pilot biologist with the Division of Migratory Birds, affording him the opportunity to follow waterfowl from their winter range in Mexico all the way to the far reaches of Arctic Canada and Alaska, and every mile in between.   Jim's passion for waterfowl runs so deep that he even once convinced Humboldt State University that his middle name was "Duckboy" and subsequently had to reverse that claim upon graduating.  Jim was an invaluable crew member this year.  His questions and attention to detail provided very productive dialogue which undoubtedly increased our catch rates.  His old man (62 year-old) energy was also contagious, and something that was much needed this year, especially because we were the only two souls in camp for the first 12 days.  Jim and I had our work cut out for us, but we did the best we could, the most we could, and at the end of the day still smiled as we finished after-dinner chores and casted a line or two from camp.  Jim told me many times that he had not been this happy banding ducks since he was last in the bush ~20 years ago.

Proof that James “Duck Boy” Bredy actually attended Humboldt State University. Photo Credit: Jim Bredy, USFWS.
Proof that James “Duck Boy” Bredy actually attended Humboldt State University.  Photo Credit: Jim Bredy, USFWS.

Jim Bredy tossing grain after we cut out a feeding hole on Willow Lake, NT, Canada. Photo Credit: Steve Olson.
Jim Bredy tossing grain after we cut out a feeding hole on Willow Lake, NT, Canada.  Photo Credit: Steve Olson.

My banding technicians from Tulita were Philip Clement and Antoine Horassi.  Both had literally grown up in the bush.   Willow Lake, residing along the Loche River in the Mackenzie River Valley and Sahtu Settlement area of the Northwest Territories has a long history of hunting, including waterfowl hunting.  So much so, that some of the "Willow Lake People" had settled on the north end of Willow Lake hundreds of years ago because of the area's abundance of game and fish.  The navigable waters enabled them to reach other settlements such as Tulita and beyond.  In those days, Tulita was the natural rendezvous location for the Willow Lake, Mackenzie River, and Mountain People.  The settlement at the north end of Willow Lake is appropriately called "Willow Lake," and cabins still exist.  Most of the original cabins are gone, but newer, up-to-date cabins with internet, cell phone boosters, and satellite TV's are rumored to be increasingly common.  A church Bern Will Brown built is also no longer standing.  Currently, there are no year-round residents at Willow Lake, but many make trips from Tulita in the spring for waterfowl hunting, and in the fall and early winter for trapping, fishing, and hunting.  The countless spring hunting stories Philip told me reminded me of an old Ted Wesley song, "Spring Hunting", and I finally fully understand the lyrics. 

"That spring and the snow is a meltin'.
That warm midnight sun starts to shine.
And everyone's goin' up river,
To celebrate spring hunting time.
So boil up some tea,
And save a place for me."

We were here to band ducks, and band ducks we did.  We worked our tails off and banded a total of 1,436 ducks, including Northern Pintail (822), Mallard (547), American Green-winged Teal (57), and American Wigeon (10).  The number of ducks caught in 2016 was the 11th best (of 20) and 2% above the long-term average (1,411) at the Willow Lake Banding Site.  If not for five separate predator events at four different trap sites, I have no doubt we would have crushed the all-time record of 2,168. 

Jim Bredy showing off our new experimental traps. They work! Willow Lake, NT, Canada. Photo Credit: Steve Olson.
Jim Bredy showing off our new experimental traps.  They work!  Willow Lake, NT, Canada.  Photo Credit: Steve Olson.

A comparison of our experimental traps (right) vs. old Benning II’s (left) during abnormally hot days. We found the new traps catch Mallards and Northern Pintail even during hot days, when old Benning II traps fail to produce. Willow Lake, NT, Canada. Photo Credit: Steve Olson.
A comparison of our experimental traps (right) vs. old Benning II’s (left) during abnormally hot days.  We found the new traps catch Mallards and Northern Pintail even during hot days, when old Benning II traps fail to produce.  Willow Lake, NT, Canada.  Photo Credit: Steve Olson.

Bush engineering at its finest. A new banding board constructed by Steve Olson with whittled willow sticks and other wood scraps. Willow Lake, NT, Canada. Photo Credit: Steve Olson.
Bush engineering at its finest.  A new banding board constructed by Steve Olson with whittled willow sticks and other wood scraps.  Willow Lake, NT, Canada.  Photo Credit: Steve Olson

Jim Bredy (left) and Steve Olson (right) with a mess of Northern Pintails. Photo Credit: Steve Olson.
Jim Bredy (left) and Steve Olson (right) with a mess of Northern Pintails.  Photo Credit: Steve Olson.

Antoine Horassi (left) and Jim Bredy (right) with a final release of Northern Pintails on Willow Lake, NT, Canada. Photo Credit: Steve Olson.
Antoine Horassi (left) and Jim Bredy (right) with a final release of Northern Pintails on Willow Lake, NT, Canada.  Photo Credit: Steve Olson.

Our time banding in the bush is now over, but our experiences constantly fill my head and have me day-dreaming.  Besides catching ducks, the fishing was phenomenal, and we caught as many pickerel (walleye), jack (pike), and coney (inconnu) as we wanted when not working the marsh.  Jim and I learned a new culture, made friends for life, and have enough stories to fill the imagination of anyone who wishes.  Further, I was able continue my experiences by living in the bush and learning local survival techniques. 

Jim Bredy with his final Mallards banded on Willow Lake, NT, Canada. Photo Credit: Steve Olson.
Jim Bredy with his final Mallards banded on Willow Lake, NT, Canada.  Photo Credit: Steve Olson.

Having flown the   Waterfowl Breeding Population and Habitat Survey this spring with Fred Roetker, knowing it was his last assignment, and now alongside Jim Bredy in likely his last banding assignment, I reflect on the lessons I learned from two living legend Pilot Biologists.  It has truly been a blessing and honor to have worked with both, at the end of their careers.  I gained the invaluable knowledge of our past as waterfowl biologists and have no doubt realized an end of an era of working with two duck heads, who sacrificed so much to get to and remain in a job focused on what they love.  One thing I will always remember from both Fred and Jim was their willingness to embrace my hair brained ideas and improvements to an already successful banding protocol and program.  Like Jim always says, you can't judge an idea until it's tried.  In the last four decades, both have seen many changes in waterfowl behavior, habitat, and management strategies, and losing both to retirement will create an institutional void we will not be able to fill. 

Mills Lake, Northwest Territories

Written by Dave Fronczak

Tuesday, September 13, 2016

You never know what to expect when you first arrive at Mills Lake to begin the banding season.  Yes, we may receive first-hand reports from local residents (“locals”) on water conditions pertaining to the Mackenzie River, last year’s snow conditions from stories about previous winter’s snow machine rides, and this summer’s temperatures and bug reports (i.e., from complaints).  But, in the end, because Mills Lake is fairly remote and inaccessible to boats, it’s usually a guessing game.  This year, after a pleasurable 5 mile airboat ride down the Mackenzie River from the Horn River cabin, we were pleased to see that the water conditions in the lake allowed us to band waterfowl for the entire month. 

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This was a stark contrast to last year where we were only able to band along the Mackenzie River, adjacent to a fairly dried lake/marsh.  Our initial reconnaissance of Mills Lake and its’ marsh indicated small numbers of mallards and even smaller numbers of pintail and green-winged teal within the contiguous stand of emergent vegetation where they find shelter and among the shallow pools that contained natural seeds for their food.  In contrast, there was an abundance of northern shoveler and American wigeon milling about the submergent vegetation throughout the remainder of the lake.  Unfortunately, shoveler and wigeon have a more specialized diet during this time of year and we have not been able to attract them to barley as we are able with other dabblers.

Despite the mixed results of our initial reconnaissance, we ended the season just shy of banding 2000 ducks.  We caught 7 species of waterfowl and an adult male redhead was a first during my tenure at Mills Lake.  The majority of ducks caught were mallards (1590), specifically adult mallards.  We speculated that the mallards caught were a combination of molting ducks that normally visit Mills Lake and of failed nesters from Prairie Canada.  What was abnormal was the fact that we did not see the number of pintail as in the past, until a late push of ducks that came at the end August.  Unfortunately, that last push of birds came too late.  Our total pintail catch was 350 as compared to a previous 5-year average of 800.   A pintail overflight was later confirmed when I later read that they settled at higher latitudes this summer, as indicated by the published USFWS Waterfowl Status report.

