BONUS REPORT: LDWF waterfowl survey

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The January, 2023 aerial waterfowl survey by the Louisiana Department of Wildlife and Fisheries has been completed.

The 2.0 million ducks estimated during the January 2023 survey of coastal Louisiana and Little River Basin (formerly Catahoula Lake) decreased 3% from both the December 2022 and January 2022 survey estimates which were both 2.1 million.

This estimate is -16%, and -23% the most recent 10-year, and 20-year January averages respectively. The largest annual species increases were northern pintail (+109%), mallard (+61%), green-winged teal (+59%), canvasback (+48%), and northern shovelers (+37%), whereas decreases were observed for scaup (-91%), blue-winged teal (-37%), mottled duck (-17%), and ring-neck(-16%).

The gadwall estimate was 5% higher than last January’s record low of 341,000 and the 19,000 mottled ducks is the lowest January estimate for the species on record.The total estimate is 34% below the long-term average(figure 1), and only blue-winged teal (+35%), ring-necked duck (+90%), and canvasbacks (+204%) are above their long-term averages. Southwest Louisiana –1,227,000. The

estimate for SW Louisiana is 12% higher than last January’s estimate (1.1 million), but 4% and 14% lower than the most recent 5-year, and 10-year averages, respectively,for the region. It is 12% below the December estimate of 1.4 million. As usual, the majority (62%) of all ducks estimated during this survey were located in the SW region. The last time more ducks were estimated in SE Louisiana during January was 2015. Green-winged teal were the most abundant species in SW (28%) followed by gadwall (22%), ring-necked (17%), and northern shoveler (15%).

As in December, water was again widespread throughout the landscape with large areas of availability throughout the agricultural regions. However, increased evidence of daily activity in crawfish ponds coincided with low duck abundance over most of the agricultural landscape, with a few exceptions where unmolested, harvested rice fields contained large flocks of both ducks and geese. Ducks were again well distributed longitudinally with the largest flocks observed on transect lines 8 to 14. Additionally, many of the largest groups were between the Intracoastal Waterway and Highway 82. During the course of the transect survey, 44,000 light geese and 2,000 white-fronted geese were noted between and among transects, the largest concentration being west of Gueydan.

Northeast Louisiana — The northeast survey was conducted via transects in December and January. Because the entirety of the Louisiana portion of the Mississippi River Alluvial Valley (north of 31.0° latitude) was surveyed rather than select locations as in the recent past, these results are not comparable to past years’ reported counts.

The January 2023 survey was prolonged due to inclement weather, with only a few hours of possible flight time some days, but was completed Jan. 4-13. A total of 193,000 ducks were estimated (94% dabbling ducks) in January. Fifty-nine percent of ducks were observed in flooded agricultural habitats and 36% in shallow, managed wetland habitat. The other 5% of ducks were estimated in open water (reservoirs, brakes, rivers), and flooded forest habitats.

Near equal abundance of mallard (47,000) and gadwall (46,000) made up more than 50% of the dabbling ducks estimated in NE Louisiana. Green- and blue-winged teal (18%), northern shoveler (14%), and northern pintail (13%) constituted the majority of other dabbling ducks. Divers
were predominantly ring-necked ducks. An estimated 8,000 ring-necks constituted 63% of all divers, but only 4% of total ducks. An additional 3,000 scaup and 1,000 canvasbacks were estimated.

All observable geese, whether on or off the transect lines, were estimated opportunistically during the course of flying the transects. An estimated 27,000 geese were observed, which consisted of 22,000 light geese (lesser snow goose & Ross’ goose) and 5,000 greater white-fronted
geese. Fifty-six percent of all geese were seen in agricultural habitats, whereas 44% were observed in shallow managed wetlands. The only geese observed on open water habitats were Canada geese,
which totaled less than 200.

Northwest Louisiana – The roughly 26,000 ducks counted in lakes, reservoirs, managed impoundments, and flooded agricultural fields of NW Louisiana represent an increase from last January’s count of 15,000, and the highest count since 2014 when 25,000 ducks were observed. Gadwall made up 29% of the duck total, followed by mallard (11%), green-winged teal and northern shoveler (each 10%), northern pintail and ring-neck (each 8%), and canvasback, scaup, and wigeon (each 7%). Habitat conditions overall were very favorable for waterfowl this month. Water was abundant between Natchitoches and Shreveport on agricultural and moist-soil wetlands. South of Shreveport, public and private areas with managed shallow water, similar to November, were inundated and holding birds.Nearly all reservoirs were full/flooded. Salvinia coverage was minimal,with open water readily available to birds, especially on Wallace and Black lake when compared to the November survey. However, north of Shreveport, along the Red River to the Arkansas border was extremely dry. In this area the Red River was low with exposed sand bars where the only birds in the region seemed to congregate. All fields were manipulated to bare dirt and drainage seemed to be a high priority in this region.The only light geese observed in the region were a flock of 1,000 light geese on the Red River National Wildlife Refuge-Lower Cane Unit and an additional flock of 8,000 counted between Natchitoches and Alexandria. Canada geese were observed between lock 5 and Shreveport (300), as well as small groups on Toledo Bend and Caddo Lake.

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