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.

 

2017 - 2016 - 2015

Last Updated: September 1, 2017