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Assessing Breeding Poplations of Ducks by Ground Counts

Study Areas

The comparative study of census methods in relation to waterfowl ecology and behaviour was made on two partially cultivated blocks of pond habitat: one, the Roseneath Study Area in the parkland of Manitoba, 9 miles south of Minnedosa; and the other, the Kindersley Study Area in the grassland of Saskatchewan, 12 miles southwest of Kindersley. Field work was conducted in Manitoba from 1952 through 1955 and in Saskatchewan from 1956 through 1959.

Roseneath Study Area

This 895-acre block is part of the characteristic 4,000-square-mile pothole country of southern Manitoba. The topography is of a knob-and-kettle type with sloughs, ponds, or potholes located in the depressions (Fig. 1).
Figure 1. Pond-basin distribution on the Roseneath Study Area.

GIF-Roseneath Study Area

One hundred and eighty-one basins were located on the area, varying in size from 0.03 to 10.5 acres. The average basin size was 0.70 acre. Of the total basins, 141 (78 per cent) were less than 1 acre in size (Table 1). The emergent vegetation of potholes varied with land use and previous water levels; the dominant plants were white-top (Scolochloa festucacea), sedge (Carex spp.), cattail (Typha latifolia), and bulrush (Scirpus acutus, S. validus, S. paludosus). The uncultivated upland areas contained clumps of aspen (Populus tremuloides) and bur oak (Quercus macrocarpa). The shrub layer was primarily snowberry (Symphoricarpos occidentalis) and wolfberry (Elaeagnus commutata). Willow clumps (Salix spp. ) of various heights were common around the shore lines of some 20 ponds. Brome grass (Bromus inermis) was common on all road edges.

The soils were predominantly northern black earth. Precipitation was variable, an average of 18 inches falling annually, much of it during the summer growing season. The frost-free period was usually less than 100 days. Approximately 60 per cent of the total block was cultivated to cereal crops, 15 per cent was made up of water areas, and the remainder was in permanent pasture, fence rows, farm yards, aspen-oak bluffs, and unutilized pond edges. More complete descriptions of the Manitoba parkland and study area, in particular, are given by Kiel (1949), Evans (1949), Evans, Hawkins, and Marshall (1952), Dzubin (1954), and Bird (1961).

Kindersley Study Area

This area of 6,720 acres of partially cultivated, grassland-pothole habitat formed part of a delineated waterfowl survey block, Stratum A-west (Crissey, 1957, 1963a). The area lies between the pure grain-farming regions of central Saskatchewan and the mixed grain farm - grassland regions of the drier western habitat, near the Alberta-Saskatchewan border. Surface geology is a complex of glacial lacustrine clays, silt and sand deposits, and resorted till deposits. The topographic features are gently to moderately rolling with the low areas filling with spring snow-melt waters.

The 10.5-square-mile area contained 114 depressions which held water (Fig. 2). The basins varied in size from 0.03 to 226.2 acres. Eighty-four (74 per cent) of the 114 basins were less than 1 acre in size (Table 1). However, eight basins were over 10 acres, increasing the average basin size to 5.65 acres. Because of violently fluctuating water levels and high salinity content of the waters and soils, few emergents were present. Dense stands of sedge (Carex spp.), alkali bulrush (S. paludosus), slough grass (Beckmannia syzigachne), and manna grass (Glyceria grandis) occurred in some 15 of the basins. In other fresh-water basins a few sparse stands of cattail (Typha latifolia) and bulrush (S. paludosus and S. americanus) were found. Beyond the emergent zones, Juncus balticus and Eleocharis palustris were again found in sparse stands. On saline ponds, Suaeda depressa, Salicornia rubra, and Chenopodium rubrum covered the wet areas, while Hordeum jubatum and Puccinellia nuttalliana were common on shore lines. In the largest pond, which had been cultivated prior to flooding in 1952, sparse clumps of Polygonum coccineum and Alisma plantago-aquatica were scattered throughout the shallow basin.

Figure 2. Pond-basin distribution on the Kindersley Study Area.

GIF-Kindersley Study Area

On the grazed and waste-area uplands various grasses, Bouteloua gracilis, Stipa spartea, Agropyron smithli, and Koeleria cristata, occurred. The shrub vegetation was confined to dry stream beds and low areas. Snowberry (Symphoricarpos occidentalis) and rose (Rosa arkansana and R. woodsii) made up the greatest portion of the shrub cover used by dabbling species for nesting cover. Four small clumps of aspen (Populus tremuloides) and a few stands of willow (Salix sp.) were found near ponds.

The Kindersley district lies in the Brown Soil Zone with soils composed of loams and sands. The April to October precipitation varies from 9 to 11 inches with winter snowfall varying between 25 and 40 inches. The frost-free period is about 100 days. Eighty-three per cent of the land in the Rural Municipality of Kindersley is considered improved, with 52 per cent of this yearly in crops, 42 per cent in fallow, four per cent in pasture, and the remainder in barn yards, roads, etc. Seventeen per cent of the land is unimproved, consisting of sandy areas too poor to pasture and woodlands. On the study area itself, approximately 75 per cent of the landscape was cultivated, 10 per cent was in pond areas, and the remainder was in pastures, unimproved lands, farm yards, and pond shore lines. For more detailed descriptions see Mitchell, Moss, an Clayton (1944), Coupland (1950, 1961), Boughner, Longley, and Thomas (1956), and Gollop (1965).

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