High water a problem for duck hunters _lowres

Photo provided by KIRK RHINEHART An odd duck No, Baton Rouge waterfowl hunter Joey Macsiez is not an odd duck, but the duck he's holding is. Macsiez, a junior at Nicholls State, was hunting with his dad, Sonny, and brother, Alex, when a groupd of ringnecks came into the pond they were hunting off Baptiste Collette east of Venice near the mouth of the Mississippi River. Macsiez siad it weas easy picking this bird from the flock of ringnecks and when he retrieved it he found out why. It's an American wigeon, but one that doesn't have the pigmentation of others among his species. The bird is not an albino, but, in biological terms, is termed "leucistic," a bird with the inability to produce pigment, which explains the whitish plummage. This is not a cross with another duck species, as has been found over the years by hunters. Macsiez said he wasn't as much surprised about taking this bird as he was having a shot at it with his dad and brother in the blind.

The combination of south winds, cool mornings and warm afternoons are a welcome relief from Louisiana’s nearly unbearable summers.

But not for duck hunters.

Nor are the unusually high water levels waterfowl hunters have endured through the first split in the western parishes of the state’s Coastal Zone.

“There’s just too much water for the ducks,” State Waterfowl Study leader Larry Reynolds said after spending the Thanksgiving holiday in his blind near Creole in Cameron Parish. “I’m having to paddle into areas where we usually walk, and that’s a big problem.”

The problem for the hunters is not for access, but high water in the coastal marshes. It means dabbling ducks, species like teal and gray ducks, the species that provide the bulk of the action for coastal hunters, can’t reach the submerged aquatic vegetation, the “SAVs” you hear waterfowl biologists mention, and will pass up areas where they found abundant food sources last season. Other dabbling species like mallards, pintails, shovelers and wigeon also rely on SAVs.

“There’s plenty of food here, but the birds just can’t get to it,” Reynolds said. “And I’m hearing that from a lot of hunters around Big (Calcasieu) Lake.”

And with a week of southerly winds and a forecast of stronger south and southeast winds in advance of Sunday’s passage of a mild cold front, these prime overwintering areas likely will not be much better for the Dec. 19 opener of the second split in this 60-day duck season.

Yet, there is hope.

The front moving in Sunday looks like it will be the first of two cold fronts pushing into the state before the second split. Even the light rains predicted for Sunday won’t be enough to stall the push of water from the marshes.

“We’ve been fighting high water in the marsh, too,” Ted Beaulieu Jr. said after hunting the first split’s last days Saturday and Sunday in the Pecan Island area. “The guides told us that the high water is preventing the birds from getting to the food and that’s why we have some blinds on the low end, but we had some blinds taking 18 birds (three-hunter limits) Saturday.

“Now the water is starting to go down, and with cold weather coming, it looks better for the second split,” Beaulieu said. “And when the water gets right, there’s lots of food for the ducks, and we should have better hunting.”

Food is problem along the Mississippi River, especially on the east side where SAV took a hit from an October storm that pushed saltwater into the marshes. From reports, it appears some ponds were spared, and most hunters are able to find concentrations of ducks from Buras south to Venice and into the Pass a Loutre Wildlife Management Area.

State waterfowl biologist Shane Granier’s report from Saturday showed Pass a Loutre’s average was right at four birds per hunter with gray ducks and teal making up the bulk of the take. Pintails and wigeons were next on that list.

The rising Atchafalaya River and high water apparently was to blame for a rapid decline in the take from the Atchafalaya Delta WMA (one duck per hunter average). Hunters at the Pointe-aux-Chenes WMA fared better, but only marginally at 1.8 ducks per hunter, but among the five units on that WMA, the PAC unit and PAC limited-access area produced respective six-bird and 4.7-bird averages per hunter. Dos gris (lesser scaup) made up 67 percent of the PAC’s take with 28 percent total from grays and teal.

While the second split opens in all three waterfowl zones Dec. 19, the season closes Jan. 17 in the Coastal Zone, Jan. 24 in the West Zone and Jan. 31 in the East Zone.

Weather, not water, and a downward trend in its numbers explains why most hunters are not finding specklebelly geese.