Hay-Zama Lakes Waterfowl Staging and Bald Eagle Nesting Monitoring Program, 2007


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 from 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 complex 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 complex.

I flew aerial surveys over the complex approximately seven days apart for five weeks in spring and seven weeks in fall during the migration periods. 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 of bald eagle nest sites in the complex on 7 June 2007.

I surveyed for waterfowl congregations near 16 active wells within the complex in 2007 and observed waterfowl near 14 of these wells on at least one occasion over the 12 week survey period. I did not detect waterfowl congregations near the threshold limit for any of these well sites during 2007. The highest congregation of waterfowl within 30 m of a well head was 108 ducks and geese in spring, and 219 ducks in fall. Extraction activities were not suspended in 2007.

Canada goose (Branta canadensis) was the only goose species I observed during spring migration in 2007. Mallard (Anas platyrhynchos) and, to a lesser extent, northern pintail (A. acuta) were the most abundant of the identified duck species I observed (58.6% of ducks were unidentified). I recorded the highest aggregate count of geese staging over the entire complex during the first survey day in the spring (30 April), while the highest aggregate count for ducks came during the second week (7 May). These observations were similar to long-term trends for geese and duck numbers (1978 – 2006 for geese and 1994 – 2006 for ducks).

Canada goose, and to a lesser extent, greater white-fronted goose (Anser albifrons) were the most abundant goose species staging during the fall of 2007. American widgeon (Anas americana) was the most abundant of the identified duck species I observed (40.9% of ducks were unidentified). Other common ducks included mallards and gadwalls (A. strepera). I recorded the highest aggregate count during the fall migration for both geese and ducks during the third sampling week (13 September), which was consistent with long-term trends (1978 – 2006 for geese and 1994 – 2006 for ducks).

I identified seven 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 2007 ranged from one to three.

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