EDITOR'S NOTE: Larry Reynolds, waterfowl study leader with the Louisiana Department of Wildlife and Fisheries, spoke to LouisianaSportsman.com Wednesday morning before flying the final eight transect lines of the December aerial survey. During this interview, he stressed that the entire survey is not yet complete, and his comments were based only on what he’s personally seen so far from his side of the airplane. Reynolds’ full report is expected to be released late tomorrow afternoon — check back to get the complete results.
Like lots of other Louisiana duck hunters, Larry Reynolds had high hopes for this year’s December aerial waterfowl survey.
After all, since the first split ended on Dec. 3, several relatively strong cold fronts have made their way through the state. Heck, for the first time in almost 10 years, South Louisiana was even blanketed with several inches of unexpected snow just last week.
So birds should be diving south to avoid those frigid blasts and Bayou State duck numbers should be through the roof in anticipation of the second split's opening day this Saturday, right?
Well, that sounds good in theory — but unfortunately, it’s not what Reynolds has witnessed from the airplane so far this week.
“With the exception of a couple locations, I’m pretty disappointed,” Reynolds said, noting he’s flown only the first 19 transect lines, starting near the Texas/Louisiana border eastward to the Atchafalaya Delta Wildlife Management Area.
“I know that expectations are high for this survey, especially since the WMA survey was flown Monday and Tuesday of last week — and they saw lots of birds on the WMAs. But I am not. In fact, in two of the biggest concentration areas from the November survey, I saw fewer birds. I’m seeing fewer gadwalls ….
“When I was at Marsh Island yesterday, the water levels are pretty low but I counted far fewer gadwalls on Marsh Island yesterday than I did in November.”
But he did have a few bright spots to note, too, including an increase on Catahoula Lake from last month.
“There were huge numbers of ducks between Little Pecan and Grand Lake. And I’m counting more pintails in the marsh in Southwest Louisiana than I can remember,” he said. “We’re also counting a lot more mallards than we did in November thus far.
“So I know there’s been a migration movement into the state, but given that I’ve only flown the first 19 lines and that I haven’t seen what my observer has counted, right now if you were to ask me my impression without crunching the numbers — I would expect the total survey count will he higher than in November, but I don’t expect it to be some kind of record or very high number based on my expectations from the weather.”
Reynolds said he wasn’t totally shocked by the results so far because of reports he received from his colleagues in Illinois, who completed their aerial survey on Dec. 7.
“Their count declined by about 25 percent, but they were still 6 percent above the December average, and that was after this cold weather moved through up there,” he said. “So there were still plenty of birds left in Illinois after that cold front.”
An avid duck hunter himself, Reynolds said he was expecting to see more birds, especially considering the wintry weather the state has experienced so far this month.
“Maybe it’s my expectations. I saw all that cold weather, I saw that freeze all the way down …. Maybe I’m letting my expectations get to me, but I’ve only been covered up in ducks on two locations: Between Little Pecan and Grand Lake, and north of White Lake. In most other locations, I’ve been disappointed.
“I saw fewer birds south of West Cove than I saw in November. And I saw fewer birds on the East Cove Unit of Cameron Prairie (National Wildlife Refuge.)”
After crunching the numbers Thursday morning and then writing the report, Reynolds said his plan is to release the completed results tomorrow afternoon.
With any luck, improved results today — combined with his observer’s numbers from the flights — will yield higher-than-expected final totals.
“Hopefully, I’m eating every one of these words Thursday morning,” he said.