Hay-Zama Waterfowl Staging and Bald Eagle Nesting 2005


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 producing oil and gas wells are located within the HZLC. To moderate the impacts of these industrial activities on aquatic ecosystems in the complex the Hay-Zama Lakes Monitoring Program (HZLMP) was initiated in 1978. The HZLMP, focusing on waterfowl monitoring, and 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 includes monitoring of bald eagle nesting sites to quantify changes in population size through time and breeding success of this species.

Canada geese and northern pintails were the most abundant waterfowl species during the spring of 2005. Other common geese included greater white-fronted geese and other common ducks included American widgeons, mallards, blue-wing teals, and green-wing teals. Spring goose migration peaked on 3 May, consistent with the longterm (1978 - 2004) average peak date, whereas spring migration for ducks peaked on 26 April, considerably earlier than the long-term (1994 - 2004) average.

Canada geese and mallards were the most abundant waterfowl species during the fall of 2005. Other common geese included lesser snow geese and other common ducks included American widgeons, gadwalls, blue-wing teals, and canvasbacks. Fall goose migration peaked on 5 October, roughly three weeks later than the long-term (1978 - 2004) average date, whereas fall duck migration peaked on 14 September, consistent with the long-term (1994 -2004) average peak date.

Monitoring of waterfowl populations during critical migration periods is a strategy designed to identify possible negative environmental impacts on select avian species. Monitoring efforts in the HZLC allow for continued oil and gas production unless a large congregation of waterfowl is present at a well site, at which point well production must be suspended. Alberta Sustainable Resource Development defined a threshold of 600 ducks and/or geese within a 30 m radius of the well site as the criteria for suspension of well production. The alternative, as defined by Alberta Energy and Utilities Board, is a general suspension of production on the complex during the migration periods (approximately 15 April to 31 May and 15 September to 15 October).

During the 2005 study period (26 April to 24 May and 30 August to 12 October), migrating waterfowl populations were observed on nine of the 15 well sites in the study area. Densities of waterfowl did not exceed threshold limits during the 2005 migration periods; the highest numbers recorded at a well site were 130 ducks during spring migration, and 531 ducks during fall migration. Consequently no wells were shut down due to waterfowl presence.

Results from the 2005 survey of bald eagles identified four active nesting pairs. Numbers of eaglets in the active nests ranged from one to three. This observation is within the range of three to seven nesting pairs recorded in past surveys.

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