As is tradition, the Mills Lake banding crew passed the time by working on preparing for the next day’s catch of ducks, fishing for meals and sport, smoking fresh fish on the homemade smoker, playing cards, and of course listening to ‘ol Randy Bachman Saturday nights on CBC.  One treat we had was that we hosted a group of friends and a family from France who were visiting and who really wanted to “see how duck banders” lived for the month.  We were able to provide fresh pickerel, crackers, garlic roll, and surprising to their liking, canned Easy-Cheese. What a treat!  See you next year friends of Ft. Providence.

Flight of Northern Shovelers, Mills Lake Marsh. Credit: Joseph Sands, USFWS.
Flight of Northern Shovelers, Mills Lake Marsh.  Credit: Joseph Sands, USFWS

Northern pintail, mallard and green-winged teal which are the most frequent species of waterfowl caught in bait traps at Mills Lake. Credit Joseph Sands, USFWS.
Northern pintail, mallard and green-winged teal which are the most frequent species of waterfowl caught in bait traps at Mills Lake.  Credit Joseph Sands, USFWS

Lesser Yellow legs and dowitcher spp. are a common occurrence within Mills Lake Marsh. Credit Joesph Sands, USFWS.
Lesser Yellow legs and dowitcher spp. are a common occurance within Mills Lake Marsh. Credit Joesph Sands, USFWS

Last Mountain Lake, Saskatchewan

Written by Terran Honerkamp

Tuesday, September 7, 2016

Perspective from undergraduate student volunteer, Terran Honerkamp...

Before this month, I had never been out of the country. I had flown before, but never by myself. Needless to say I was a little nervous – excited, but nervous. The trip was uncertain from my first 15 minutes in the airport. In my attempt to check in I discovered my flight had been canceled and I would have to try again tomorrow. So, the next day, rather sitting in Saskatoon for banding orientation, I was sleeping on a bench in the Minneapolis airport trying to kill a four-hour layover.

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Looking out the airplane window. Photo Credit: Terran Honerkamp.
Looking out the airplane window.  Photo Credit:  Terran Honerkamp.

Growing up in Nebraska, I had always thought I knew flat, but that was before I started traveling through rural Saskatchewan. Wow. Don't get me wrong, the countryside is gorgeous. There is nowhere you get quite the same sky or quite the same sense of vastness as on wide open prairie. But dang, is it flat.

Rural Saskatchewan. Photo Credit: Terran Honerkamp.
Rural Saskatchewan.  Photo Credit:  Terran Honerkamp.

The first few days felt like a tour of the country; meeting locals, taking pictures of every new field, pond, or landmark we saw, my face glued to the window of our truck. I would wade out into the lake as far as I could, reveling in the invulnerability granted by my hip boots. We set up traps and scoped out new sites, anticipation building.

Setting up trap sites with bait. Photo Credit: Terran Honerkamp.
Setting up trap sites with bait.  Photo Credit:  Terran Honerkamp.

We did not get much at first, and tales of 100 ducks in a trap seemed like a far-fetched fantasy. However, the peace did not last long. It wasn't long before we could not fit them all in the catch box. Days became pell-mell adventures in duck chucking and trash talking - a talent we have cultivated over the past couple weeks.

Releasing banded waterfowl. Photo Credit: Elizabeth Rhodes.
Releasing banded waterfowl.  Photo Credit:  Elizabeth Rhodes.

It felt extremely serendipitous that my participation in this banding program should fall on the 100-year milestone of the cooperative migratory bird agreement, and a highlight of the trip was definitely working with our Canadian counterparts. One week was spent working with a group of Canadians monitoring for avian influenza we affectionately dubbed 'the blood suckers' - for whom I served as humble data jockey - and another week was spent with various tag-along employees from the Last Mountain Lake Wildlife Area. I never thought I would learn so much about Canadians, eh? (I don't mean to poke fun, sorry, but I’ve watched Corner Gas, so I feel like I've earned a Saska-pass.)

Saskatchewan skyline. Photo Credit: Terran Honerkamp.
Saskatchewan skyline.  Photo Credit:  Terran Honerkamp.

We are in the final stretch now - we start tearing down traps on Sunday- and I'm not sure quite how I feel about it. Am I tired? Sure. I imagine everyone across all our sites are starting to feel it by now. Do I miss my friends, family, and my own bed? Of course. Am I ready to go back to school?......Probably? I don't know, as my crew leader would say "the jury's still out" on that one. Am I ready to say goodbye to the ducks and days spent outside? I don't think so.

Last Mountain crew with duck. Photo Credit: Elizabeth Rhodes.
Last Mountain crew with duck.  Photo Credit:  Elizabeth Rhodes.

Before this month, I had never touched a duck. I had never felt the feather sheathed breast of a blue winged teal, or ran my fingers across the wide sweeping tertials of an adult mallard. I had never been so close to a duck's tongue that I could separate the individual barbs and rough edges used for feeding. I had never been able to spread scaled toes and rub the supple webbing stretched between them like dragon wings.

As of now, I have held, banded, and released over a thousand ducks across twelve different species - not to mention pulling out a few grebes, a couple muskrats, one marbled godwit, an a coyote from our traps [still waiting on a sandhill crane ;-)].

Overall: I dub this experience a positive one, and I can't wait to put it on my resume. (Not so sure about asking Walt Rhodes for a recommendation though.)

Crew Leader, Walt Rhodes, cat napping on the way home after a long day. Photo Credit: Vincent Griego, USFWS
Crew Leader, Walt Rhodes, cat napping on the way home after a long day.  Photo Credit:  Vincent Griego, USFWS

Yorkton, Saskatchewan

Written by James Whitaker

Sunday, September 4, 2016

The Yorkton crew has finished up the 2016 banding season with an outstanding year, banding over 6,000 ducks. The crew has banded 11 different species with Blue-winged teal making up the majority; followed by Mallard, Redhead, Canvasback, Gadwall, American Green-winged teal, Ring-necked Duck, Northern Shoveler, Northern Pintail, American Wigeon, and Ruddy Duck.

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We have all greatly enjoyed our time banding here in the prairies of Saskatchewan and participating in the Western Canada Cooperative Waterfowl Banding Program. I am very grateful to have had the opportunity to serve as the crew leader of the Yorkton banding station this season and to have had such a dedicated hard working crew. I will carry the memories from this banding season with me for many years to come.

Owen Best (Mississippi Flyway Council banding technician) holding a banded Northern Pintail. Photo Credit: James Whitaker, LADWF.
Owen Best (Mississippi Flyway Council banding technician) holding a banded Northern Pintail. Photo Credit: James Whitaker, LADWF.

Thomas Harms (Alabama Dept. of Conservation and Natural Resources) holding a banded Mallard. Photo Credit: James Whitaker, LADWF.
Thomas Harms (Alabama Dept. of Conservation and Natural Resources) holding a banded Mallard.  Photo Credit:  James Whitaker, LADWF.

James Whitaker (Louisiana Dept. of Wildlife and Fisheries) about to release 2 banded mallards. Photo Credit: James Whitaker, LADWF.
James Whitaker (Louisiana Dept. of Wildlife and Fisheries) about to release 2 banded mallards.  Photo Credit:  James Whitaker, LADWF.

Last Mountain Lake, Saskatchewan

Written by Jay Hitchcock

Wednesday, August 24, 2016

Duck report from a ‘southern duck boy’ banding ducks around Last Mountain Lake in south -central Saskatchewan:  wish I hunted the Gulf Coast of Louisiana or Texas this year!  Blue-winged teal appear to be plentiful and are fattening up in preparation for their early departure to Gulf Coastal areas in which they will spend the next several months before returning to The Great White North.  Although we have tried to locate and trap all species of ducks, in just over two weeks, teal have comprised over 3,000 of our approximate 3,900 total ducks banded.

