Latest LDWF duck survey

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The December 2023 estimate of ducks in Louisiana’s coastal zone and Little River Basin is
853,000 (table 1). This represents a 46% increase from last month’s record low estimate of 584,000.

Most species showed increases, including ring-necked ducks (+330%), green-winged teal (+196%),canvasbacks (+133%), mallard (+83%), mottled duck (+42%), gadwall (+34%), shoveler (+17%), and scaup increased considerably from an estimate of 0 in the November survey. Monthly declines were observed for wigeon (-43%), blue-winged teal (-34%), and pintails (-19%).

Most of the state received much needed rain in the past month, elevating drought conditions
from exceptional to extreme in some regions. With the large improvement in wetland habitat
abundance, it is not surprising that duck figures increased from the record-low estimate during the exceptional drought conditions experienced across the entire state during the November survey.

Nevertheless, the 853,000 estimated ducks is a decrease of 60% from the December 2022 estimate (2.12 million). It is also 54% and 64% below the most recent 5- and 10-year averages (2.1million and 2.4 million) respectively. The long-term average (1969-2023) for December is 2.9 million. The last time a total above the long-term December average was achieved was in 2017 when 3 million ducks were estimated (figure 1). All species declined from their December 2022 estimates with the exception of the mottled duck, which increased 35% from 20,000 to 27,000. Declines were observed in green-winged teal (-81%), gadwall (-60%), canvasback (-59%), pintail (-55%), mallard (-54%), scaup (-47%), ring-necked (-44%), blue-winged teal (-35%), wigeon (20%), and shoveler (-14%).

One caveat to this year’s survey is that, due to only having a 7-day closed period in the west
zone, our survey necessarily began only one day after the closure of the first season segment, as opposed to the recent past schedule of flying 8 days after the closure. Thus, ducks may not have dispersed off existing sanctuaries at the time of the flight. Additionally, much of the precipitation that increased available wetland habitat took place the Friday before the final weekend of the first season segment.

Southwest Louisiana – 458,000
The estimate for southwest Louisiana increased 25% since November, but is 67% lower than
December 2022 (1.4 million) (figure 2). This estimate is also 54% and 63% below the most recent 5-and 10-year averages respectively. It is the lowest December estimate for SW Louisiana on record, surpassing the former record low estimate of 789,000 in 2001 when conditions were also described as abnormally dry in the November and December survey reports.

Wetland habitat has increased greatly in the last month with regional precipitation totals varying
from 4-8 inches. Landscape-scale water increased in both depth and area. Both marsh and agricultural fields that were completely dry had become muddy, or at least had sheetwater, and those with low water had levels approaching, but still below, average depths. Many more agricultural fields were holding water as pumping, in addition to the rains, has been widespread. In the Cajun prairie region above I-10, an estimated 50%-70% of agricultural fields capable of holding water contained water depths suitable for ducks. Around 50% of agricultural land below I-10 contained water levels suitable for ducks and it was irregularly distributed. Water levels also improved on both federal and state wildlife refuges where significant concentrations of ducks were observed. No significant coverage of floating nuisance aquatic vegetation in southwest (figure 3) marsh pools was observed, a clear positive aspect of the drought conditions experienced in the region this past year. However, submerged aquatic vegetation (SAV) was also less prevalent. This “reset” of marsh vegetation, if normal water levels return in the coming year, has the potential to increase marsh quality in a large geography in 2024.

The largest concentrations of ducks were observed in the far southwest, most of the federal and state refuge properties, the marshes surrounding Grand and White Lakes, and agricultural fields around Gueydan, Hayes, and Kaplan. Large flocks of black-bellied whistling ducks were observed in similar locations as past surveys. Not included in the above table, black-bellies in SW Louisiana are estimated at 132,000. Additionally, 11,000 light geese and 1,000 white-fronted geese were observed from and between transects in the southwest, though far more are present in the region based on recent bservations and reports from staff on the ground.

