OUTDOORS: Weather Stars Line Up as Floodwaters Means More Ducks in 2011

By: JOHN FLORES
When city folk and town people fill sandbags to prepare for the worst, when agricultural fields can’t be planted and rural roads can’t be traveled, and when people are displaced it can only mean one thing, nature’s flood water is having a devas-tating impact on humankind.

But, for waterfowl the impact is just the opposite — they flourish. And, though the spring and early summer of 2011 may go down in history as the year of the great floods of the north and south, it may also become the year of the great migration.

Where waterfowl are concerned it’s not often all of the proverbial weather-stars line up. In 2011 they did.

Delta Waterfowl Vice President, John Devney, said, “What we saw this spring was really remarkable circumstances. We had almost the entire prairie pothole region wet at once. If you look all the way from northwest Iowa, western Minnesota, eastern Dakotas, western Dakotas, northeast Manitoba, southwest Manitoba, southern Saskatchewan and southern Alberta — all were wet at the same time. And, that just doesn’t happen very often.”

Indeed remarkable circumstances. United States Fish and Wildlife Survey reports indicated Long Term Average (LTA) pond counts ranged from 47 and 57 percent above normal in southern Alberta and Saskatchewan, respectively, to 76 percent above normal in the western Dakotas to a whopping 115 percent above normal in the eastern Dakotas. That water not only inundated river and drainage systems in the Midwest, but also flooded the duck factory, essentially creating massive amounts of extremely good habitat.

According to Devney everybody knows water is good for ducks, but not many people know why. Abundant water not only produces high-quality habitat, but also impacts production.

Devney said, “It allows ducks to re-nest. Hatching rates are dismally low across a lot of Canada and even portions of the United States as a result of predation. What happens when you get really wet conditions like this and they persist through the breeding season — it started wet in late April and May — it’s still wet in May and June — if those nesting females lose a nest when a raccoon comes along and eats their eggs — if the wet resources are there, she’ll go fatten up and turn around and re-nest right away.”

Devney points out that blue winged teal aren’t normally considered good nesters. However in 2011 the re-nesting efforts by blue wings is significant.

“Not only do you have a great breeding population,” says Devney, “You’re going to have and we anticipate darn good pro-duction.”

Not only have the weather stars lined up this spring, but also breeding numbers as well are excellent. The number of ducks in the eastern Dakotas — considered the core of the breeding range — is an astounding 172 percent above the Long Term Average. Montana and the western Dakotas are 92 percent above the LTA in numbers of ducks.

The breeding population of the highly prized and often preferred northern pintail is 209 percent above the LTA in the eastern Dakotas. And, blue winged teal, a southern favorite particularly during the early special teal season in September, is off the charts coming in at an all time high of 8.9 million birds counted.

Devney says the carrying capacity of quality habitat and it’s ability to attract ducks increases when the entire prairie is wet, like it is this year. Moreover, preferred species such as mallards, pintails, redheads, and canvasbacks simply don’t have to go as far north to find suitable habitat for nesting, which surveys indicate.

Devney said, “We had a remarkable jump in pintail numbers — almost a million birds — a 26 percent increase from last year. That’s the first time we’ve had this many pintails since 1980. Well if you look at where those birds come from — usu-ally survey areas in the Boreal Forest to the north — those survey areas had huge declines in breeding population num-bers. There weren’t as many birds in Alaska counted — 20 percent fewer. And there were 67 percent fewer birds in central and northern Alberta, British Columbia. What happened was, those birds settled where they really wanted to be in the first place.”

Not all of the news coming from the breeding survey report was good this spring. Widgeon populations continue to de-cline and green winged teal numbers were down.

Widgeon numbers are the lowest since 1997 and 20 percent below the LTA for this species. Green winged teal remain 47 percent above the LTA, but are 17 percent lower than the 2010 survey report.

With the prairie soaked and breeding numbers through the roof, it still doesn’t guarantee Louisiana waterfowl hunters will reap the harvest. Other stars have to line up to have the “grand passage” hunters in the Sportsman’s Paradise dream about. But, until November, hunters will have to settle for the constellation we have this summer.

If you wish to make a comment or have an anecdote, recipe or story you wish to share you can contact John K. Flores by calling (985) 395-5586 or by e-mail: gowiththeflo@cox.net.

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