Hay-Zama Lakes Waterfowl Staging and Bald-Eagle Nesting Monitoring Program, 2009
Ken D. Wright
The Hay‐Zama Lakes Complex (HZLC), located in the Boreal Forest Central Mixedwood Natural Subregion 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 migrating waterfowl and nesting bald eagles 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 HZLC. 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) at 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 August to 15 October) in compliance with the ERCB (formerly Alberta Energy and Utilities Board (EUB)) directive for this complex.
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 nests, adults, and eaglets along a pre‐existing survey route within the HZLC.
Aerial surveys were flown over the HZLC approximately seven days apart for five weeks in spring, and seven weeks in fall during the migration periods. Spring surveys commenced the final week of April immediately after ice break on the complex, and fall surveys commenced the final week of August. The survey route covered all producing wells in the complex to monitor waterfowl numbers at the well sites, as well as additional transects throughout the complex to estimate staging waterfowl numbers. A single aerial survey for bald eagle nest sites within the HZLC was flown on 3 June 2009.
Waterfowl congregations were surveyed near 24 active wells on 15 sites within the HZLC in 2009 (six sites contained multiple wells). Waterfowl were observed near 14 of these sites on at least one occasion over the 12 week survey period but congregations were below the threshold limit at all sites. The largest congregation of waterfowl within 30 m of an active well was 591 Canada geese in spring and 480 ducks in fall. Therefore, extraction activities were not suspended in 2009.
Throughout the HZLC, Canada goose (Branta canadensis) was the most abundant goose species observed during spring migration in 2009. Northern pintail (Anas acuta), and to a lesser extent, mallard (A. platyrhynchos) were the most abundant of the identified duck species observed (10.3% of ducks were unidentified). The highest aggregate counts of both ducks and geese staging over the entire complex occurred on 6 May, similar with the long‐term trends (1994 – 2008).
Canada goose was also the most abundant goose species observed during the fall of 2009. Mallard, and to a lesser extent, canvasback (Aythya valisineria) were the most abundant of the identified duck species observed (21.2% of ducks were unidentified). The highest aggregate count of geese staging over the entire complex occurred during the second survey week in the fall (2 September), which was earlier than long‐term trends. The highest aggregate count for ducks came during the fourth week (16 September), consistent with long‐term trends. Six nesting pairs of bald eagles (Haliaeetus leucocephalus) were located during the one day survey. This count is similar to annual surveys since 1995 (range three to seven nesting pairs). The number of eaglets observed in each active nest in 2009 ranged from one to two.