The Heart of the Boreal Forest: A Wildlife Biologist Pilot’s Journey

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As a wildlife biologist-pilot conducting an aerial waterfowl breeding population survey, I find myself constantly in awe of the boreal forest ecosystem of northern Saskatchewan and Manitoba. This region, a sprawling expanse of dense coniferous trees, crystal-clear lakes, and winding rivers, is a hidden gem in the heart of Canada. For three weeks, I had the privilege of soaring just above treetop height, immersing myself in this breathtaking wilderness, and gathering vital data on waterfowl populations. The survey was a symphony of nature, despite the overcast, cool, and rainy conditions that often hampered our efforts to take to the skies. As the plane cut through the misty air, I felt a profound connection to the landscape below. The boreal forest, with its rich tapestry of life, revealed itself in all its splendor and complexity. 

Our mission was to count waterfowl species, and we observed encouraging numbers of trumpeter swans, Canada geese, ring-necked ducks, and mallards. The sight of trumpeter swans gliding gracefully across the water, their pure white plumage contrasting sharply with the dark waters, was a sight to behold. Canada geese, some with goslings went about their routines, while ring-necked ducks and mallards dabbed and dived in the numerous ponds and lakes that dotted the landscape. 

Flying at such low altitudes afforded us unique and intimate views of the boreal forest’s wildlife. One memorable morning, as we flew just above the treetops, I spotted a black bear foraging a shoreline. Its sleek, dark form moved with surprising agility among the rocks and driftwood. Another day, we caught a glimpse of woodland caribou with calves as they traversed the forest in search of food. The highlight, however, was an unexpected encounter with a wolverine. Known for their elusive nature, seeing this fierce and solitary creature was a rare and thrilling experience.

Living and working in this remote part of Canada brought with it a unique set of challenges and rewards. The weather was often uncooperative, with rain and low clouds grounding our plane for days at a time. Yet, these moments of forced stillness allowed me to reflect on the importance of our work and the beauty of the boreal forest.  I felt a profound sense of peace and purpose. Back in the United States, life as a wildlife biologist/pilot might seem adventurous and romantic, and in many ways, it is. But it is also a life of dedication and respect for the natural world. Each flight, each observation, is a testament to the resilience of nature and the importance of preserving these wild places for future generations. As I return to my regular duties, the memories of those three weeks in the boreal forest of northern Saskatchewan and Manitoba will stay with me. The sights, sounds, and experiences have deepened my appreciation for the intricate web of life that thrives in this northern wilderness. It is a reminder that, as stewards of the environment, we have a responsibility to protect and cherish these precious ecosystems.

Story Tags

Aerial photography
Migratory birds