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Having spent most of my life in mallard wintering areas of the Mississippi Flyway, I never realized how big a mallard duck actually is, or maybe the 3,000+ teal that I have held in my hand over the last few weeks has distorted my perception.  I will never forget that first trap I walked up on with this HUGE bird swimming around in it with all these little teal…how did that goose get in there?  Where did this bird come from?  As I got closer I could see a hint of green coming from its head and that unforgettable drake mallard bill color!  Finally!  Maybe there will actually be some ducks like that that will spend their winter in my neck of the woods of Arkansas.  Despite our lack of success at banding mallards at this site, not all hope is lost for us that like to see mallards on their wintering areas.  There still seems to be an abundance of water on the southern Saskatchewan landscape, which typically means good numbers of mallards in wintering areas of the Mississippi Flyway. 

For a duck enthusiast like myself, I count it a blessing to work for an agency such as the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and have the opportunity to go on work details such as this!  It was not an easy decision for me to leave my family and my primary work duties for a month, but the memories I have made and the things I have learned are sure to last a life time.  

Jay Hitchcock (USFWS) and Vince Griego (USFWS) banding our first adult mallards on August 18, 2016. Photo Credit: Elizabeth Rhodes.
Jay Hitchcock (USFWS) and Vince Griego (USFWS) banding our first adult mallards on August 18, 2016.  Photo credit:  Elizabeth Rhodes

A side-by-side comparison of a redhead (top) and canvasback (bottom) duck. Photo credit: Jay Hitchcock, USFWS.
A side-by-side comparison of a redhead (top) and canvasback (bottom) duck.  Photo credit: Jay Hitchcock, USFWS.

Cochin, Saskatchewan

Written by Terry Liddick

Tuesday, August 23, 2016

It has been a particularly unusual year at the Cochin SK banding station. The crew arrived on the 5th of August to find typical conditions. After an apparently dry winter and spring, whereby we had hoped for lower water conditions than the past two years, we found similar conditions to 2014 and 2015. The summer had a fair amount of rain including a 6 foot event just prior to our arrival. All of the sloughs were bank full and water is abundant. We were told one of the sloughs that we used to band a lot of birds on rose 2 feet overnight after the big rain event the week prior.

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Another unusual thing this year is the low number of mallards that are available for banding. After many miles of driving and an aerial reconnaissance, we were unable to locate any large concentrations. It seems as if the mallards that used to be available in this area have now all been replaced with gadwall. We are still banding many of the plentiful blue-winged teal that are around. Blue-winged teal seem to indicate another anomaly that I am not use to seeing at this station.

There is a particular slough that we usually begin seeing several thousand teal staging on for migration around the middle of the month. Their numbers grow daily and then one day when we drove by, they were mostly gone. This year, we are seeing none of the staging and the slough still only holds a few teal. Typically, by the 20th of August the teal numbers in the traps drop significantly and the mallard numbers begin to increase. This year, on the 23rd, we were still banding large numbers of teal every day with only a few mallard encounters in the traps. By this time of the month, we usually begin to see a large number of shore birds show up as they begin to migrate. So far, that has not occurred either.

The weather has been typical this month with some cold, rainy and windy days along with some warm, sunny days. I believe the first week it rained at some point every day. The second week there were nightly thunderstorms. One of the thunderstorms did its best to level a majority of our traps. What is not typical; however, is the higher than normal water level of all the sloughs. One farmer told us that is a result of some draining that is going on of sloughs in the area as well as draining to build new roads for the oil field development.

It has been an unusual year so far here at Cochin. We have a week left and will continue to band whatever ducks we encounter in our traps. We are still hopeful that the blue-wings will move on and the mallards will show up. Harvest has started and the Canada geese are grateful. We are seeing more of them than usual feeding in the pea fields and a larger number of sandhill cranes as well.

Diverse catch ....From left to right, Moriah Boggess (Uni. of NC), Miguel Jimenez (Kern NWR), and Steve Sliwinski, Jr. (Montezuma NWR) holding a redhead, blue-winged teal, ring-necked duck, northern pintail, mallard, and canvasback. Photo Credit: Terry Liddick, USFWS.
Cochin 2016 Crew holding ducks.  Photo Credit:  Terry Liddick,USFWS

Cochin Crew checking the traps. Photo Credits: Terry Liddick,USFWS.
Cochin Crew checking the traps.  Photo Credit:  Terry Liddick,USFWSCochin Crew checking the traps.  Photo Credit:  Terry Liddick,USFWS

Side by side photo op, Cinnamon Teal (left) and Blue-winged Teal (right). Photo Credit: Terry Liddick, USFWS.
Cinnamon Teal (left) and Blue-winged Teal (right).  Photo Credit:  Terry Liddick, USFWS

Trap full of ducks. Photo credit: Terry Liddick, USFWS.
Trap full of ducks.  Photo Credit:  Terry Liddick, USFWS

An American Avocet caught in one of the traps. Photo Credit: Terry Liddick, USFWS
An American Avocet caught in one of the traps.  Photo Credit:  Terry Liddick, USFWS

Brooks, Alberta

Written by Sarah Yates

Tuesday, August 23, 2016

I’m not sure everyone knows what to expect when they sign up to participate in the Western Canada Cooperative Waterfowl Banding Program. Duck banding is actually hard work and Mother Nature can throw quite few hurdles your way throughout the month of August. For the Brooks, Alberta crew one of these hurdles began before we even arrived in the region to band birds.

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Brooks and southeastern Alberta experienced record rainfall this summer. After such a dry winter and spring this was a welcome change, however, it resulted in a record number of mosquitoes and made driving around scouting for banding sites almost impossible our first week! We were lucky not to get stuck in the muck the first few days. Eventually when the skies cleared and the sun came out conditions improved and it was a lot of lugging and hiking traps into suitable locations in the hopes they would produce a lot of ducks. This year we lucked out and mallards were plentiful, especially on some of the larger lakes where hundreds of adult mallards had come to molt their flight feathers. The catch this year has consisted mostly of adult male and female mallards all in various stages of molt. We’ve had some adventures for sure, including mucky roads, cold fronts destroying traps, and hot mosquito filled days banding birds. In fact, the mosquitoes were so bad that many of Brook’s stores ran out of bug dope! Having a good crew makes all the difference when facing such challenges and our crew has been very adaptable and full of great ideas.

We were lucky to work with Environment Canada for over a week sampling blue-winged teal and swabbing birds for Avian Influenza. From left to right: Brendan Ashby , Jamille McLeod, Victor Reyes, (all Environment Canada), Sarah Yates, Jacob Eddy, and Jake Gross (all USFWS). Photo Credit: Jamille McLeod, Environment Canada. Photo Credit: Sarah Yates,USFWS.
Environment Canada Crew & Brooks Crew:  Photo Credit:  Sarah Yates

Traps are set. Photo Credit: Sarah Yates, USFWS.
Traps are set.  Photo credit:  Sarah Yates, USFWS

Success! Photo Credit: Sarah Yates, USFWS.
Waterfowl in Traps.  Photo Credit:  Sarah Yates, USFWS

The art of duck extraction. Photo Credit: Sarah Yates, USFWS.
The art of duck extraction.  Photo credit:  Sarah Yates, USFWS

Executing proper banding technique. Photo Credit: Sarah Yates, USFWS.
Executing proper banding technique.  Photo Credit:  Sarah Yates, USFWS

Who doesn’t love a pintail? Especially one wearing a hat. Photo Credit: Sarah Yates, USFWS.
Holding up a Pintail.  Photo Credit:  Sarah Yates, USFWS

The prairie can be quite stunning. Photo Credit: Sarah Yates, USFWS.
The prairie can be quite stunning.  Photo credit:  Sarah Yates, USFWS

The result of a cold front. Rough day. Photo Credit: Sarah Yates, USFWS.
The result of a cold front. Rough Day.  Photo Credit:  Sarah Yates, USFWS

Yorkton, Saskatchewan

Written by James Whitaker

Tuesday, August 23, 2016

The Yorkton, Saskatchewan crew of 3, are running/checking approximately 25 traps per day at 7 different trapping locations throughout the Yorkton, SK. area. The crew has faced rising water levels at some trapping locations and receding water levels at others. This constant fluctuation in water levels forces the crew to constantly move and reposition traps, which creates extremely long days in the field. Despite the inconsistency with the water levels, the Yorkton crew is having good success with catching and banding waterfowl. Thus far, the crew has banded over 5,000 birds with Blue-winged teal making up the majority followed by Mallards. The Yorkton crew hopes for continued success as the banding season is coming to a close soon.

