When duck season opens in our area Saturday, there’s a pretty good way to tell who will have ducks and who won’t. Water. If you’ve got it, there’s a good chance you’ll have ducks, some anyway. If you don’t, well, you might want to bring a book to the duck blind.
Northeast Louisiana doesn’t appear to have many ducks right now. This week’s colder temps might change that, but water is still the key. The November aerial survey of the Louisiana Wildlife and Fisheries was released earlier this afternoon and it shows a lot of ducks in southeast and southwest Louisiana. The northeast Louisiana aerial survey will be flown late this week, and the LDWF report will be amended to include those results. While there are no official numbers, there have been a lot of geese in the area, according to reports from the fields.
Here’s what LDWF saw so far: The estimate of 3.06 million ducks from this survey is 2.5 times the 1.21 million from last November and is similar to the 3.12 million estimated in 2014 when early freezing weather in the Flyway pushed large numbers of birds into Louisiana. This estimate is 80% higher than the most recent 5-year average of 1.73 million and 50% higher than the long-term average of 2.04 million. More of all species except mottled ducks, blue-winged teal, and pintails were seen compared to 2015, and gadwalls, greenwings, shovelers, bluewings), scaup, and ring-necked ducks) were far above their November long-term averages.
Here’s an interesting tidbit from the survey. The 3.06 million ducks also had quite a few duck-like friends with them. The estimate for coots in the survey was 1.8 million. The American coot also known as Poule d’ eau (pool doo) is not a duck. It belongs to a distinct order of migrating birds not having webbed feet.
The relatively high survey total is surprising given the lack of cold weather typically associated with migration events to this point in the year and recent communications from colleagues in Saskatchewan, North Dakota, and Minnesota reporting warm temperatures and delayed migrations.
Ducks were distributed evenly between SW and SE Louisiana, due largely to high numbers of diving ducks in SE. However, the distribution within those regions was quite different. Large groups of ducks were seen at Lacassine Pool and in the coastal marshes at the southern end of transect lines from West Cove over to White Lake. No comparable concentrations of ducks were noted in agricultural habitats in SW Louisiana. In contrast, transect lines in SE Louisiana were average to below average until the last line near the mouth of the Mississippi, where large flocks of gadwalls, ring-necked ducks, greenwings, and bluewings were counted from southeast to northeast of Venice. Over 75% of the ducks counted on SE Louisiana transects were counted on that last line. This is similar to last November, when 85% of ducks counted in SE Louisiana were on the last line, but with a much larger number of birds in the region.
The 172,000 ducks counted at Catahoula Lake on this survey was much higher than the 23,000 counted last November and is the highest November survey since 2010 when 209,000 birds were counted. Water levels remain within management targets compared to the early flooding from excessive rainfall last November, and the number of dabbling ducks corresponds to the more suitable habitat conditions. Dry conditions in the agricultural fields and other habitats may also have contributed to a higher number of birds using Catahoula Lake.
Only 2,500 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 far lower than the 6,000 counted last November and is the lowest November survey in NW LA since 2005. Gadwall, green-winged teal, and shovelers were the most abundant species, but 60% of the total number of ducks on the survey was counted on private managed impoundments near Bayou Pierre. Although overall habitat conditions and water levels in the region were considered average by observers, lack of flooding in some managed moist-soil units, low water levels at Lake Bistineau, and expanding invasive aquatics, especially at Wallace Lake, likely had a negative effect on the survey total.