November Duck report is Yuck!

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The Louisiana Wildlife and Fisheries conducted their annual November waterfowl survey this week and it doesn’t look good. The results were released Thursday night, Nov. 10. The only hope for a good opener for duck season for many folks may be the big cold front that hits our area this weekend.

It could push some ducks further south, but whether they get to Louisiana yet or not is still in question. For now, this is what we’ve got.

The 802,000 ducks estimated during the November 2022 LDWF survey for coastal Louisiana and Catahoula Lake was the lowest since the survey began in 1968. It is 38% lower than the November 2021 estimate, as well as 28% and 48% lower than the most recent 5-year (1.11 million) and 10-year (1.54 million) averages respectively. Unlike the total estimate, no species- specific record lows for November were set.

Gadwall (+21%), green-wing (+20%), mottled duck (+5%), and scaup (+117%) were the only species whose estimates increased from 2021.

Large declines in mallard (-90%), wigeon (-82%), shoveler (-87%), ring-neck (-96%), and blue-wing (-32%) from the November 2021 estimates were observed. Additionally, the blue-winged teal estimate showed a decrease of 24% from this year’s September count (264,000). Not included in the table above, an estimated 139,000 black-bellied whistling ducks were observed, including 127,000 in SW, and 12,000 in SE coastal areas. Also not enumerated in the above table, a 5-mile long raft of scaup numbering roughly 15,000 was seen on Lake Borgne between transects (the Lake Pontchartrain and Borgne scaup survey is not conducted until the months of December and January). Geese are not counted during transect surveys other than opportunistically in the distance and between transect lines. Nevertheless, through the entirety of the survey, only a single flock of 50 white-fronted geese was observed west of Lake Arthur.

Excluding the Catahoula Lake estimate, 85% of ducks counted on the coast were located in the southwest. However, this year’s estimate in SW was 22% lower than the .83 million in November 2021, yet higher than 2018, 2019, and 2020 estimates. Comparatively, duck counts in the southeast have not surpassed those in southwest since 2016 when they were essentially equal (1.43 million in SW; 1.45 million in SE) (Figure 2). The 2022 duck estimate was the lowest in the southeast coastal region on record for November. Other low counts in SE include 2007 (160,000 ducks), 2009 (170,000 ducks), and 2008 (200,000 ducks).

NE Louisiana Survey methodology for the northeast portion of the state will change this year, making future comparisons to past surveys invalid. Two years of experimental transect surveys in the Mississippi Alluvial Valley are scheduled to commence the week before the East Zone opens on 19 November. December and January surveys of the northeast will follow the same methods. An analysis of the results by an LSU graduate student will be used to determine the most efficient transect stratification to employ in future surveys of the northeast region. A report from the initial survey will be forthcoming and sent as an addendum to this document.
Anecdotal observations from LDWF regional biologists in the Monroe office indicate significantly improved habitat from November 2021. Both public and private lands were influenced by a few timely rain events as a dry October was improved by around three inches accumulated in the two weekends leading up to this report.

SW Louisiana In southwest Louisiana, marsh conditions were slightly better than last year, whereas agricultural fields were vastly improved. Southwest marshes continue to be mostly free of non-native, nuisance, floating aquatic vegetation. Many locations show above average emergent and submerged aquatic vegetative (SA V) growth, and overall water levels were normal to slightly below normal. The increased amount of available water in the agricultural geography was in stark contrast to the drought conditions of 2021. Far less field levelling and tillage was taking place and many more fallow and second crop rice fields were inundated with shallow water. Sporadic fields have already been flooded and prepped for crawfish, with traps in place, but not currently being run daily. The greatest concentrations of ducks observed were in the marshes west of White Lake and east of Grand Lake.
SE LouisianaSoutheast marshes also appear improved from last November, especially the locations impacted by Hurricane Ida. Turbidity is significantly lower, emergent vegetation and SAV are both widespread and healthy. However, localized but substantial areas of hyacinth and salvina were noted in both marsh pool margins and canals. As usual, the largest concentrations of ducks in southeast Louisiana were observed at the mouth of the Mississippi River where habitat was above average and wetland development projects (crevasses) are showing noticeable results.

Catahoula Lake The 42,000 ducks counted on Catahoula Lake was 52% below the November estimate of 87,000 in 2021, and 39% and 52% below the most recent 5-year and 10-year averages respectively. There were 40,000 less dabbling ducks than the same time last year and only slightly less divers. Large portions of the basin (especially the north end from French Ford to Old River) were just beginning to accumulate pools of water, but were devoid of ducks.
At the time of the survey, Catahoula Lake water level had increased to 28.1 MSL from the week previous. Thus, most of the lake is relatively shallow. The late-August rains that resulted in excessive water depth for the beginning of the September teal season overtopped much of the emergent vegetation that had established on the lake throughout the summer. Most of it was laid flat on the lake bed when the flooding subsided. Nevertheless, early-summer vegetative and seed production was sufficient to provide average amounts of duck food for the winter. Woody encroachment continues to advance throughout large portions of the basin.

NW Louisiana 17,000 ducks were counted in northwest Louisiana, a 467% increase from last year’s estimate (3,000) and 70% above the latest 5-year average (9,800). The largest count (around 30% of the total) was observed along the Red River between lock 5 and south Shreveport, with other notable concentrations at the Lower Cane unit of Red River NWR, Toledo Bend, and Black Lake at Campti. Overall, a combination of natural wetland processes and planned management have resulted in favorable habitat conditions for waterfowl in northwest Louisiana heading into winter. Low rainfall throughout the summer has caused many waterbodies to fall naturally, resulting in drawdown conditions that promoted vigorous moist-soil vegetative growth in both public and private lands throughout the area. Mudflats and shallow water were common, especially on areas such as Lake Bistineau, Black Bayou, Grand Bayou, Bayou Pierre WMA, and Toledo Bend. If future rainfall materializes and these areas continue to flood, the available area and quality have the potential to show increased waterfowl use. Privately managed impoundments, in addition to some tracts of Red River NWR, had very little water but were actively being filled. These shallow water areas contained most of the dabbling ducks that were counted during this survey. Most agricultural fields along the river, especially north of Shreveport to the Arkansas line, were dry.