See latest photos from the Yorkton crew

From left to right (Owen Best, Mississippi Flyway Council; Seth Maddox, AL DCNR; James Whitaker, LADWF) all holding banded Blue-winged teal. Photo Credit: James Whitaker, LADWF
Yorkton Crew holding banded blue-winged teal.  Photo Credit:  James Whitaker, LADWF

Thomas Harms, AL DCNR, holds a male and female mallard. Photo Credit: James Whitaker
Thomas Harms holds a male and female mallard.

Blue-winged teal in traps. Photo Credit: James Whitaker, LADWF
Blue-winged teal in traps.  Photo credit:  James Whitaker, LADWF

Pinehouse, Saskatchewan

Written by Tim Menard

Monday, August 22, 2016

The second season at Pinehouse banding station continues to go well. The 2015 wildfires renewed the nesting conditions in the marsh, and the ducks have responded accordingly. Our mallard numbers are consistent with last year, with our green-winged teal numbers slightly higher. The majority of our birds are juveniles, indicating that they were raised in this marsh, not migrating here as a molting site.

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The higher water (6 inches to 1 foot higher than 2015) makes trapping more challenging, but we’ve still managed to find some good sites within the heart of the marsh. We’ve taken the airboat into the higher elevations, positioning the traps in the flooded sedges and tussock grass. A cold front and rain brought better trapping conditions today. And along with that cold front, the first flights of Canada geese.

Each day begins with our airboat commute on the Churchill River through the boreal forest. We see bald eagles, osprey, merlin falcons and numerous white pelicans. Bears have been more abundant in the last couple of days, including a cinnamon black bear which stood on its hind legs to get a better look at the airboat. That shouldn’t be a hungry bear, as the blueberries are prolific!

We’re ahead of last year’s totals and hope for a good second half of the season. We have plenty of bands, and lots of ducks, but we’re low on fuel and drinking water. Hopefully the wind subsides, allowing us to cross the lake to resupply grain, airboat fuel and water.

The Pinehouse banding crew commemorated the 100th anniversary of the Migratory Bird Treaty Act on August 16th. Please take a moment to learn about this important treaty and its significance to migratory birds across the continent.

Pinehouse banding crew for 2016 from left to right Garrett Wilkerson, Tim Menard, and Fred Roetker (not pictured, Gail Rabalais). The airboat is critical to accessing banding sites at this station.
Pinehouse banding crew 2016

Yorkton, Saskatchewan

Written by James Whitaker

Friday, August 19, 2016

The Yorkton, Saskatchewan crew arrived on the prairies of Saskatchewan on July 31st and begin scouting historic banding locations for potential banding opportunities. Upon arrival, the crew was greeted with 7 tornadoes that damaged property, habitat, and flooded the Yorkton area, nevertheless the crew has persevered with their banding obligations.

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The Yorkton area is once again experiencing above average rainfall for the summer which has created an ample amount of water throughout the landscape, which can create some difficulties when trying to trap and band waterfowl. Despite these obstacles, the Yorkton crew is having success, banding nearly 1,600 birds the first week of trapping with Blue-winged teal making up the majority of the catch followed by Mallards. The crew will continue to trap throughout the month and hopes for continued success.

Flooding within the Yorkton, SK area. Photo credit: James Whitaker, LADWF
Flooding within the Yorkton, SK area.  Photo credit:  James Whitaker, LADWF

Tractor trailer overturned from flood waters. Photo credit: James Whitaker, LADWF
Tractor trailer overturned from flood waters.  Photo credit:  James Whitaker, LADWF

Mallards awaiting their turn for a nice shiny new bracelet! Photo credit: James Whitaker, LADWF
Mallards in trap.  Photo credit:  James Whitaker, LADWF

A crew member holds a banded female mallard. Photo credit: James Whitaker, LADWF
Banded female mallard.  Photo credit:  James Whitaker, LADWF

Outlook for 2016 banding season

Written by Mark Koneff

Monday, August 15, 2016

Water and mud have been the story so far for the 2016 Western Canada Cooperative Banding Program season, at least in our prairie stations. The drier conditions observed across much of the prairies during the aerial survey in May have been erased in many areas following some very wet summer months. A persistent upper level low pressure system has turned the normally sunny, warm and dry August prairie into a quagmire in areas. Particularly hard hit have been areas of western Saskatchewan and eastern Alberta.

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Farmers who looked forward to a bumper crop just a few weeks ago now express concern about whether they will be able to get crops off the fields. Some old timers have indicated that they have never seen it so wet in western Saskatchewan at this time of year. Banding crews have observed abundant broods suggesting a strong late nesting/re-nesting effort. For our banding crews, all this moisture can be challenging. Access can be difficult on muddy/slick section roads and some productive sites are simply not accessible to crews on the ground. The amount of water on the landscape also tends to distribute birds rather than concentrate them. Flooded pea, lentil, and grain fields also attract waterfowl and make bait grain at trap sites less attractive. Finally, in some areas basins that have been recently dry were re-flooded creating access to an abundance of natural foods that again make bait piles less attractive to ducks. Despite the challenges, at least some of our crews are finding and banding birds, and a few cold fronts sweeping out of the western boreal forest will hopefully provide an influx of new birds and provide a little more incentive to take advantage of some free barley at our trapping stations. Finally, in an effort to increase our mallard catch, we are experimenting with some methods we've not used recently on the prairies including bungee-nets and air cannon propelled nets. We've not yet deployed these nets but hope to find suitable locations soon.

The aeiral photos below show how wet the landscape is across western Saskatchewan, which is not typical for this time of year. Photo Credits: Mark Koneff, USFWS.
Aerial photo showing wet conditions just south of N. Battleford.  Photo Credit:  Mark Koneff, USFWSAeiral photo showing wet conditions near Rosetown.  Photo Credit:  Mark Koneff, USFWSAeiral photo showing wet conditions near Rosetown.  Photo Credit:  Mark Koneff, USFWS

Below are the 2016 Cochin Station Banding Crew from left to right. Miguel Jimenez (Kern NWR Complex), Steve Sliwinski (Montezuma NWR), Terry Liddick (USFWS), Moriah Boggess (Student Volunteer from North Carolina State University). Crew leader, Terry Liddick, is showing the finer points of aging and sexing waterfowl. Photo Credit: USFWS.
2016 Cochin Station Banding Crew

The Kindersley crew truck showing evidence of a very wet landscape. Photo Credit: Nathan Zimpfer, USFWS.
Kindersley Truck showing evidence of a very wet landscape.  Photo Credit:  Nathan Zimpfer, USFWS.

Waterfowl Bands & Management

Written by Joe Sands

Tuesday, September 15, 2015

Joe Sands works as a wildlife biologist focusing on waterfowl and migratory gamebirds within the USFWS' Pacific Northwest. The Pacific Region's website posted an article written by Joe about  waterfowl banding. This was Joe's third year banding at Mills Lake.

Pinehouse, Saskatchewan

Written by Tim Menard

Monday, September 14, 2015

The Pinehouse banding station crew began the season not knowing what to expect from a new location.  Despite low water levels due to an extended drought, the birds and weather cooperated for over 1,000 new bands.   With hatch-year mallards dominating the totals, this location shows potential for the future.  We arrived only two weeks after intense fire activity burned millions of acres in northern Saskatchewan.  The marsh itself burned, but had re-sprouted by our arrival.  Located along a braided channel in the Churchill River, the wetland is surrounded by boreal forest.

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In additional to waterfowl, we saw abundant wildlife every day: white pelicans, bald eagles, osprey, shorebirds, merlin, and beaver.  We regularly saw black bears during our daily airboat commute to and from the marsh.  Not a bad office….and not a bad commute!  This marsh's banding potential was first observed by a U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service pilot-biologist 30+ years ago.  It's fun to work on the first exploratory crew, and to provide some banding data from boreal-nesting waterfowl.  Releasing a newly-banded bird, I wonder….where will that bird spend the winter, and what path will it take to get there?  We have the honor of participating in waterfowl migration, one of the great spectacles of nature!

