Despite no really cold weather so far, the annual November aerial waterfowl survey completed last week indicated almost 3 million ducks have already arrived along Louisiana’s coast.
The official count of 3,059,000 birds is 2.5 times the 1.21 million noted last November, and is similar to the 3.12 million estimated in 2014 when early freezing weather in the Mississippi Flyway pushed large numbers of birds into the state.
Larry Reynolds, the waterfowl study leader for the Louisiana Department of Wildlife and Fisheries, said in his report that grays, green-wings, shovelers, blue-wings, scaup and ring-necked ducks counted last week were far above their November long-term averages.
“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,” Reynolds wrote.
Ducks were evenly distributed between Southwest and Southeast Louisiana, but 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,” Reynolds wrote. “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 percent of the ducks counted on SE Louisiana transects were counted on that last line. This is similar to last November, when 85 percent of ducks counted in SE Louisiana were on the last line, but with a much larger number of birds in the region.”
On Catahoula Lake, the 172,000 ducks counted there was much higher than the 23,000 counted last November, and is the highest November survey there since 2010.
Habitat conditions in coastal marshes are average, but Reynolds said water levels remain slightly higher than optimal for feeding ducks.
“Good submerged aquatic vegetation growth was noted in many locations, and habitat conditions should improve with slightly lower water levels. In contrast, shallow-flooded pastures in SW Louisiana have mostly dried since September, and flooding in the agricultural fields is no more than average, with most available water in managed fields and crawfish ponds,” he wrote. “Solid SAV growth was noted in many marshes in SE Louisiana, and habitat conditions appear to be very good. Favorable weather and water-level control at Catahoula Lake created better growth of moist-soil vegetation and better habitat conditions than in recent years. If water levels remain within management targets, good habitat conditions are expected to be maintained.”
The Northeast Louisiana aerial survey is scheduled to be flown later this week.