Rain, fog, and low flight ceilings kept Larry Reynolds and his LDWF crew from completing the coastal transect survey prior to the opening of the Coastal Zone hunting season this week, but they did complete the north Louisiana surveys.
In Northeast Louisiana, only 104,000 ducks and 96,000 geese (<10% white-fronted) were counted on selected habitats during the traditional cruise survey that was standardized in 2005. That is only 42% of the 247,000 ducks counted last November and is 30% lower than the November average of 148,000 for this survey since 2005. Similarly, the goose total is 61% lower than the 249,000 counted last November.
Gadwall (38,000) was the most abundant duck species that along with pintail (25,000), green-winged teal (19,000), and ring-necked ducks (13,000) accounted for 91% of the ducks counted. The surveyed area is much wetter than normal for November, the rice harvest was not completed, and it appears some crops were left in the field. Along with above average flooding in agricultural fields, flooding was also evident in backwater areas of the major river systems. Concentrations of both ducks and geese were noted in flooded rice fields in the Bunkie/Grand Cote, which was holding nearly 1/3 of the ducks and half the geese counted on this survey. Nearly as many geese were counted in the Bonita/Mer Rouge area. Smaller concentrations of dabbling ducks were seen in flooded agricultural fields east of Bayou Lafourche in Richland Parish and near Bonita/Mer Rouge area, while a concentration of ring-necked ducks was seen at Catahoula NWR.
Another 12,000 ducks were counted on the Northwest Louisiana survey, primarily on the locks, lakes, oxbows, and fields along the Red River and upper Toledo Bend reservoir. That is 72% higher than the 7,000 counted last November and nearly 80% higher than the average since 2005. Gadwall was the most abundant species (4,500) and with mallards (2,000), ring-necked ducks (1,500), shovelers (1,300) and green-winged teal (1,200) accounted for 88% of the ducks counted. Nearly 70% of the total ducks were counted on managed impoundments near Loggy Bayou, but good numbers were also seen on the Red River between Locks 4 and Shreveport. Habitat conditions were much wetter than last November, river and lake levels were high, and there was ample water in rice fields. Lakes Bistineau and Wallace were in drawdown and few ducks were seen in those habitats.
The 247,000 total ducks estimated in SW LA is the lowest on record for this survey, and is less than half the next lowest estimate of 581,000 in 2013. Water levels at Catahoula Lake during the survey were about 6 feet higher than the management target, and few dabbling ducks were seen. However, the 103,000 ring-necked ducks and canvasbacks were by far the most divers seen in November for at least the last 10 years, when diver numbers have varied between zero and 21,000. Indeed, the diver total from this survey is similar to the most recent 10-year November average of 105,000 total ducks.