Friday: December duck count

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As we get ready to open the second split in the East Zone, here’s the latest information on state waterfowl populations released today from Larry Reynolds and the LDWF aerial survey for December.

“The 1.94 million ducks estimated on this survey is 36% lower than last December’s estimate of 3.02 million and 32% below the long-term December average of 2.84 million. The Southeast portion of this survey was not completed in November, so no comparisons can be made for that region. However, estimates increased markedly from November in both Southwest (247,000 to 886,000) and at Catahoula Lake (103,000 to 156,000) survey regions. All species increased from November in SW LA except for mottled ducks, which were essentially unchanged. Only ring-necked ducks on Catahoula Lake declined from November (36,000 to 27,000), but approximately that difference was seen on nearby Duck Lake of Catahoula NWR. The estimate of 220,000 canvasbacks is the second highest on record for this survey behind only the 272,000 estimate in January of 2015.

Canvasbacks, ring-necked ducks, and scaup were well above their respective long-term December averages of 49,000, 198,000, and 76,000. However, all dabbling ducks except blue-wings and shovelers were far below their December long-term averages, especially gadwalls, green-wings, and pintails with December averages of 906,000, 480,000, and 344,000 respectively. The estimate for mottled ducks was nearly twice the 19,000 estimated last December but remains far below the long-term December average of 60,000. Although the total coot estimate was only 18% below the most recent 10-year December average of 1,127,000, the 90,000 estimated in SW LA is 79% lower than the 10-year average of 424,000 for that region.

Screen Shot 2017-12-21 at 9.08.26 PMIn Northeast Louisiana, 118,000 ducks and 121,000 geese (<5% white-fronted) were counted on selected habitats during the traditional cruise survey that was standardized in 2005. That is an increase from the 104,000 ducks and 96,000 geese seen during the November survey, but is 26% fewer ducks and 45% fewer geese than counted last December. Four December surveys in NE LA have been missed or incomplete since 2005, so comparisons with averages may be suspect, but the counts from this survey are 46% below the December average for ducks and 36% below the average for geese. Gadwall (27,000) was the most abundant duck species that along with ring-necked ducks (26,000), pintail (20,000), canvasback (13,000), shoveler (12,000), and mallard (11,000) accounted for 92% of the ducks counted. The surveyed area continues to be wetter than normal with backwater flooding in all river systems and above average flooding in agricultural habitats. The rice harvest is complete, but several hundred acres of soybeans remain in the fields. The largest concentration of ducks was seen at Mollicy Farms where 24,000 ring-necked ducks, 12,000 canvasbacks, 10,000 pintails, and 6,000 mallards were counted. Another 20,000 dabblers were counted in agricultural habitats south of Vidalia, and 14,000 around Bunkie/Grand Cote NWR. The biggest concentrations of geese were seen in agricultural fields east of Bayou Lafourche in Richland Parish and in the Bonita/Mer Rouge area.

Ducks were evenly distributed between the SW and SE coastal survey regions, but dabbling ducks made up 70% of the estimate in SW LA, and diving ducks were 76% of the estimate in SE LA. In SW LA, concentrations of ducks were seen between Little Pecan and Grand lakes, in the fresh marsh NE of Grand Lake, and on a sewage lagoon near Rayne. Concentrations of both snow and white-fronted geese were noted southwest of Gueydan and north of Lacassine NWR. In SE LA, large numbers of ring-necked ducks and coots were seen in the Upper Terrebonne marshes south of Amelia, and smaller concentrations of ring-necked ducks and canvasbacks were counted in the marsh east of Venice.

Water levels in the marsh were lower than in November but remain high in most non-tidal locations across SW LA during this survey. In tidal saline and brackish marshes, water levels were generally low, including areas that were completely mudflat from low tides and north winds. Despite good submerged aquatic vegetation in specific locations, overall it was spotty and below average in abundance. There was abundant shallow flooding in agricultural areas from past wet conditions and recent rainfall with some flooding in most fields and pastures. In SE LA, water levels were also lower than in November, and good to excellent submerged aquatic vegetation was evident in a number of surveyed locations. With the excellent production of seed-producing annual vegetation seen in SW LA during the September survey, good submerged aquatic vegetation in SE LA, and above-average flooding in the agricultural region, good habitat conditions are expected to be maintained in the coastal region.

Water level at Catahoula Lake had fallen since the November survey, but recent rainfall/runoff raised it again to about 6 feet higher than the management target, providing continued excellent habitat for large numbers of diving ducks but relatively few dabblers. The 90,000 canvasbacks and 156,000 diving ducks are the highest in at least the last 10 years, and the 163,000 total ducks is 16% higher than the most recent 10-year average.

Another 19,300 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 60% more than November, 26% higher than the 15,000 counted last December, and nearly twice the long-term December average for this survey. Gadwall was the most abundant species (4,900), and along with ring-necked ducks (4,500), mallards (3,200), green-winged teal (2,700), and shovelers (1,800), accounted for 88% of the ducks counted. Approximately 8,000 ducks were counted between Locks 4 and 5 of the Red River, and 7,500 were seen on managed impoundments near Loggy Bayou, but good numbers were also seen at Bayou Pierre WMA. Changes in habitat conditions were mixed from November with less flooding in rice fields but Wallace Lake is now at pool stage and Lake Bistineau water level has risen.

Lastly, in December and January, LDWF conducts a scaup survey on Lakes Maurepas, Pontchartrain, and Borgne. An estimated 134,000 scaup were seen on this survey including 2,300 and 132,000 on Lakes Borgne and Pontchartrain, respectively.  The birds on Pontchartrain were tightly concentrated on transects through the northwest portion of the lake. There were few birds on all other lines. That is far more than the 14,400 scaup seen on this survey last December, 34% higher than the most recent 5-year average of 100,000, but 33% lower than the long-term average of 190,000 in December.