Day 50: Duck survey results

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Just in time!  With ten days to go in the 2016-17 season, the Louisiana Department of Wildlife and Fisheries aerial survey results are in. With the weather like it has been the last few days, not many people have been hunting. So at least we can see the ducks are still here, even though not as many are here as last month. They are scattered in all this new fresh water.

Here are the numbers compiled by LDWF waterfowl study leader Larry Reynolds and released Thursday night.

“The 2.05 million ducks estimated on this survey is 11% higher than last January’s estimate of 1.85 million. However, it is down 43% from the December survey total of 3.61 million, 25% lower than the most recent 5-year average of 2.75 million, and 32% below the long-term average of 3.01 million. The long-term trend in January estimates from this survey is graphically represented in Figure 1. This is the second consecutive year the January estimate has declined markedly from the December estimate, something Screen Shot 2016-11-30 at 8.46.36 AMthat has happened only 7 times since 1977-78. It is the largest decline between December and January surveys on record surpassing last year’s.

About 466,000 ducks and 237,000 geese (90% snow, 10% white-fronted) were counted on selected habitats in NE Louisiana. That is 21% fewer ducks and 41% fewer geese than in December. However, those counts are still far higher than the 10-year January averages of 167,000 ducks and 142,000 geese from this survey. Pintail (157,000), mallard (108,000), green-winged teal (79,000), and ring-necked duck (47,000) were the most abundant species, and the largest concentrations of both ducks and geese continue to be seen in the flooded agricultural fields between Bunkie/Cheneyville and Grand Cote NWR and between Bonita and Mer Rouge, while Catahoula NWR had a notable concentration of ducks. Some additional flooding since the December survey was noted in the agricultural habitats and riverine systems, but available water in the backwaters, and bottomland hardwood habitats, although improved, remains below average.

At Catahoula Lake, 237,000 ducks were counted. Big increases in ring-necked ducks (58,000 to 79,000) and canvasbacks (61,000 to 158,000) since the December survey generated a January total that is the highest since 2004, when 291,000 total ducks were counted. Water depth remains within target levels, and moist-soil vegetation growth this summer was better than in recent years, so habitat conditions remain very good. Despite the lack of dabbling ducks seen on the lake, observers counted 104,000 (almost all mallards and pintails) on the adjacent Duck Lake of Catahoula NWR.

Distribution of total ducks in the coastal habitats shifted west since December with 61% of the ducks being seen in SW Louisiana. The largest concentration of ducks in SW Louisiana were on the open water of White Lake, agricultural fields southwest of Gueydan, and a sewage lagoon near Rayne. In SE Louisiana, the biggest concentration of ducks was seen in the upper Terrebonne marshes, but far fewer ring-necked ducks were seen in that location than in December.

Recent mid-winter waterfowl survey reports in neighboring states show conflicting results. Arkansas’s early-January duck populations remain below average with mallards at the lowest levels since 2010. In contrast, Mississippi’s early-January survey estimated over 1.4 million ducks compared to 500,000-600,000 in January of the prior 2 years. Weather extremes during this survey almost certainly affected bird movements, distributions, and thus population estimates. The coastal transects were completed prior to the hard freeze of Jan. 6-8, and unseasonably warm temperatures have dominated since then while other surveys were being conducted. Impacts of that remain speculative.