FULL ARTICLE: Written by Andy Crawford
“Duck hunters flocking to their blinds tomorrow for the Coastal Zone season opener this weekend could find fewer birds settling in their sets, with the state’s aerial survey showing a 61-percent drop in the number of birds in the area compared to last November.
Louisiana Department of Wildlife and Fisheries biologists conducting the survey this week counted an estimated 1.21 million ducks compared to last November’s 3.13 million birds, according to an agency news release.
This week’s count also is 33 percent less than the five-year average, and ranks as the fourth lowest November estimate since the survey began in 1969.
However, biologists attributed the drop to an earlier survey period and higher temperatures than during last year’s count, the agency said.
That said, fewer ducks of every species except blue-winged teal were seen compared to 2014, and only bullrings and shovelers were up compared to the long-term averages, the LDWF said.
Gadwall made up the largest component of the in-state population, with 444,000 counted. That was followed by blue-winged teal at 287,000 and pintails at 158,000.
Southwest Louisiana attracted 60 percent of the ducks in the state, with 726,000 ducks of all species being found in that region. Almost 61 percent of all dabblers (711,000) were counted in the southwest, the agency reported.
Southeast Louisiana was next on the list, with 443,000 dabblers and 15,000 divers for a total of 458,000 ducks. Catahoula Lake held only 23,000 total birds, according to the count.
Biologists reported that the distribution of birds was not surprising.
“The distribution of ducks … is typical for November but is in contrast to 2014, when large numbers of ring-necked ducks in Southeast Louisiana skewed the total toward that region,” according to the survey report.
Biologists provides some insight into what areas of Southwest Louisiana are most-likely to have birds.
“Large concentrations of ducks were noted in the marsh of the East Cove Unit of Cameron Prairie (National Wildlife Refuge) and in the agricultural habitat north of Intracoastal City,” the report stated. “Another large concentration was noted off the transect lines (and not counted) in the agricultural fields between Thornwell and Welsh.”
In the southeast, hunters near the mouth of the Mississippi River appear to be socked in with birds, while the rest of the region is left wanting.
“On the Southeast Louisiana transects, ducks were especially clumped, with the only large concentration seen in the marsh across the river from Venice,” the report states. “About 85 percent of the total ducks counted in Southeast Louisiana were seen on that one line.”
Biologists also noted that the 23,000 ducks counted around Catahoula Lake was far fewer than the 144,000 counted last November and the 154,000 counted in 2013.
“Recent heavy rainfall has flooded the lake to nearly 3 feet above management targets and 5 feet higher than normal water levels this time of year,” according to t he the report. “That rainfall has also flooded a large acreage of agricultural and other habitat in proximity to the lake, and likely contributed to substantially lower November duck use (of the lake).”
The report also noted that ducks should have no problem finding adequate habitat.
“Despite drought conditions over much of the state, there was solid submerged aquatic vegetation and moist-soil production in marsh habitats, and moist-soil plant production at Catahoula Lake was the best since 2009,” the report stated. “Water levels exceed those optimal for foraging dabbling ducks in the marsh habitat and at Catahoula Lake. However, the rainfall eased or eliminated drought conditions across the state and produced an abundance of habitat for migrating waterfowl in the agricultural regions across the coastal zone.”
Below is the breakdown by species and zone:
|Species||SW Zone||SE Zone||Catahoula Lake||Totals|
|Mallard||1,000||0||Less than 1,000||1,000|
|Wigeon||3,000||9,000||Less than 1,000||12,000|
|GW teal||68,000||34,000||Less than 1,000||102,000|