LDWF January aerial survey

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The January 2022 waterfowl estimates are up from December, although a lot of the state’s duck hunters might wonder how. The season has been a tough one. The numbers from the most recent Louisiana Department of Wildlife and Fisheries aerial survey shows the January 2022 estimate of 2.1 million ducks in the coastal region and Catahoula Lake represents a 43% increase from December.

Most of the increase in total ducks from December is from scaup, which increased from 37,000 to 441,000. There was also a large increase in ring-necked duck (178,000 to 333,000) and green-winged teal (185,000 to 268,000). Gadwall, mallard, and wigeon all declined from December estimates and current estimates represent the lowest January count on record for these species. Pintail also declined, due largely to the absence of the 93,000 that were counted on Catahoula Lake a month earlier.

Dry conditions persisted throughout the NE. Observers indicated that there was likely less water on the landscape than the December survey flown three weeks earlier. The total duck count for NE dropped to 34,000. Pintail and shoveler were the most abundant, followed by green-winged teal, mallard, scaup, gadwall, and canvasback. Nearly half the ducks counted (15,000) were located in agricultural fields around Bunkie with much smaller concentrations located near Bonita-Mer Rouge (3,000), Saline Farms (2,000), and between Highway 133 and Bayou LaFourche (2,000).

An additional 120,000 lesser snow and Ross’s geese were counted along with 10,000 white-fronted geese. Geese were also concentrated in the ag. fields around Bunkie, Hebert, and the Bonita-Mer Rouge area. These three locations combined to hold 95% of the geese counted in the region.

15,000 ducks were counted on managed impoundments, reservoirs, and agricultural areas in NW Louisiana. Though indications and observations were that NW was as dry or more so than NE, duck abundance increased from the December survey when 10,000 ducks were observed. Gadwall, canvasback, and ring-necked ducks were the most common species observed, followed by shovelers and green-winged teal which numbered more than 1,000. The majority of ducks were again seen in the wetlands, backwater, and river between lock 4 and Shreveport. Multiple, public and privately managed impoundments between Lake Bistineau, Bayou Pierre WMA, and the Yates tract of Red River NWR also contained decent numbers of both dabbling and diving ducks. Both Caddo and Cross Lakes each had over 1,000 canvasbacks but few other species. A few thousand light geese (lesser snow and Ross’s) were also counted at the Lower Cane unit of RRNWR and privately managed impoundments. Less than 200 Canada geese were also observed region-wide.

The duck estimate for southwest Louisiana increased 26% from December, but is 17% below last January’s estimate (1.3 million), and lower than the most recent 5-year (1.47 million) and 10-year (1.5 million) averages for SW. Though there were declines in mallard, gadwall, and pintail, mottled duck estimates remained unchanged and all other species increased, driven largely by divers (Figure 4). The biggest change was seen with scaup which increased to 122,000 from an estimate of 9,000 in both December and November. There were also 93,000 canvasbacks, up from 15,000 in December and none were observed in November.

There were slightly more ducks west of Calcasieu Lake compared to December, including agricultural fields and pasture north of the Gulf Intracoastal Waterway A few thousand snow geese were also observed in marsh adjacent to the shoreline. East of Calcasieu Lake, duck distribution shifted since the December survey. Concentrations declined in the marshes west of Grand Lake but increased in and around White Lake, Pecan Island, and the agricultural lands from Lake Arthur to Kaplan. Scattered flocks of geese were observed in these same ag. fields, with most numbering only a few hundred. Only one goose flock observed while traveling on and between transects was made up of more than 1,000 birds. The large flock of black-bellied whistling ducks noted near Lake Arthur in December, was again seen and estimated at 6,000.

Decent amounts of submerged aquatic vegetation could still be seen from the air in many of the fresh and intermediate marshes. Region-wide, agricultural fields had slightly more water than December but again much of it was either in crawfish production or very shallow in fields with substantial standing crop residue. A low tide again likely affected duck abundance in brackish and saline marshes.

Southeastern marshes saw a 209% increase in ducks from December’s 20-year low. This is 54% higher than last January (598,000), 25% higher than the most recent 5-year (735,000), and equal to the most recent 10-year January averages. Divers also drove the increase from December counts in SE. Scaup increased from 16,000 to 311,000 and ring-necked ducks from 63,000 to 294,000. Blue-winged teal showed increased numbers from December and were also more abundant than the November survey.
All regions of the SE marshes had increased duck abundance and species composition. The mouth of the Mississippi River was once again the stronghold of duck abundance in SE. Though not enumerated in this report, substantial numbers of bufflehead and common goldeneye were also observed in multiple locations throughout the southeastern coast.

Habitat conditions seem to be stabilizing in SE Louisiana. Though much of the marsh in both Terrebonne and Barataria Bays was disturbed as a result of Hurricane Ida, turbidity appears to have declined. Additionally, some interior marshes, especially between Lafitte and Galliano, have large
sections of marsh vegetation with intact roots and soil that were washed in from farther out that may take root in the coming growing season. Like SW, low tide during the survey in SE Louisiana was observed in brackish and saline marsh.

Catahoula Lake – 38,000
Unlike the coastal transects which were surveyed during the West Zone’s second split, Catahoula Lake, similar to past January surveys, had an open season during the survey. Flown in the afternoon to minimize disturbance to the hunting public, there was still a moderate amount of activity on the Lake. The November and December surveys are conducted while the duck season is closed, consequently the 38,000 ducks observed on the lake (79% of which were canvasbacks) was the lowest count of the 2021-2022 season. This is 22% lower than last January’s count and well below the most recent 5-year (81,000) and 10-year (73,000) January averages. No appreciable number of dabbling ducks was observed and all species of divers had decreased from their December totals. The lake level at the time of the survey was 29.3 MSL (center of the lake) which resulted in suitable shallow water conditions for dabbling ducks along the lake margin. There were an additional 4,000 dabblers, consisting of mallard, pintail, and a smaller number of gadwall and shovelers on the Duck Lake tract of Catahoula NWR, in addition to a flock of 5,000 divers, made up of canvasback and scaup.