Cold fronts mean more ducks _lowres

Image provided by the Louisiana Department of Wildlife and Fisheries Richmond, Va. wildlife artist Guy Crittenden's paniting of a pair of bluewing teal was judged the winner in the 2015 Louisiana Duck Stamp Competition announced earlier this month. It's this image that will be the state's duck stamp for the 2015-2016 waterfowl hunting season. Crittenden placed second in the previous two state artwork contest, and his other works won this year's state competitions in Connecticut, Michigan and Oklahoma. "I am thrilled. The competition in Louisiana each year is very strong, and this is one of the top honors in my artistic career," Crittenden said. There were 20 paintings submitted for the Louisiana contest. Indiana's Jeffery Klinefelter, a two-time Louisiana winneer, finished second, and Dale Pousson from Egan, finsihed third. The state Duck Stamp Program has generated more than $12 million for waterfowl conservation projects in the state since the program began in 1989.

Two cold fronts and seven days can make a big difference in the way Louisiana duck hunters look at the opening weekend of their seasons.

A week ago, wild waterfowlers were moaning over the lack of ducks in the state’s West and Coastal zones, which open the first splits of a near 20-year-run of 60-day seasons Saturday.

With relatively mild conditions and lots of water between breeding grounds and Louisiana ponds, ag fields and marshes, the ducks weren’t here.

True, there were teal, a few gray ducks and smattering of pintails, wood ducks and spoonbills, but that was about it.

A cold front that moved through in the middle of last week changed all that.

It’s sure last Saturday’s front moved more migrants into the state, and it’s very sure even more will arrive on the first major cold front of the season currently sweeping through to the coast.

Yet another front is predicted to move in Sunday and bring much-needed rain across the southern parishes.

Forget the long-standing tradition to open the Coastal Zone on the second Saturday in November: It was pushed back a week after hunters pleaded with waterfowl managers and the Wildlife and Fisheries Commission for later days this 2014-2015 duck season.

Those pleadings could turn out to be a bust, especially now that hunters know last weekend — the second Saturday this November — turned out to be a banner two days for the special youth-only weekend in the Coastal Zone.

Department of Wildlife and Fisheries surveys showed the 15-and-younger hunters took an average of 5.8 and 4.1 ducks per hunter, respectively, on the Pass a Loutre and Pointe aux Chenes wildlife management areas. The count was 3 ducks per hunter on the Atchafalaya Delta WMA, while 10 youngsters managed only five ducks on the Salvador WMA.

Even better was that the survey showed there were more than teal in the counts. Grays made up a considerable percentage, and wigeon, spoonies, pintail, redheads, mallards, mottled ducks, canvasback, dos gris and even a ruddy duck showed in the youngsters’ bags.

Reports have been coming in all week about the thousands of gray ducks resting across the coastal marshes, especially from the western reaches of Terrebonne Parish west to Hackberry and the Sabine marshes south of Lake Charles.

State Waterfowl Study leader Larry Reynolds flew surveys Monday through Wednesday and said he was taking this annual preseason survey as much to find out the quality of the habitat as he was to count the number of ducks.

A summer free from hurricanes usually leaves the coastal marshes with enough food to support overwintering waterfowl.

It’s sure Wednesday’s bitter Arctic blast, a front that sent temperatures into the teens as far south as Missouri, will send more birds into the state and hunters will tend to see more ducks than Reynolds’ survey likely will show.

“We got reports from guys working to brush their blinds, and they were saying they weren’t seeing that many birds,” Reynolds said. “That was early last week, and I got a number of reports, video emails and emails last Friday and it showed a big increase in just a few days.

“But it varied from place to place,” he said. “Reports farthest east came of Delacroix and there were not very many ducks. Then an email came from Terrebonne and the guy said there were 600-800 ducks on his lease and that’s more than seen a quite a while.”

Folks in the Grand Chenier, Little Chenier and the area between Sweet Lake and Creole in Cameron Parish reports heavy concentrations of teal, then followed that with a Monday report on many more sightings of grays and pintails.

Weather and Midwest habitat will determine the migration into Louisiana after a federal May count estimated 50-year-high 49 million breeding ducks.