Teal estimates about average

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The 2022 estimate of 264,000 blue-winged teal in coastal Louisiana and Catahoula Lake was 6% lower than the 2021 estimate of 281,000. It was 37% higher than the most recent 5-year average and 44% higher than the most recent 10-year average.

The teal estimate observed in SW Louisiana increased 23% from 2021 (209,000 to 257,000); however, SE LA experienced an 89% decline in teal numbers (66,000 to 7,000) and no teal were observed on Catahoula Lake where 6,000 were counted in 2021. Overall, 97% of teal estimated during this survey were observed in southwest Louisiana.

No estimates were made for north Louisiana, but recent rains left some water in low areas and some hunters have pumped water, holding a fair number of teal in those spots. Teal season opens Saturday, September 10.

Habitat conditions in the southwest were generally above average. The dry conditions that persisted through spring and early summer had abated, and water levels throughout the region were at or near normal. There are many areas of excellent submerged aquatic vegetative (SAV) growth, most notably west of Calcasieu Lakeand surrounding Vermillion Bay. Nuisance aquatics (salvinia & hyacinth) were observed, but very localized and not at all widespread. The largest salvinia problem area appeared to be between White Lake and Pecan Island.

Recent U.S.D.A. National Agricultural Statistics Service estimates indicate 75% of rice has been harvested statewide and the overall amount of water on the landscape in SW LA was greatly improved from what was observed last winter. Most harvested or second crop rice fields had shallow water, a noticeable amount offields were rolled/buffaloed with shallow water, and very few fields observed were drained and worked.

The vast majority of teal observed in SW LA were in fallow or post-harvest, agricultural fields both east and west of Gueydan, with lower numbers observed in ag. Fields west of Bell City, north of Intracoastal City, and in the Sabine NWR marsh. Not included in the total, an additional 48,000 and 15,000 back-bellied and fulvous whistling ducks, respectively, were estimated in SW LA wetland habitats.

Marsh conditions in southeast LA were average. Freshwater marsh from Cote Blanche Bay to Houma continued to be dominated by hyacinth, lotus, lilies, and large pools filled with SAV. Above average stands of emergent and submerged aquatic vegetation were again observed at both the Wax and Main Delta of Atchafalaya Delta WMA, yet duck observations were few. Largescale effects from last year’s hurricane werebarely apparent from a coarse survey of Terrebonne and Barataria Bays.

Sizeable areas of marsh have been lost, but the biggest observable difference is the large area of marsh that was washed inland east of Larose,and has persisted as “new marsh”. As is contemporarily the case, most teal in SE LA were concentrated at the mouth of the Mississippi River where both emergent and SAV appear above average. An additional 6,000 and 400 black-bellied and fulvous whistling ducks, respectively, were estimated in SE LA marsh habitats.

Catahoula Lake
The total absence of teal from Catahoula Lake during our survey was likely due to its depth. It had been at or below 27.5 M.S.L. since mid-July, but heavy and persistent rains beginning 22 August raised the level beyond32 M.S.L. from 26 August until the day of this survey (8 September). Current year’s plant growth was unobservable due to depth, but decaying vegetation was evident from the odor. Low cloud cover prevented a general assessment of wetland condition and availability at locations between the Red and Mississippi Rivers, but recent precipitation totals have likely resulted in widespread wetland availability.

Additionally, the mottled duck estimate in the coastal region (21,000) is 17% greater than the September 2021 estimate of 18,000, 4% greater than the most recent 5-year average (20,200), and 1% greater than the most recent 10-year average (20,800). Finally, a cursory investigation into the recent relationship between the September teal survey totals and Louisiana teal harvest estimates during the September season showed no correlation whatsoever. Years with high survey estimates do not necessarily result in high (or low) teal season harvest totals and vice versa.

There are many other variables at play, the biggest being the survey is coastal, whereas harvest is statewide. Thus, harvest expectations for teal season should not be based on the September survey.