When Larry Reynolds and the Department of Wildlife and Fisheries’ Waterfowl Study team went airborne to look at ducks that had invaded the state during the past two months, they found what they expected.
Bluewing teal and gray ducks, the species biologists identify as gadwall in their survey listings, dominated the landscape.
Reynolds’ team reported, “The bluewing estimate (is) about the same as 2010 and that for gadwalls nearly 20 percent higher.”
That’s what most hunters found when they were able to pull triggers on the West Zone season on Nov. 12. The East Zone season opened Saturday.
“We had four hunters, and we took 20 bluewings and four grays,” Don Francis said shortly after 10 a.m. on the West Zone’s opening day. “Birds were everywhere, and we had limits by 8 o’clock, but only because we waited for the gray ducks to show up. We could’ve taken all the teal we wanted. … Bluewings and some greenwings showed up, too.”
With both of the state’s waterfowl zones open, other notes from the first duck survey of the season include:
??The estimated 1.84 million ducks on this survey is 13 percent higher than the November 2010 estimate of 1.62 million, 20 percent higher than the most recent 5-year average (1.52 million), but about 8 percent below the long-term November average (2.0 million).
??Mallards and scaup (dos gris), considered late-migrating species were down markedly from November 2010, but estimates for all other species were higher or about the same.
??The big surprise is that the estimate for coots (poule d’eau) is the same as for ducks. At an estimate of 1.84 million, the number of coots is more than twice that of 2010 — and is the highest November estimate on record for this species.
??The relative distribution of ducks in coastal Louisiana is similar to 2010 with about 65 percent of the ducks counted in southwest Louisiana.
??The estimate in southeast Louisiana is the highest in the past five years. The likely reason is that there are better water levels in the southeast marshes compared to drier conditions in the west.
??Large concentrations of ducks were seen near the mouth of the Mississippi River and north of Lake Salvador in the southeast survey region.
??In the southwest, drought conditions were more obvious, but where there were water and ducks, there were often large numbers of ducks. Concentrations were noted in the marshes west of Sabine National Wildlife Refuge, on the Rockefeller Refuge and north of Intracoastal City.
??Although there is an above-average number of ducks in the state relative to the past five years, large numbers of bluewing teal and low numbers of mallards and diving ducks means we are still early in migration. Severe cold weather has yet to move through the northern states and Canada, and as of last week, there was no substantial snow cover or frozen habitat.
??Habitat in Louisiana for migrating and wintering waterfowl is poorer than last year and reduced from the September survey this year. The western parishes are in what is being termed an “exceptional drought,” and rainfall totals range from 8-10 inches below normal in southeast Louisiana to 20-25 inches below normal in southwest and northwest Louisiana.
??Only managed shallow-flooding was seen in the agricultural region, and that acreage was reduced from last year. Dry marshes with cracked pond bottoms were noted across southwest Louisiana, along with large acreages with low water levels.
??Submerged aquatic vegetation important to foraging ducks was reduced but was abundant in some locations with better water levels.
??In southeast Louisiana, water conditions are much better, but submerged aquatic vegetation production was affected by the storm surge from Tropical Storm Lee and is substantially lower than last year.
??At Catahoula Lake, the late drawdown kept soil conditions moist late into the summer, which means expanded duck potato but reduced sprangletop and chufa production, so food production is probably reduced from the excellent level last year. Water levels are within management targets, and overall habitat conditions are good.