Aerial Waterfowl Surveys

So, once a week throughout the fall I will be going up in a plane to do aerial waterfowl surveys for the National Park Service.  It is equal parts fun and frustration.  For one thing, ring-necked ducks look very snazzy in profile, but from above, they're very dull looking and hard to id from scaup, especially if they don't fly!  I've been trying to take some photos and video with a little point and shoot to give you an idea of what it's like, but the camera has trouble picking up the birds. ducks

Although, here is a small flock of ring-necked ducks to count--so you can kind of get an idea of what I see.  It's hard, especially when we get in the rice fields and you realize how hidden coots, teal, and gadwal can be.  If they fly, it's a bit easier to try and id them.  Our pilot is fantastic, (for one thing, he resembles Aaron Eckhart) he flies waterfowl all the time and all over the country and has some great tips, like green-winged teal have a two toned look compared to blue-winged teal form overhead.  The head looks darker than the body--that's helpful.  He will also call out what he sees from the window.  When I listen to my digital recordings of my observations the next day to enter the numbers on the data sheets, I'll hear my voice give a little excited, "YES!" That means that I heard the pilot confirm my id through my headset as we went.

Here's a quick video that I took below.  This little camera only picks up the the gulls which I don't need to count, but you can get an idea of how fast we're flying.  I'm hopeful once the common mergansers show up that I'll be able to take an HD camera and get some better footage.