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Statewide teal numbers are way down

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The 2023 estimate of blue-winged teal in coastal Louisiana and Little River Basin (148,000) was 44% lower than the 2022 estimate of 264,000. It was 30% lower than the most recent 5-year average and 24% lower than the most recent 10-year average. No green-winged teal were observed. The teal estimate for SW Louisiana decreased 50% from 2022 (257,000 to 129,000). However, SE LA experienced a 143% increase in teal numbers (7,000 to 17,000), and 2,000 teal were observed on Little River Basin (Catahoula Lake), where none were counted in 2022. Eighty-seven percent of the teal estimate was in southwest Louisiana.

Southwest

Habitat conditions in the southwest were very poor. All parishes in the southwest portion of the survey were experiencing exceptional drought before, and during, the survey. We estimated less than 5% of the agricultural (rice/crawfish) region north and south of Interstate-10 to be flooded, and many harvested rice fields had already been disked. Nevertheless, more than half of all teal in southwest Louisiana were observed in flooded agricultural fields near Gueydan.

Assessments of marsh conditions in these reports are based on the evaluation of physical characteristics observable from the air. Water levels, vegetation (extent and health of both emergent and submerged aquatics), and the extent of non-native, nuisance aquatics are judged. Marsh conditions in SW were far below average based on water levels alone. Many small pools were completely dry and most available water in the marsh was confined to canals or pools rapidly retreating from their vegetated margins. Desirable submerged aquatic vegetation (SAV) was largely absent due to dry pools, but so were floating vegetation such as salvinia and hyacinth. However, these nuisance species persisted in the boat canals, most of which still held water.

There was scattered evidence of marsh fires in the far southwest, some still smoking as we surveyed. This resulted in some areas of stressed/dead trees that had been impacted by the combination of drought and fires. Emergent vegetation across the southwest was variable. Lower elevations that maintained some moisture were green and thriving, whereas areas of stressed, brown marsh grass, not typical in September, were widespread. Water on government lands was variable. Rockefeller was mostly dry and Sabine, Cameron Prairie, and White Lake marsh water levels were well below average. However, Lacassine Pool had a nearly normal water level with excellent vegetative conditions. Marsh conditions improved substantially to the East of Freshwater Bayou.

Not included in the total, an additional 16,000 back-bellied whistling ducks were estimated in SW LA wetland habitats (down from 45,000 in 2022).

Southeast

Water levels were largely normal in the southeast marshes and swamps as they are more tidally influenced. The Atchafalaya and Wax Lake outlets contained exceptional SAV and emergent vegetation. Habitat from Cote Blanche Bay to Houma continues to be dominated by lotus, lilies, hyacinth, and watershield with open pools containing adequate amounts of SAV. Unlike recent years, more teal were observed in the marsh between Atchafalaya Delta WMA and Houma than the mouth of the Mississippi River. The Mississippi River Delta had elevated water and turbidity at the time of the survey. SAV coverage proved difficult to assess, but appeared to be below average. Wide-scale, annual differences in brackish and saline marsh are difficult to qualify beyond hurricane effects. As such, much of the habitat within both Terrebonne and Barataria Bays appears similar to years past.

An additional 3,000 black-bellied whistling ducks were estimated in SE LA marsh habitats (down from 6,000 during the 2022 September survey).

Little River Basin

In contrast to last year’s survey, we were able to assess habitat and estimate teal abundance on the Little River Basin. In September 2022, no teal were observed and vegetation could not be assessed on Little River Basin due to water depth (32.0 M.S.L.). This year, basin water levels were slowly increasing from a gauge reading of 27.4 M.S.L. at the time of the survey, corresponding to an estimated 10% of the basin with water greater than or equal to one inch. Duck forage production was generally good across the basin. Large spans of millet, sprangletop, and duck potato were present in distinct regions across most of the basin.

No other information was available about numbers in Northeast Louisiana.

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The 2023 statewide teal season in Louisiana, during which blue- and green-winged teal may be harvested, begins Friday, 15 September and runs through Saturday, 30 September.

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