Churchill River banding site, Saskatchewan. Photo Credit: Tim Menard, USFWS.
Churchhill River banding site, Saskatchewan.  Photo Credit:  Tim Menard, USFWS

Pelicans at sunset, Churchill River Wilderness Camps. Photo Credit: Tim Menard, USFWS.
Pelicans at sunset, Churchill River Wilderness Camps.  Photo Credit:  Tim Menard, USFWS

Churchill River near Gavel Lake. Photo Credit: Tim Menard, USFWS.
Churchill River near Gavel Lake.  Photo Credit:  Tim Menard, USFWS

Pinehouse crew members Gail Rabalais, Garrett Wilkerson and Fred Roetker with 600th mallard. Photo Credit: Tim Menard, USFWS.
Pinehouse crew members Gail Rabalais, Garrett Wilkerson and Fred Roetker with 600th mallard.  Photo Credit:  Tim Menard, USFWS

Willow Lake, Northwest Territories

Written by Steve Olson

Thursday, September 10, 2015

"Tradition and Experiences"
Since I was a child, I would run away, explore, and generally give my parents heartburn.  I was the 2-year old scaling 8 ft. wooden fences to peak and climb over the other side and say hi to my neighbors or explore.  I don't remember these acts, however, my parents do.  Both have separate recollections which I obtained after many years of self-reflection.  So what?  Well, first I find it remarkable I could even climb well at that age.  Secondly, I believe that I was born with this urge to explore.  It certainly wasn't learned, given my mother's reaction to leaving me alone in a closed backyard and finding me absent 10 minutes later.

Of course, now I am grown, but I still think about a lot of my curiosities and decisions as a child, adolescent, and young adult.  It is this type of reflection that has stirred the realization that I was born to explore, and further, born to be banding ducks for the Western Canada Cooperative Banding Program in the Canadian "Bush" country.

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This year, I embarked on my first crew-leading mission of continuing an 18-year duck banding operation at Willow Lake, Northwest Territories (NT), Canada.  This location is the furthest north (290 miles south of the Arctic Ocean and 53 miles west of Great Bear Lake) of all duck banding stations, and arguably the most remote.  The two closest towns (Norman Wells and Tulita) are not accessible from a paved road in non-winter months, and Willow Lake is only accessible by jet boat or aircraft. 

The Willow Lake banding station has traditionally been run by waterfowl biologists (U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service and NT's Environment and Natural Resources) who hired banding technicians from the local village of Tulita.  This unique cooperation has forged a connection of two very different worlds.  I arrive with all the experiences and education to successfully collect data on trapped ducks, and the banding technicians arrive with all the experiences and knowledge of the bush.  They provide the observations and questions and I provide the biological explanation.  This is this station's uniqueness; an opportunity for both entities to live with and learn from each other, all while trapping and banding ducks.

My banding technicians from Tulita were Philip Clemente and Gordon Yakeleya.  Both had literally grown up in the bush.   Willow Lake, residing along the Loche River in the Mackenzie River Valley and Sahtu Settlement area of the Northwest Territories has a long history of hunting, including waterfowl hunting.  So much so, that some of the "Willow Lake People" had settled on the north end of Willow Lake hundreds of years ago because of the area's abundance of game and fish.  The navigable waters enabled them to reach other settlements such as Tulita and beyond.  In those days, Tulita was the natural rendezvous location for the Willow Lake, Mackenzie River, and Mountain People.  The settlement at the north end of Willow Lake is appropriately called "Willow Lake,"  and cabins still exist.  Most of the original cabins are gone, but newer, up-to-date cabins with internet, cell phone boosters, and satellite TV's are rumored to be increasingly common.  A church Bern Will Brown built is also no longer standing.  Currently, there are no year-round residents at Willow Lake, but many make trips from Tulita in the spring for waterfowl hunting, and in the fall and early winter for trapping, fishing, and hunting.  The countless spring hunting stories Philip told me reminded me of an old Ted Wesley song, "Spring Hunting," and I finally fully understood the lyrics. 

We were here to band ducks, and band ducks we did.  We worked our tails off and banded a total of 1,898 ducks, including Northern Pintail (1,151), Mallard (531), American Green-winged Teal (129), American Wigeon (82), Blue-winged Teal (4), and Mallard cross Northern Pintail Hybrid (1).  The number of ducks caught in 2015 was the 4th best (of 19) and 37% above the long-term average (1,383) at the Willow Lake Banding Site.  If not for a family of mink that terrorized our largest and best trapping site during peak catch days, I have no doubt we would have crushed the all-time record of 2,168. 

Our time banding in the bush is now over, but our experiences constantly fill my head and have me day-dreaming daily.  Besides catching ducks, the fishing was phenomenal, and we caught as many pickerel (walleye), jack (pike), and coney (Inconnu) as we wanted when not working the marsh.  I learned a new culture, made a friend for life, and have enough stories to fill the imagination of anyone who wishes.  Further, I was able to check another experience off my bucket list by living in the northern bush and learning the local techniques to survive there. 

Every time I was challenged on this mission, I made a conscious effort to remind myself what I was doing.  "Here I am" was constant reminder how fortunate I was to be experiencing these moments, and fortunate enough to convince banding coordinators that I was born for this.

The outlet of the Loche River on Willow Lake, NT, Canada. The banding camp is barely visible on the first bend of the river. Photo Credit: Steve Olson.
The outlet of the Loche River on Willow Lake, NT, Canada.  The banding camp is barely visible on the first bend of the river.  Photo Credit: Steve Olson.

Philip Clemente and Gordon Yakeleya (banding technicians from the village of Tulita) carrying the catch box to traps on Willow Lake, NT, Canada. Photo Credit: Steve Olson.
Philip Clemente and Gordon Yakeleya (banding technicians from the village of Tulita) carrying the catch box to traps on Willow Lake, NT, Canada.  Photo Credit: Steve Olson.

Traffic jam! A larger catch of Mallard and Northern Pintail in traps used on Willow Lake, NT, Canada. Photo Credit: Steve Olson.
Traffic jam!  A larger catch of Mallard and Northern Pintail in traps used on Willow Lake, NT, Canada. Photo Credit: Steve Olson.

Some of Steve Olson’s favorite ducks, the Northern Pintail (top) and a Mallard X Northern Pintail hybrid (bottom), banded at Willow Lake, NT, Canada. Photo Credit: Philip Clemente.
Some of Steve Olson’s favorite ducks, the Northern Pintail (top) and a Mallard X Northern Pintail hybrid (bottom), banded at Willow Lake, NT, Canada.  Photo Credit: Philip Clemente.

Philip Clemente (left) and Gordon Yakeleya (both banding technicians from the village of Tulita) holding three of the only four Blue-winged Teal banded at Willow Lake, NT, Canada. Photo Credit: Steve Olson.
Philip Clemente (left) and Gordon Yakeleya (both banding technicians from the village of Tulita) holding three of the only four Blue-winged Teal banded at Willow Lake, NT, Canada. Photo Credit: Steve Olson.

A female Mallard with very nice colors on Willow Lake, NT, Canada. Photo Credit: Steve Olson.
A female Mallard with very nice colors on Willow Lake, NT, Canada. Photo Credit: Steve Olson.

The 2015 Willow Lake banding crew releasing the last of their banded ducks (Northern Pintail and American Green-winged Teal) of the season. From left: Philip Clemente (banding technician from the village of Tulita), Steve Olson (USFWS-DMBM), and Gordon Yakeleya (banding technician from the village of Tulita). Willow Lake, NT, Canada. Photo Credits: Steve Olson.
The 2015 Willow Lake banding crew holding the last of their banded ducks (Northern Pintail and American Green-winged Teal) of the season.  From left: Philip Clemente (banding technician from the village of Tulita), Steve Olson (USFWS-DMBM), and Gordon Yakeleya (banding technician from the village of Tulita).  Willow Lake, NT, Canada. Photo Credits: Steve Olson.
The 2015 Willow Lake banding crew releasing the last of their banded ducks (Northern Pintail and American Green-winged Teal) of the season.  From left: Philip Clemente (banding technician from the village of Tulita), Steve Olson (USFWS-DMBM), and Gordon Yakeleya (banding technician from the village of Tulita).  Willow Lake, NT, Canada. Photo Credits: Steve Olson.

