Before he hops on a plane today to begin the state’s annual November aerial waterfowl survey, Larry Reynolds is concerned about what he might find.
Or more specifically, what he might not find: ducks in typical numbers for the first week of November in Louisiana.
“I’m really concerned,” said Reynolds, the state’s waterfowl study leader. “I’m concerned because this year seems to be a late year in so many respects.
“Right now, I’m under the impression that there are fewer ducks in the state than there normally are this time of year.”
With the coastal zone set to open up Saturday morning, Reynolds said lots of anecdotal evidence points to possible lower numbers of ducks, especially early in the season.
He mentioned a friend in Minnesota who sent him a picture of his final tomato harvest that indicated the first killing freeze there wasn’t until Oct. 21.
“That’s two weeks later than last year, and three weeks later than the average for the first freeze in Minnesota,” he said.
Also, Reynolds said Paul Link, the North American Waterfowl Management Plan coordinator for the state, returned to his home in North Dakota for a hunting trip in mid-October and reported seeing flightless gadwall broods remaining on the prairie.
“That means there was a lot of late nesting and some of those birds had not reached flight stage yet,” Reynolds said.
Finally, a research project conducted in southwest Louisiana this spring in which blue-winged teal were banded and outfitted with radio transmitters has provided more troubling news.
“Last week, there were six of those banded blue-winged teal killed, and they were killed in South Dakota, Minnesota and Iowa. So there are still blue-winged teal quite a ways north of us,” he said.
And 12 birds outfitted with transmitters last spring were still sending data, he said.
“As of Oct. 23, one of those teal was in coastal Louisiana, one was in southern Mississippi and the other ten were still in the prairie pothole region,” he said. “Typically, we think blue-winged teal migrate fairly early, but those birds are holding fairly far to the north.”
Although he’s begun receiving calls from folks around the state telling him birds are now showing up, that just started happening last week.
“That’s a week or two later than normal,” Reynolds said. “So I’m nervous about this November survey. There’s a lot of evidence that this has been a late season phenologically. Things just seem to be progressing a little bit later.
“I hate writing survey reports that say, ‘the lowest count on record.’ I’ve had to do it before, and I just had to do it in September, but I don’t like it.”
The good news, Reynolds said, is that although opening weekend or even the first split may be a little slow, the birds will eventually arrive and Louisiana hunters will be ready and waiting.
“Everything will be fine,” he said. “When the harvest data comes out (after the season), we will have killed more ducks than any other state in the United States. That’s how it goes every year.”