South Louisiana aerial survey

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The Louisiana Department of Wildlife and Fisheries November survey for south Louisiana was completed late last week. The numbers show ducks down from previous counts, largely because of habitat conditions. The survey for north Louisiana will be done early this week and we will share those results with you when they are completed. Here’s the report from waterfowl leader Larry Reynolds:

This report includes only information from the coastal transect and Catahoula Lake survey.

The estimate of 1.54 million ducks on this survey is half of last November’s estimate of 3.06 million and 23% below the most recent 5-year and long-term average of 2.0 million. Over the last 5 years, this November survey has provided estimates from 1.02 and 1.21 million in 2013 and 2015 respectively to 3.06 and 3.12 in 2016 and 2014 respectively with this survey estimate falling between but at the low end of that range. All species except blue-winged teal (LTA=183,000), shoveler (LTA=93,000), and scaup (LTA=46,000) were below their long-term November averages, and even those species did not exceed LTA by Screen Shot 2016-01-12 at 7.04.18 PMmuch.

Distribution of ducks was skewed toward SW Louisiana with 63% of ducks being counted in that region. Notable concentrations of mostly gadwalls were seen in the marsh south of West Cove of Calcasieu Lake, on the East Cove Unit of Cameron Prairie NWR, and on Rockefeller Refuge south of Highway 82. Interestingly, more ducks were counted in the brackish marsh and fewer in the agricultural habitats of SW Louisiana than expected. In SE Louisiana, the only concentration of ducks was in the marsh east of Venice, but solid numbers of birds were seen on lines through Delacroix and Biloxi WMA. Relatively few ducks, especially ring-necked ducks, were seen on the line through the upper Terrebonne marshes, a habitat that contributes substantially to the SE estimate in most years.

The count at Catahoula Lake was extremely low for a November survey when the lake was not flooded deeper than management target level. Flooding events in late-August after establishment of moist-soil vegetation and again in mid-September have generated poor habitat conditions. So despite favorable water levels at the time of this survey, few ducks were seen compared to previous November surveys.

Habitat conditions across the coastal marsh survey area are improved over the extensive high water seen during the September survey, but remain below average. High water throughout the spring and summer led to poor production of seed-producing annual vegetation in most places in SW LA, and although good SAV production was noted in a number of locations, it was not as extensive as seen on past surveys. Some areas of fresh and intermediate marsh, such as south of White Lake continue to be impacted by invasive aquatics, mostly water hyacinth. Flooding in the agricultural region of SW LA is at least average with most all managed impoundments flooded. Less pasture and shallow flooding was seen than in September, but conditions appear good in the agricultural habitats despite seeing few birds there on this survey. In SE Louisiana, SAV production also seems below average in most locations. Obvious damage from hurricane Nate’s storm surge was noted at the mouth of the Mississippi River, but lower than average production was seen along most transects except in the brackish marsh south of Delacroix.