Hay-Zama Waterfowl Staging and Bald Eagle Nesting 2006


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 potential impacts of 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 (Branta canadensis) and northern pintails (Anas acuta) were the most abundant waterfowl species during the spring of 2006. Other common geese and ducks included greater white-fronted geese (Anser albifrons), mallards (Anas platyrhynchos) and lesser scaup (Aythya affinis). The 2006 spring migration of geese and ducks peaked during the first week of May, consistent with long-term trends (1978 - 2005 for geese and 1994 - 2005 for ducks).

Canada geese and gadwalls (Anas strepera) were the most abundant waterfowl species during the fall of 2006. Other common geese and ducks included greater white-fronted geese, American widgeons (Anas americana), and mallards. Fall goose migration in 2006 peaked on 5 September, roughly one week earlier than the long-term (1978 - 2005) average date, whereas duck migration peaked on 18 September, consistent with the long-term (1994 -2005) 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 HLZC 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 (ASRD) 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 our 2006 study period (1 May to 25 May and 28 August to 10 October), migrating waterfowl populations were observed on 11 of the 18 well sites in the study area. Densities of waterfowl did not exceed threshold limits during the 2006 migration periods; the highest numbers recorded at a well site were 367 ducks during spring migration and 371 ducks during fall migration. Consequently no wells were shut down due to waterfowl presence.

Results from the 2006 survey of bald eagles identified four active nesting pairs with two to three eaglets in each nest. This observation is within the range of three to seven nesting pairs recorded in past surveys.

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