As this report is written, a strong storm system is pushing through upper and middle Mississippi Flyway states, bringing heavy snows, gale-force winds, and plummeting temperatures. Up to one foot of snow has fallen on parts of Iowa, Wisconsin, southern Minnesota, and Michigan, and the storm is now moving eastward into Illinois’ duck-rich Illinois River bottoms.
“We’re hoping this weather system will do us some good,” states Larry Reynolds, Waterfowl Study Leader for the Louisiana Department of Wildlife and Fisheries. “The second part of the season in our eastern and coastal zones reopened this past Saturday, and reports from hunters are mixed. Areas that have good habitat are producing well. Hunters in other areas where water and food conditions aren’t so good have to work a little harder to get their birds.” For instance, Reynolds points to the southeast coastal area, where Hurricane Isaac came ashore in August, damaging freshwater aquatic vegetation in the process. “Numbers of ducks in this area are down around 25% compared to the long term average for this time of year,” Reynolds says. “I’d rate habitat conditions in the southeast as poor to fair at best. Hunters there have had spotty success all year.”
On the other hand, the southwest coastal area was not impacted by Hurricane Isaac, and plentiful natural food there has attracted a large number of ducks. In contrast to the southeast, southwest Louisiana has provided good hunting so far this season.
Reynolds continues that good habitat is lacking in the northeastern part of the state, which is still feeling the effects of drought from the summer and early fall. “The only water there is managed (intentionally flooded) water,” he says. “Now, where there’s water, duck numbers and hunter success are good. We have strong numbers of mallards, pintails, green-winged teal and ring-necked ducks on the waters that are available in that region.”
One other subject worthy of note: Louisiana hunters are shooting an unusually large number of diving ducks, especially lesser scaup. These birds typically concentrate in the southeast coastal area, but this year they are showing up all across the coast. Reynolds says. “We’ve had more band recoveries in this season’s first split than we had in all of last year. It appears that the scaup population has taken a big jump over last year.”
Overall, December’s statewide aerial survey of 2.06 million ducks is 15 percent lower than last year’s count of 2.42 million. However, Reynolds is hoping the strong cold front will send more birds into the Bayou State. He concludes, “Early reports from the second split are good, and this weather system should help us all the way around.”
Wade Bourne is the Editor-At-Large for Ducks Unlimited Magazine
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