Willow Lake banding camp sits along the Loche River, NT, Canada. Photo Credits: Steve Olson.
Willow Lake banding camp sits along the Loche River, NT, Canada.  Photo Credits: Steve Olson. Willow Lake banding camp sits along the Loche River, NT, Canada.  Photo Credits: Steve Olson.

Enjoying a late evening rainbow after a brief rain shower at Willow Lake duck banding camp, NT, Canada. Photo Credit: Steve Olson.
Enjoying a late evening rainbow after a brief rain shower at Willow Lake duck banding camp, NT, Canada. Photo Credit: Steve Olson.

Driving up the Loche River to the traditional settlement of Willow Lake on Willow Lake, NT, Canada. Photo Credit: Steve Olson.
Driving up the Loche River to the traditional settlement of Willow Lake on Willow Lake, NT, Canada. Photo Credit: Steve Olson.

A lone black wolf investigates one of the banding sites after it was picked up on the last day on Willow Lake, NT, Canada. Photo Credit: Steve Olson.
A lone black wolf investigates one of the banding sites after it was picked up on the last day on Willow Lake, NT, Canada. Photo Credit: Steve Olson.

Mills Lake, Northwest Territories

Written by Dave Fronczak

Wednesday, September 2, 2015

Since 2005, I have had the privilege of being the crew leader at the most unique bush camp for the August preseason waterfowl banding program.   The camp itself was originally established by Canadian Wildlife Service (CWS) biologists in the late 50's and then continued by a series of American law conservation enforcement agents in the 60's.  The original cabin that housed those early pioneers floated away during a spring flood some time ago and now serves as our storage shed for banding gear some 100 yards behind the current camp. 

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In the 70's, pilot biologists from the Migratory Bird Survey (formally known as Waterfowl Population Survey) inherited the responsibility of banding ducks at Mills Lake.  Those names of the past are engraved on both the original CWS cabin door and the first generation's door of the cabin where we reside.  Most of these names are of retired pilot-biologists and biologists whom have shown their passion for waterfowl through their work and have made significant impacts to the art of managing waterfowl populations over the decades.  For that reason, I am proud to follow in their footsteps.

The Mills Lake crew does not live in the lap of luxury as some of our prairie crew counterparts.  We dwell in a primitive cabin that has an outhouse, no running water or electricity, 1 channel of CBC and the constant familiar hum of mosquitos, black flies, and moose flies constantly trying their best to take a piece of you.  However, being 40 minutes by boat down the Mackenzie River has its privileges.  For one, silence IS a virtue.   We do not have to endure the constant commotions of truck and car noise from the highways of the big Canadian prairie towns.  Over the years while banding at Mills Lake, we found that the little things that comfort the soul are a hearty snack of cheese-wiz and Ritz crackers, bits from garlic rolls, walleye fillets, and a tasty beverage here and there after a hard days work in the marsh.  The most important reason for wanting to be a part of Mills Lake camp is the daily visit to the Mills Lake marsh itself.  Via airboat, we have the ability to band waterfowl in an isolated part of a 10 x 15 mile lake in the middle of nowhere that only bison, cranes, snipe, multitudes of shore birds, geese and ducks call home.   I forgot to mention that the fishing is satisfying in its own rights.

This year was a challenge for the Mills Lake crew with low water and weather affecting our banding efforts.  Despite these challenges, we were still able to band a reasonable amount of ducks for the short period that we were out there (1284 ducks and 1 coot).   As always, we appreciate the services that the Ft. Providence, Northwest Territories' community provides in order for us to get the job done.  I really appreciate and reflect on the friendly visits we periodically are able to make, which ultimately ends up in brain storming sessions resolving our equipment issues.  Take care, Ft. Providence and we will see you next year!

Mills Lake crew residence, Horn River cabin, from the air. Photo Credit: Dave Fronczak, USFWS
Mills Lake crew residence, Horn River cabin, from the air.  Photo Credit:  Dave Fronczak, USFWS

Mills Lake Conditions, normal (2011, top photo) vs. dry conditions (2015, bottom photo). Photo Credit: Dave Fronczak, USFWS
Mills Lake Conditions, Normal (2011) conditions.  Photo Credit:  Dave Fronczak, USFWS Mills Lake Conditions, Dry conditions (2015).  Photo Credit:  Dave Fronczak, USFWS

Mills Lake trap site, normal (2011, top photo) vs dry conditions (2015, bottom photo). Photo credit: Dave Fronczak, USFWS
Trap Site Conditions, Normal (2011) conditions.  Photo Credit:  Dave Fronczak, USFWS Trap Site Conditions, Dry conditions (2015).  Photo Credit:  Dave Fronczak, USFWS

Northern Pintail wing comparison, female (left) vs. male (right). Photo Credit: Dave Fronczak, USFWS
Northern Pintail wing comparison, female (left) vs. male (right).  Photo Credit:  Dave Fronczak, USFWS

One of the reasons I keep coming back...Sunset at Mills Lake. Photo Credit: Dave Fronczak, USFWS
Sunset at Mills Lake. Photo Credit:  Dave Fronczak, USFWS

Visitors that periodically come through camp. Some stay a little too long. Photo Credit: Dave Fronczak, USFWS
Bear at Camp. Photo Credit:  Dave Fronczak, USFWS

Wood bison along the Mackenzie River. Photo Credit: Dave Fronczak, USFWS
Wood bison along Mackenzie River. Photo Credit:  Dave Fronczak, USFWS

Yorkton, Saskatchewan

Written by James Whitaker

Monday, August 24, 2015

The Yorkton Crew is wrapping things up for the 2015 Banding Season. We have banded a total of 3,757 ducks with 7 different species encountered. The primary species banded has been Blue-winged Teal, followed by Redhead, Mallard, Canvasback, Green-winged Teal, Ring-necked duck, and Northern Pintail.

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We have experienced pleasant weather throughout the month of August, with the exception of a few warm days and a few cold days. We have all greatly enjoyed our time here in Yorkton and participating in the Western Canada Cooperative Banding Program. We encourage anyone who has the opportunity to participate with this program to do so, you won’t regret it.

Ethan Massey (Louisiana Dept of Wildlife & Fisheries) banding a Canvasback. Photo Credit: James Whitaker, LADWF
Ethan Massey (LADWF) banding a Canvasback.  Photo Credit: James Whitaker, LADWF

James Whitaker (Louisiana Dept of Wildlife & Fisheries) banding a Redhead. Photo Credit: James Whitaker
 James Whitaker banding a Redhead.  Photo Credit: James Whitaker, LADWF

Jeff Lawson (Arkansas Game and Fish Commission) with a banded Blue-winged Teal. Photo Credit: James Whitaker, LADWF
 Jeff Lawson (Arkansas Game and Fish Commission) with a banded Blue-winged Teal.  Photo Credit: James Whitaker, LADWF

Kindersley, Saskatchewan

Written by Nathan Zimpher

Monday, August 24, 2015

This year I have the privilege of working with an all northeast crew. Learning to band myself in the Northeast, you get really good at identifying and ageing and sexing of mallards, black ducks, and wood ducks during preseason banding. Banding in the Prairies is a whole different ball game. One can catch almost anything at any time here, with some exceptions. So far this year, we’ve encountered 9 species in 14 days of trapping, including the ubiquitous mallard. Sometimes our biggest challenge is just figuring out what we have in hand since our frame of reference is waterfowl in breeding plumage, and everything is still in eclipse plumage. It doesn’t matter what the weather is or how long you’ve been in a truck, anytime you catch 5 ruddy ducks in one trap, a species I’ve only observed through spotting scopes, makes for a pleasant day.

