Wheeler Ducks

A female mallard duck flies at Wilson Morgan Park in Decatur, Ala.

It’s no big secret about it being grinding season in south Louisiana.

Sugar houses are fired up and taking all that cane we’ve seen growing for the past year and turning into, we can only hope, some terrific pralines along with treats for the coming holidays.

Despite all that sugar production, it’s not a very sweet time for Larry Reynolds, and what he and his staff found last week might leave a bitter taste in the mouths of Louisiana duck hunters.

There’s no way to sugarcoat what the Department of Wildlife and Fisheries’ Waterfowl Study team found in the usually duck-filled southwestern marshes.

Because of persistent fog and rain, the study crew couldn’t fly over the southeastern coastal marshes nor Catahoula Lake, and that left only the southwest marshes in November estimate of ducks on the rice fields and marshes.

Without much editing, here’s Reynolds' report:

“The 17 westernmost lines in coastal Louisiana were flown after late starts on Monday and Tuesday … the 17 lines flown in SW Louisiana represent that entire survey region, so those estimates are presented,” the report began.

“The 247,000 total ducks estimated in SW Louisiana is the lowest on record for this survey, and is less than half the next lowest estimate of 581,000 in 2013. The most recent 10-year average for SW Louisiana on this survey is 994,000. The only notable concentrations of ducks were flocks of gadwalls and bluewings seen in the marsh south of West Cove of Lake Calcasieu, and a large flock of ringnecked ducks in the open water of White Lake (and thus not included in these estimates).”

The report identified a “small flock” of specklebelly geese on the surveyed areas.

Reynolds’ southwestern report continued: “The estimate for mottled ducks was 17 percent higher than last November, but estimates for all other species except pintails were down markedly from last year, and all were down from recent averages in that region.”

Also noted are numbers for gadwalls, a species commonly called gray ducks, and for greenwing teal are the lowest ever in the week-before-the-season survey — ever — and numbers of shovelers (spoonbills) and bluewing teal are the second lowest on record.

“These data indicate there had not yet been a major migration into coastal SW LA by the time of this survey,” Reynolds concluded.

Habitat is an addendum to the report, and the Waterfowl Study team observed high water levels brought on by rainfall and higher tides in the coastal marshes and what the team found to be, “above average shallow flooding in agricultural areas,” after a September survey showing this area had “excellent production of seed-producing annual vegetation,” which should provide enough food for overwintering ducks as soon as they arrive.

There’s more

What the report couldn’t have included is the push of migratory birds into the state by this extraordinarily chilly cold front pushing into the state Friday, the day before the opening of the first split in a 60-day duck season in the state’s Coastal and West Waterfowl zones.

Phone calls Friday afternoon to duck watchers across the coast indicated “new” ducks were moving into the marshes both east of the Mississippi River and east and west of the Atchafalaya River. With snow covering ag fields as far south as southern Nebraska earlier in the week and the push of this cold front, it was a good bet ducks would move into the lower reaches of the Mississippi and Central flyways.

Even better is the forecast of another colder cold front moving in Sunday evening. This front could erase the usual downturn in hunter success after the opening weekend, because it’s darned near a sure bet even more ducks will push into south Louisiana on a cold front predicted to send morning temperatures into the low 30s as far south as Baton Rouge.

A time to mourn

Mickey Montalbano and Guy Perkins were laid to rest late last week.

Never met two men who enjoyed the outdoors more and there are many heavy hearts across the state with their deaths.

Mickey was personification of a bon vivant. He and his brother, S.J., produced hit records in the 1950s, ran a successful produce business, helped the less fortunate among us, sponsored youth sports programs, with S.J. had a dynamite late Saturday afternoon oldies-but-goodies radio program, and enjoyed every minute he was awake. Ask anyone if they ever remember Mickey without a smile — save that agonizing time when his wife died — and you’ll come up empty.

Our best times came when we shared fishing trips, and he passed along his love of fishing to now three generations in his family.

Guy Perkins ran the summer-long Friday Night bass tournament for years at False River. Met him more than 40 years ago at a bass tournament, and his love for the sport continued until earlier this year. He loved providing the opportunity for fishermen to gather every week, and seemed to wake every day with bass on his mind. He was a wonderful man.

Deep-from-the-heart condolences to their families and many friends.

Down river

State Wildlife and Fisheries managers issued an advisory to hunters and fishermen planning to use the Pass-a-Loutre Wildlife Management Area about the dredging project under way in Sawdust Bend on the WMA.

It was scheduled to begin Saturday and work is projected to run through the entire duck and goose seasons.

“WMA users should be aware that there will be a 30-inch sediment conveyance pipeline submerged in Pass-a-Loutre and Dennis Pass, reportedly marked with lighted markers,” the advisory stated. “In addition to the pipeline there will be increased boat traffic on the WMA between the Head of Passes to the dredged material disposal area on Dennis Pass. Additionally, WMA users are cautioned to refrain from utilizing dredge equipment such as pipes, pipeline markers, vessels or any other equipment associated with this project as this poses a safety issue for both the WMA users and dredging contractor.”

Need more? Call LDWF biologist manager Vaughan McDonald at (225) 765-2708 or email: vmcdonald@wlf.la.gov.