Bad weather last week prevented completion of the Louisiana Department of Wildlife and Fisheries’ annual September aerial duck survey, but the state’s waterfowl study leader liked what he saw on the transect lines he did get to fly — especially teal in the Southwest Coastal Zone.
So even though this survey will go down in the record books with an asterisk because it wasn’t officially completed, Larry Reynolds said the data is still valid for the portions of the report that were finished.
“It goes down as an incomplete survey, but I got all of Southwest complete and I got all of Catahoula (Lake) complete, so I can compare what I saw in those two areas to what I saw in those two areas in past surveys,” Reynolds said. “The problem is I don’t have any information for Southeast Louisiana.”
What he saw in Southwest Louisiana was impressive, with the estimate of 233,000 teal in that section alone far exceeding the statewide totals of September reports for the last two years.
Last year, the total teal estimate statewide was 101,000 birds, while the survey showed only 50,000 teal in the state when the September report was completed in 2013.
The long-term average statewide for the September aerial survey is 226,000 birds, he said.
“The only reason I wrote the report was because I saw enough birds in Southwest Louisiana alone for it to be higher than the last two year’s combined, and so I thought that warranted me putting out the report,” Reynolds said. “We didn’t see all that many birds in the marsh, but when you get to the rice fields you cut a couple of good concentrations, and bang — you have your numbers.”
Reynolds explained the entire survey consists of 27 transect lines — 17 in the Southwest part of the state, and 10 in the Southeast — that represent a 3 percent sample of the entire Coastal Zone landscape.
In the Southwest section of the state, the lines are 7 ½ miles apart with an expansion factor of 33, so the total number of birds counted on one line is multiplied by 33 to come up with survey figures.
In the Southeast section of the state, the lines are 15 miles apart, so the expansion factor for that segment of the survey is 72, he said.
So as was the case this year, pockets thick with teal along just a couple of lines can have a big impact in the overall numbers, he said.
“This is why sometimes the survey is a little iffy, because one spot north of Lacassine we counted 4,000 ducks. Well, the expansion factor is 33, so if you multiply 4,000 ducks by 33, that’s 125,000 right there in that one spot,” Reynolds said. “That one spot would have been twice as many teal as we saw in 2013, and more than we saw in 2014 in the entire survey.”
Reynolds said large pockets of teal also were counted near Gueydan and the Laccasine National Wildlife Refuge. On Catahoula Lake, the survey estimated 2,500 teal, similar to the 2,000 noted in the 2014 survey. In 2013, the survey estimate for Catahoula Lake was 3,000 birds.
Only four lines in the Southeast section of the state got flown before weather turned nasty last Thursday, and those lines aren’t the best indicators for teal numbers, he said.
“For teal, Line 20 that goes through Terrebonne Parish is a good blue-wing line, Line 25 through Delacroix, Line 26 through Biloxi (WMA) and Line 27 through the mouth of the river — those are the lines you’re really going to see teal,” he said. “The Caernarvon line was good, so I know there are birds in Southeast Louisiana, but the good lines we normally fly we weren’t able to complete.”
Habitat conditions in the Coastal Zone are similar to last year, Reynolds reported.
“We’ve got a lot of submerged aquatic vegetation and the water level was a little lower than average, but that’s perfect for teal,” he said. “Our habitat conditions were good, but I’ve seen our habitat look better in the last couple of years.”
Reynolds said the timing of this weekend’s cool front probably helped hunters on opening day, but he didn’t necessarily think Saturday night’s cool weather pushed birds further south out of the state, as some hunters suspected after not seeing as many teal on the second day of the season.
“I think a lot of it is hunting pressure,” he said. “You hunt them up on Saturday, and on Sunday it was just a little tougher hunting.”