Day 21: Bonus report 3.61 million ducks!

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screen-shot-2016-12-21-at-11-22-46-amMerry Christmas, Louisiana duck hunters. This just in — the numbers from the December aerial waterfowl estimate of the Louisiana Department of Wildlife and Fishers show an estimated 3.61 million ducks in Louisiana. Check out the details:

The survey numbers are up 18% from the November survey total of 3.06 million, 37% higher than last December’s estimate of 2.64 million, and is 29% higher than the long-term December average of 2.79 million. It is the highest December estimate since 1999 when nearly 5 million ducks were estimated from this survey.

Winter weather in the flyway since the November survey, including below-freezing temperatures and snowfall in the upper-Midwest states, has created conditions conducive to moving the typical later migrants into Louisiana and some early-migrating species out, as evidenced by the big increase in mallards (11,000 to 190,000) and canvasbacks (2,000 to 300,000) and the decline in blue-winged teal (273,000 to 95,000).

The estimate of 190,000 mallards is the highest since 2005, and the 300,000 estimated canvasbacks, resulting almost completely from a very large concentration east of Venice, is the highest on record for December.

Large increases from the November survey were seen for green-winged teal (511,000 to 805,000) and ring-necked ducks (558,000 to 765,000) as well. The estimated number of gadwalls declined from 1,255,000 to 1,008,000 since November, but may have been due to a redistribution of ducks in SW LA, and the December estimate remains above the long-term average of 906,000 gadwalls.

In NE Louisiana, observers counted 594,000 ducks and 402,000 geese (10% white-fronted and 90% snow geese) on the traditional cruise survey of selected habitats standardized in 2005. That is a 31% increase in ducks and 4 times the geese seen in November. The 594,000 ducks is 64% higher than the 363,000 ducks counted on this survey last December and is the highest since 2005. However, four December surveys in NE LA have been missed or incomplete due to weather, aircraft problems, lack of observers, or other difficulties since 2005, so comparisons with highs, lows, or even averages are suspect. Pintail (151,000), gadwall (134,000), shoveler (101,000), green-winged teal (93,000), and mallard (93,000) were the most abundant species, and the largest concentrations of both ducks and geese were seen in the flooded agricultural fields between Bonita and Mer Rouge and between Bunkie/Cheneyville and Grand Cote NWR. Well over 100,000 ducks were also seen in the agricultural habitats west of Richard K. Yancey WMA.

Ducks continue to be fairly evenly distributed between SW and SE survey regions but with far more diving ducks in SE LA and far more dabbling ducks in SW LA. There was a notable redistribution of ducks in SW LA since the November survey where the major concentrations of ducks were seen in the coastal marsh at southern ends of transects. In December, the largest concentrations of ducks were noted in the agricultural habitats north of the marsh, particularly north of Lacassine NWR, near Cherry Ridge, and SW of Gueydan between the ICWW and Hwy 14. In SE LA, major concentrations of ring-necked ducks and coots were seen in the upper Terrebonne marshes, and the marshes south and east of Venice held large numbers of gadwalls, greenwings, pintails, and ringnecks as well as canvasbacks.

At Catahoula Lake, the water level was at least a foot higher than management targets due to recent rainfall and runoff, which likely contributed to big shift in species composition from dabbling ducks to diving ducks since the November survey. The total of 3,000 dabblers counted on this survey is the same as last December, but 50% more divers were counted this December (119,000 vs 80,000). The total of 122,000 is higher than the 83,000, 82,000, and 76,000 of the prior 3 years, but remains 21% below the most recent 10-year average of 154,000.

In NW LA, 13,500 ducks were counted, primarily on the locks, lakes, oxbows, and fields along the Red River and upper Toledo Bend reservoir. That is over 5 times the 2,500 ducks counted in November and 35% higher than the December average of just under 10,000 for this survey. Gadwall (4,100), ring-necked ducks (3,400), mallard (2,000), and shovelers (1,500) were the most abundant species and the largest concentrations were seen between locks 4 and 5 on the Red River and private managed impoundments near Loggy Bayou and Bayou Pierre.