Hay-Zama Waterfowl Staging and Bald Eagle Nesting 2004


Ken Wright


The Hay-Zama lakes complex (HZLC), located in the mid-boreal mixed-wood ecoregion of the province of Alberta, Canada, is an internationally recognized critical staging and nesting area for waterfowl and shorebirds. However, numerous active oil and gas wells are located within the HZLC. To assess the impacts of these industrial activities on aquatic ecosystems in the complex, the Hay-Zama Lakes Monitoring Program (HZLMP), focusing on waterfowl monitoring, was initiated in 1978. The HZLMP, directed by the Hay-Zama Committee (HZC), is a cooperative venture among a variety of stakeholders including, representatives of the oil and gas industry, government agencies, First nations, and conservation groups. As a member of the HZC, the Alberta Conservation Association (ACA) contributes advice on conservation issues and delivers the waterfowl monitoring program. In addition to monitoring waterfowl populations, the HZLMP monitors bald eagle nesting sites to quantify i) breeding success and ii) changes in population size through time.

Canada geese (Branta canadensis) and northern pintails (Anas acuta) were the most abundant waterfowl species during the spring of 2004. Other common geese include the greater white-fronts (Anser albifrons) and lesser snow geese (Chen caerulescens) while ducks include mallards (A. platyrhynchos), blue-wing teals (A. discors), and American widgeons (A. americana). The 2004 spring migration of both geese and ducks peaked during the first week of May, consistent with long-term trends (1978 - 2003 for geese and 1994 - 2003 for ducks).

Canada geese and to a lesser extent, swans, were the most common goose species during the fall of 2004. Other goose species observed were greater white-fronts and lesser snow geese. Gadwall (Anas strepera) and to a lesser extent, mallards, were the predominant duck species during the fall. Other common duck species include green-wing teal (A. crecca), canvasback (Aythya. valisineria), blue-wing teal, and the American widgeon. Fall goose migration in 2004 peaked on 6 September, roughly one week earlier than the long-term (1978 - 2003) average date while duck migration peaked on 14 September, consistent with the long-term (1994 -2003) average peak date.

Results from the 2004 surveys of bald eagles indicate 5 active nesting pairs. This observation is within the range of 3 to 7 nesting pairs recorded in past surveys. Number of eaglets in the active nests ranged from 2 to 3.

During our 2004 study period, migrating waterfowl populations were observed on only 11 of the 26 well sites in the study area and densities of waterfowl did not exceed the Alberta Sustainable Resource Development threshold limit of 600 birds on any occasion. The highest numbers recorded at a well site were 571 ducks and geese combined during spring migration, and 370 ducks during fall migration. Consequently, no wells were shut down due to waterfowl presence.

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