Waterfowl Banding Blog

2015

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.

View a  video about the history of Bird Banding!

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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.

 

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Last Updated: August 16, 2018