Hay-Zama Lakes Waterfowl Staging and Bald Eagle Nesting Monitoring Program, 2008
Ken D. Wright
The Hay-Zama Lakes complex (HZLC), located in the Mid-boreal Mixed-wood ecoregion of Alberta, Canada, is an internationally recognized critical staging and nesting area for waterfowl and shorebirds. Numerous oil and gas producing wells located within the HZLC pose a risk to the aquatic ecosystem. The Hay-Zama Lakes Monitoring Program (HZLMP) was initiated in 1978 to moderate the potential impacts of these industrial activities by monitoring waterfowl density and distribution. The HZLMP is directed by the Hay-Zama Committee (HZC) and functions as a cooperative venture supported by a group of stakeholders representing the oil and gas industry, federal, provincial and municipal government agencies, First Nations and conservation groups. The Alberta Conservation Association (ACA) is a member of the HZC and has been monitoring waterfowl within the complex since 1997.
The primary purpose of the monitoring program was to survey waterfowl densities in close proximity to the producing oil and gas wells within the complex. If a large congregation of waterfowl is detected near a well site, the Energy Resources Conservation Board (ERCB) has the authority to suspend extraction activity. The density necessary to suspend industrial activity was defined by Alberta Sustainable Resource Development (ASRD) and specifies a threshold of 600 ducks and/or geese within a 30-m radius of a well site. Waterfowl monitoring occurs during spring and fall migration periods (approximately 15 April to 31 May and 15 September to 15 October) in compliance with the ERCB directive for this complex.
My secondary objectives were to estimate the number of staging waterfowl within the HZLC during the two migration periods, and to conduct a one day survey of bald eagle (Haliaeetus leucocephalus) nests, adults and eaglets along a traditional survey route within the HZLC.
I flew aerial surveys over the complex approximately seven days apart for four weeks in spring and seven weeks in fall during the migration periods. Spring surveys commenced immediately after ice break on the complex, and fall surveys commenced the final week of August. My survey route covered all producing wells in the complex to monitor waterfowl numbers at the well sites, as well as transects throughout the complex to estimate staging waterfowl numbers. Additionally, I flew a single aerial survey for bald eagle nest sites in the complex on 9 June 2008.
I surveyed for waterfowl congregations near 25 active wells on 16 sites within the complex in 2008 (six sites contained multiple wells). I observed waterfowl near 14 of these sites on at least one occasion over the 11 week survey period, but did not detect waterfowl congregations near the threshold limit for any of these well sites during 2008. The highest congregation of waterfowl within 30 m of a well head was 117 ducks in spring and 240 ducks in fall. Extraction activities were not suspended in 2008.
Canada goose (Branta canadensis) was the only goose species I observed during spring migration in 2008. Northern pintail (Anas acuta), and to a lesser extent, mallard (A. platyrhynchos) were the most abundant of the identified duck species I observed (22.0% of ducks were unidentified). I recorded the highest aggregate counts of both ducks and geese staging over the entire complex during the first survey day in the spring (5 May), similar with the long-term trends (1978 – 2007 for geese and 1994 – 2007 for ducks).
I observed very few staging geese during the fall of 2008 (n = 61). Canada goose was the most abundant goose species I observed and greater white-fronted goose (Anser albifrons) was also present. Canvasback (Aythya valisineria) and, to a lesser extent, mallard (Anas platyrhynchos) were the most abundant of the identified duck species I observed (17.5% of ducks were unidentified). I recorded the highest aggregate count of geese staging over the entire complex during the third survey week in the fall (10 September), while the highest aggregate count for ducks occurred during the fourth week (17 September), which was consistent with long-term trends (1978 – 2007 for geese and 1994 – 2007 for ducks).
I identified five nesting pairs of bald eagles during the one day survey. This count was similar to annual surveys since 1995 (range = 3 to 7 nesting pairs). Numbers of eaglets observed in active nests in 2008 ranged from one to three.