Last Mountain Lake, Saskatchewan

Written by Jaime Bruffy

Saturday, August 22, 2015

"Do anything, but let it produce joy" – Walt Whitman

This is my second year helping the USFWS Migratory Bird Program at Last Mountain Lake in Watrous, Saskatchewan.  We are a three-crew-member team this year as appose to most years when they have had four crew members. The crew is comprised of crew leader Walt Rhodes – Flyway/Pilot Biologist in Oregon, myself – Biological Science Technician at Ouray NWR in Utah, and Alisha Haken - Wildlife Refuge Specialist at Minnesota Valley NWR and WMD.  With being one person down it has really pushed us outside of our "comfort zones" and made us work together as a more cohesive and efficient machine.

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I have learned how to work and communicate with private landowners who may or may not have heard about our program.  Our crew leader has informed and educated local individuals about our initiative.  A casual stop in the local bakery can conjure up a conversation about our purpose.  These types of conversations lead to local knowledge of the landscape. Before you know it, they willingly let us use their land to help us with our objectives.  They often remember us from just seeing us in passing.  They know to look for us each year around harvest time and they are excited to see us.  We are recognized as the "Duck Banders."  The relationships that are made through this program last for years to come and build even more year after year.  Not only do these relationships become professional, but personal as well.  My boss, Diane Penttila, helped with this program in the early 1990s and still keeps in touch with some of the landowners that helped out her crew.

Being able to come up here to not only do something that most of us think of doing when we sign up to work in the wildlife biology field is amazing in itself.  I enjoy getting hands-on experience handling and identifying various waterfowl species.  This experience is so much more than about banding.  I am constantly being pushed outside of my comfort zone both physically and mentally.  My crew leader has exceptional leadership skills and patience that I would like to possess someday.  By the end of this amazing month-long journey I have made long lasting friendships, improved my communications skills, handled and banded my bucket list species (wood duck), been challenged with classic rock trivia, and learned to successfully locate, trap, identify, and band our target waterfowl species.

Talking ducks with private landowners. (Left to right: Jaime Bruffy, Glen Goodsman, Walt Rhodes and Gary Goodsman.) Photo taken by: Alisha Haken, USFWS
Last Mountain Lake Crew talking with landowners. Photo Credit Alisha Haken, USFWS

Last Mountain Lake Crew holding Mallards (USFWS employees left to right: Alisha Haken, Walt Rhodes and Jaime Bruffy) Photo Taken by: Alisha Haken, USFWS
Last Mountain Lake Crew holding mallards. Photo Credit Alisha Haken, USFWS

Jaime Bruffy (USFWS) with an American black duck at a trapping site in Last Mountain Lake. Photo Taken by: Alisha Haken, USFWS
Jaime Bruffy (USFWS) with an American block duck at a trapping site in Last Mountain Lake. Photo Credit Alisha Haken, USFWS

Last Mountain Lake, Saskatchewan

Written by Alisha Haken

Saturday, August 22, 2015

This is my first year on the Last Mountain Lake banding crew.  I am often referred to as the "Rookie," as I am "the new kid on the block."  However, I have excitedly jumped in both feet first!

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Saskatchewan is a beautiful place and is known as "Land of Living Skies!"  The horizon here is wider than the eye can see and constantly changing; each day provides a new perspective. Throughout my time here, we have seen the skies boast various cloud formations, rainbows, crystal clear air, and even the northern lights.  We have had the joy of seeing all types of wildlife including:  badger, fox, coyotes, mule deer, moose, white-tailed deer, elk, sharp-tailed grouse, meadowlarks, bald eagles, gray partridge, horned larks, merlin, muskrats, and many others.

Looking west over Last Mountain Lake. Photo taken by: Alisha Haken, USFWS
Looking West over Last Mountain Lake. Photo Credit Alisha Haken, USFWS

The first week we established our trapping sites, flew over the area to locate large groups of loafing waterfowl, repaired old traps, built new traps, and set our traps at six different sites.  We were welcomed to the prairie country with rain showers that provided great views of storm fronts across the horizon.

Flying high over Last Mountain Lake (Left: Alisha Haken, USFWS and Right: Jaime Bruffy, USFWS). Photo taken by: Alisha Haken, USFWS
Flying high over Last Mountain Lake. Photo Credit Alisha Haken, USFWS

Week two offered steady numbers of birds to band and even an unusual catch of nuisance predators, four coyote pups.  We released them from the trap unharmed and immediately set up an electric fence along the shoreline to prevent future occurrences.  On our recon flight we discovered a pond with easy access that held hundreds of birds, the only issue was that it was on private land. After some investigation on who owned the land and a visit with the private landowner a new banding site was born!  The relationships and partnerships made over a common purpose of conserving the resource are treasured and delicate.

Throughout the third week we were able to handle some of the unique or rarer species caught at Last Mountain Lake, such as a wood duck, American black duck, American wigeon, canvasback, Northern shoveler, and a mallard X American black duck hybrid.  Additionally, we have also caught a few non-target species, such as American coot, eared grebe, pied-billed grebe, and a fierce lesser snow goose.

Alisha Haken (USFWS) with a feisty snow goose that was caught and released. Photo taken by: Walt Rhodes, USFWS
Alisha Haken with a feisty snow goose that was caught and released. Photo Credit Walt Rhodes, USFWS

Throughout this fourth and final week we continue to band a steady number of birds.  In comparison to years past, the amount of birds caught are fewer.  However, interestingly we have caught a greater number of American green-winged teal than usual. As of today, we have banded a total 2,255 ducks. We will finish up the week by tearing down our trap sites and preparing and repairing equipment for next year.

"Far and away the best prize that life has to offer is the chance to work hard at work worth doing."  -Theodore Roosevelt

There is joy and self-satisfaction earned from working hard and putting in a long day of honest labor for a program and initiative that is truly worth the effort.  The days get long and the weeks get longer, however, time FLIES when you are having fun!  It is hard work, but totally worth every minute of it.  With that being said, our crew makes the time spent together even more enjoyable.  We laugh, listen to great music, give each other a hard time, and motivate each other to perform at our best!  Our crew leader encourages and rewards a strong work ethic and strives for A+ quality work.  No matter how tedious the task or minuscule the assignment, attention to detail, desire to excel, and a smile are always at the forefront.  I am so grateful for the opportunity to learn and soak up such leadership skills.

Releasing an immature male Blue-wing Teal after banding. Photo taken by: Alisha Haken, USFWS
Releasing an immature Blue-wing Teal after banding. Photo Credit Alisha Haken, USFWS

The time away from the everyday grind and family allows oneself to really think about the important things.  Being pulled away from the administrivia of the day-to-day routine is refreshing and resets the mind.  An adventure like this not only teaches new things but helps to focus in on the important tasks when returning back to our stations.  If you are hesitant about an adventure like this because of a busy schedule or family or if you are a supervisor with reservations about sending your staff, please take into consideration the magnitude of benefits from an experience like this!  It is worth every minute of it and I am incredibly grateful to have had this opportunity!

Alisha Haken (USFWS) with Gadwall ducklings. Photo taken by: Jaime Bruffy, USFWS
Alisha Haken with Gadwall Ducklings. Photo Credit Jaime Bruffy, USFWS

Upon further reflection of this experience, it is evident that this has been incredibly rewarding both personally and professionally! Everyday entails lessons on waterfowl identification, behavior, and ecology. It's a once in a lifetime experience that has taught me about more than just waterfowl. I will walk away from this adventure with a greater knowledge of leadership, establishing crew cohesiveness, logistical planning, and the value of building partnerships and relationships with others, especially private landowners. Not to mention, the camaraderie alone that has been built among our crew is priceless and hopefully everlasting!

Brooks, Alberta

Written by Tony Roberts

Thursday, August 20, 2015

Most of us get into the wildlife biology field because of our love of the outdoors and experiencing wildlife, whether through bird-watching, hunting, or just observing and experiencing nature. Often in our daily jobs we are working to solve wildlife biology (and the world’s) problems from behind a desk or meeting with people. So, a month banding ducks in Alberta is not a bad thing!

