Teal hunters hit the water this weekend with some pretty good opening day results. There may not have been as many hunters as usual due to the Friday opening, but recent cool weather did have some birds in the area. The largest concentrations were, as usual, in south Louisiana.
The Louisiana Department of Wildlife and Fisheries held it’s first aerial survey statewide earlier in the week. The estimate of 373,000 blue-winged teal is nearly 4 times last September’s estimate of 97,500, and is well above both the most recent 5-year average of 136,000 and the long-term average of 231,000.
It is the highest estimate since 457,000 blue-wings were seen in 2008. Estimates in both SW and SE Louisiana were the second highest in the last 10 years. During the last decade, only the 444,000 estimated blue-wings in 2008 in SW LA and the 30,000 in 2011 in SE LA were higher than the respective estimates from this survey. The mottled duck estimate was also over twice last year’s 12,000 and is the same as the most recent 5-year average of 25,000.
As in past years, the overwhelming majority of blue-wings in SW LA were counted in the agricultural habitat, with large concentrations seen in fields north of Lacassine NWR, southwest of Gueydan, and north of Intracoastal City. No big groups were noted in SE LA, but most blue-wings were counted on transects in the marsh east of Venice and between Lafitte and Myrtle Grove. Conversely, less than 200 blue-wings and a handful of pintails were all that were seen at Catahoula Lake, the fewest on record for this survey. The flight crew extended the survey to Duck Lake of Catahoula NWR and some private habitat to the west of the lake to see if birds were nearby, and we counted another 800 blue-wings.
Habitat conditions are currently characterized by high water levels in coastal marshes and higher than average flooding in agricultural areas in the western portion of the SW LA survey region. The heavy rain from hurricane Harvey still covers some roads, has left water in many pastures, and produced marsh water levels 1-2 feet above normal in this region. As the survey progressed eastward, flooding in the agricultural and pasture lands declined to about average by eastern Vermilion Parish, with mostly managed water being available on the landscape. Water levels in the coastal marsh, however, remained above normal. In SE Louisiana, habitat conditions looked good to excellent in most places. Water levels were normal, and good growth of submerged aquatic vegetation was noted in most locations in the marsh. It was difficult to assess habitat quality with such high water in SW Louisiana, but the expansion of invasive aquatics noted last year along some transects, especially water hyacinth in the marshes south of White Lake, have persisted. Water levels at Catahoula Lake are currently about 1 foot higher than regular season target levels, and have overtopped moist-soil vegetation twice during the summer drawdown period. Waterfowl food production is expected to be poorer than average due to that flooding.
Clearly, conditions have been conducive to moving a larger than average number of blue-wings into Louisiana. Although wetland habitat conditions are good in states to the north of us, early cold fronts provided unseasonably cool weather over the past week. Combined with the relatively late date of this year’s survey (from setting the September teal season 6 days later than the traditional last 3 full weekends in September), conditions were right to see a relatively high September estimate for blue-winged teal.”