Southeast Louisiana – 380,000
The total for southeast Louisiana is 157% greater than the November estimate (148,000), but is
46% lower than December 2022 (705,000), and is the second lowest December estimate since the first survey in 1968. Only three other December estimatesfor SE have been below 500,000: 2021 (297,000), 1982 (496,000), and 1978 (487,000). This year’s counts are 48% and 62% below the most recent 5- (731,000) and 10- (1 million) year averages respectively for the southeast coastal region.

Ring-necked ducks and green-winged teal were the most abundant species in SE, making up
54% of total observations. Lesser numbers of gadwall, blue-winged teal, and pintails together made up an additional 33% of the duck total. Habitat conditions were, in general, normal in SE. Marshes south of Houma were heavily choked with hyacinth yet still contained large flocks of ring-necks, coot and lower numbers of teal. Duck numbers (both teal species and gadwall) were higher than recent past years’ counts in the Delacroix area even though much of the bay was extremely shallow at the time of the survey. Finally, the lower Mississippi River again contained the majority of ducks observed in southeast Louisiana where four dabbling duck species (green-winged teal, pintail, gadwall, and shovelers) made up 92% of observations.

Little River Basin – 15,000
Water level at Little River Basin was 29.4 M.S.L. at the time of the survey. The 15,000 ducks
counted on LRB is 78% lower than the 69,000 observed in November. It is also 48% lower than the 29,000 estimated in December 2022. Like the situation in the coastal zone, the LRB survey was done only 2 day after the season had closed in the east zone on December 3. Low numbers of both dabblers and divers were observed on the lake, though divers usually occur in large numbers if the water level is at or exceeds the targeted 29.5 M.S.L. The 5- and 10-year average December counts are 107,000 and 110,000 respectively, and the December 2021 count was (268,000). Aside from the past two years, the December survey of LRB has resulted in no less than 76,000 duckssince 2010. In the recent past, large rafts of canvasbacks and ring-necked ducks would be counted in or near the conservation pool which was closed to hunting, but recent changes at LRB have resulted in the elimination of the conservation

An additional 16,000 ducks (11,000 pintail and 5,000 ring-necked ducks with a few hundred
mallard and shovelers) were observed on nearby Duck Lake/Little Lake, the 930 ac shallow lake that is part of the Catahoula National Wildlife Refuge and closed to hunting, and was only 20% inundated.

Northwest Louisiana – 16,000
The duck count in northwest Louisiana doubled from the 8,000 estimated in November. The
survey was not completed in December 2022, but the 16,000 for this December is 25% above the most recent 5-year average of 12,800.
Water levels have improved slightly from last month, but overall the region is still exceptionally
dry. Lakes and reservoirs being below pool stage, and progressively drying from mid-summer thorough November, resulted in considerable growth of moist-soil annuals along the margins. However, floating, invasive vegetation remains a problem in the pools that persisted, including Wallace Lake, Black Lake, and Black Bayou Lake. Some, but not all, managed impoundments on private and public land have been, and continue to be, pumped and offer habitat that was not available in November. Toledo Bend water level has increased, but considerable shallow water habitat persists along the margins, especially at the north end.

Green-winged teal made up 33% of the duck species total in NW, followed by gadwall (29%),
ring-necked duck (11%), scaup (10%), mallard (5%) and shoveler (5%). The largest concentrations of ducks observed during the survey were located between Shreveport and Lock 4 of the Red River, the Yates tract of Red River NWR, and Lake Bistineau including areas along Loggy Bayou to the Red River. Altogether, 90% of ducks observed in northwest Louisiana were in the above locations.

Lakes Pontchartrain, Borgne, Maurepas – Scaup
Scaup were estimated on Lakes Borgne (2,000) and Pontchartrain (9,000) on 7 December. The
Borgne estimate is 84% lower, and the Pontchartrain estimate is 111% higher, than last December. This survey is conducted each December and January, and is widely variable from both year-to-year and within years.

The second segment of the West Zone duck season began Monday, December 11 and is open
until Sunday, January 7. Following a 5 day closure, the season will again open on January 13 and remain open until the conclusion of duck season in the west zone on January 21.

The second segment of the East Zone duck season begins Saturday, December 16 after
the single (12 day) closure and will remain open until the conclusion of duck season in the east
zone on Sunday, January 28.

Hunt safely and always let friends or family know where you are going to be hunting.