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The Brooks, Alberta station is staffed with three U.S. Fish and Wildlife employees; Tony Roberts works for the Atlantic Flyway based in Maryland, Chris Kane works for Migratory Birds in the northeast (Region 5), and Steven Rimer works for Refuges in the south (Region 2), in the Texas panhandle. For a while we also enjoyed the help of Kammie Kruse, new migratory bird biologist in Region 2 out of Albuquerque, NM. Many of the most productive sites in previous years are dry, so we have spent a bit of time getting to know the area and find new sites. Our efforts have been worth it as we have banded about 900 ducks to date, well over half of which are mallards, our target species. Some of the most interesting birds are the recaptures from previous years. We have caught about 30 birds previously banded. Typically birds from the Brooks area supply both the Pacific and Central flyways with birds and we have seen that in the recaptures. Many were banded in this area in previous years, showing the site fidelity of some birds, particularly breeding females. Some mallards were banded as breeding adults in places such as Grand Forks, Montana, Sauvie Island, Oregon, and San Francisco Bay, California. A couple male mallards were at least 10 years old!

It’s a pleasure to get in the field and handle birds, something I don’t get to do near as often as I imagined when I started working towards being a wildlife biologist. We are looking to close out the banding season strong then follow the ducks south to our home bases.

Brooks Banding Crew hard at work. The tall cylinder in the middle of the photo is what some call a banding carousel, which is used to hold bands in chronological order. Credit: Tony Roberts.
Brooks Crew Banding Ducks Photo Credit, Tony Roberts, USFWS

Sometimes, we catch things other than ducks in our traps! Credit: Tony Roberts, USFWS.
Tony Roberts holding a fish caught in one of the duck traps. Credit, Tony Roberts, USFWS

After hours, the crew enjoys an outing to Brooks Mediveal Faire. Credit: Tony Roberts, USFWS.
Brooks 2015 Banding Crew at Brooks Mediveal Faire Photo Credit, Tony Roberts, USFWS

Yorkton, Saskatchewan

Written by James Whitaker

Wednesday, August 19, 2015

We have a three man crew that is running/checking approximately 24 traps per day, which encompasses about a 100 mile loop around the Yorkton, SK. area. The Yorkton station is nestled in the heart of the prairie region of Saskatchewan. We are fortunate every day to see an abundance of wildlife while working in the prairies. Not only do we see vast amounts of waterfowl, but we have also seen badgers, mink, foxes, coyotes, deer, moose and much more.

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We have banded nearly 3,000 ducks thus far in the trapping season. I consider this a great privilege and opportunity to see a new place; participate in a great wildlife management tool; meet new people; and learn new things. I am thankful to have the opportunity to participate in this pre-season waterfowl banding program. I consider it a career goal/dream of mine and I encourage anyone who has the opportunity to participate in this program to take advantage of it. You won’t be disappointed.

Yorkton Banding Crew with Green-winged Teal, Credit: James Whitaker, LADWF.
Yorkton 2015 Crew with American Green-Winged Teal Photo Credit: James Whitaker, LADWF.

Banding Canvasbacks, Credit: James Whitaker, LADWF.
Banding Canvasbacks Photo Credit: James Whitaker, LADWF.

Moose, Credit: James Whitaker, LADWF.
Moose Photo Credit: James Shitaker, LADWF.

Cochin, Saskatchewan

Written by Wade Harrell

Wednesday, August 19, 2015

“Time flies when you are having fun”

The Cochin crew is 3 weeks in and fully staffed! Terry and I were happy to add Chris Cooley, from Savannah Coastal Refuges Complex and Mike Nelson, from Kirwin NWR in Kansas (crew photo below). Both these guys have jumped in and caught on to things quickly. After struggling to get many of our traps up with just 2 of us, having 4 team members makes things go much smoother. One of the more enjoyable parts of this detail is getting to know fellow Fish & Wildlife Service staff members from different parts of the country and different programs. Regardless of where we are from, it always seems like we have many shared interests. I know the four of us will continue to stay in touch long after this year’s banding is complete!

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Weather over the past couple of weeks has been quite variable and challenging at times. We had a couple days of cold, wet and rainy conditions where we were all glad to have brought along quality raingear to a stretch of 4-5 days nearing 90F, awfully hot for this far north! But most of the days have been pleasant, sunny with highs in the upper 60’s (F), perfect for field work. For those of us that spend much of our “day jobs” behind a desk, spending a whole month in the field doing what we all dreamed of when we started our career is quite rewarding.

Okay, I’ll quit rambling and get down to the “duck report”. As of today, the Cochin crew has banded a total of 2,890 ducks, comprising 13 species. Right now, we are running 20 traps over 4 sites. Blue-winged teal has been by far our most abundant species, with seemingly high numbers at all of our banding locations this year. While mallards are our second most abundant species, we haven’t trapped and banded as many as we would like, given that they are our target species (photo below of adult male/female mallard wings). We’ve located good numbers of mallards at our trap sites, but so far they have eluded trapping compared to blue-winged teal. Thirty-one of the ducks that we have trapped were banded in previous years, with the 2 furthest travelers being a blue-winged teal banded in Louisiana and a mallard banded in Kentucky. The oldest recapture was a blue-winged teal banded in August 2010 as an adult, making it likely > 6 years old. The information we get on recaptured birds is always intriguing and continues to help the Fish & Wildlife Service and our partners build our understanding of waterfowl ecology.

In closing, I would encourage any of my fellow Fish & Wildlife staff members to step up in the future for this detail. I think you will find it to be a great way to spend your August—remembering why we work in the wildlife conservation field!

Cochin Banding Crew, Credit: Wade Harrell, USFWS.
Cochin Banding Crew Photo taken by Wade Harrell, USFWS.

Adult Female (Top) & Male (bottom) Mallard Wing Comparison, Credit: Terry Liddick, USFWS.
Male & Female Mallard Wing Comparison Photo taken by Terry Liddick, USFWS.

Cochin, Saskatchewan

Written by Wade Harrell

Friday, August 7, 2015

The Cochin crew is off to a productive start, even with a small crew. Terry Liddick, pilot- biologist, once again is the crew lead and Wade Harrell, Whooping Crane Recovery Coordinator, is serving as a crew member for the second year. We hope to add another crew member, Chris Cooley, late tomorrow. Terry and I pulled into the farmhouse where this crew has been stationed for many years Tuesday afternoon and got settled in for the month, finding all the traps and equipment from last year in good working order. We had a few hours Tuesday evening to make a quick scouting run, finding water levels slightly lower than last year, but still above “normal”, historical levels. High water levels can make trapping challenging at times. Regardless, we were encouraged to find several of our traditional banding sites holding good numbers of ducks.

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We got an early start Wednesday morning and loaded the truck with 8 oval traps and all our gear. With the weather cloudy and cool, we were anxious to get in the field. After several landowner visits, we were able to deploy our traps on 3 sites while getting the scoop on local conditions and happenings from long-time cooperating landowners. The US Fish & Wildlife Service has had good relations with area landowners here for years and it is always good to see and visit with friends made in past banding years.

Thursday morning we loaded the truck with 8 more traps, hoping to add a couple more sites to our route. We were surprised to find a bufflehead and lesser scaup in a couple traps we had set the previous day. Generally, it takes several days to start getting ducks to enter the traps, so it’s always a positive sign to have ducks in the traps this quickly. At the end of the day, we felt accomplished, having deployed 16 traps in 2 days across 5 sites with just a 2 person crew. This being Terry and my second year at this site, set-up is going much quicker than last year. About the time we arrived back at the farmhouse Thursday evening, it had started raining and continued a nice, light rain throughout the night.

We decided to hold off on adding more traps Friday, wanting to see how our initial 16 traps were fairing. Arriving at the site we had trapped the bufflehead and scaup the day before, we found a beautiful cinnamon teal in one of our traps. With the rain finally halting Friday afternoon, we headed to our last site to set up on Thursday afternoon and were pleasantly surprised to find a mallard brood in one trap and a good number of blue wing teal in 2 other traps. Not bad for a trap that had been in the water for less than 24 hrs! We ended our day Friday with high hopes for the rest of the season, hoping to best our numbers from last year given our “fast and furious” start.

Cinnamon Teal Eclipse Drake, Credit: Wade Harrell, USFWS
Male Cinnamon Teal with Eclipse Plumage.  Photo taken by Wade Harrell, USFWS.

Mallard Brood, Credit: Wade Harrell, USFWS
Terry Liddick, USFWS, holds a mallard brood found in trap.  Photo taken by Wade Harrell, USFWS.

Last Updated: May 17, 2017