Hunters get first glimpse at duck numbers, but hold on…

Duck hunters looking for an early Christmas present before the opening of the season from the Louisiana Department of Wildlife and Fisheries November aerial waterfowl survey report will just have to wait. But hold on, duck Santa may still be on his way.

Overall, the 1.04 million ducks estimated in this preliminary survey is the third lowest November survey since it began in 1968, according to Larry Reynolds, Waterfowl Program Manager. It is barely half the most recent 5-year and long-term averages of 2.0 million.

However, it is still way better than last year, when the weather was so bad that aerial surveys couldn’t even be completed and duck numbers and opportunities were extremely low. And no matter what this survey says officially, by next week, it will be moot, says Reynolds.

Estimates of all ducks in surveyed area of coastal Louisiana in November 1969-2019. Survey was not completed in 2018.
Estimates of all ducks in surveyed area of coastal Louisiana in November 1969-2019. Survey was not completed in 2018.

“We have to report the numbers that we see and my personal take on that is that what we’ve seen is relatively poor in the areas we flew, but it is still way better than last year,” he said. “However, this is all going to be moot when this cold front comes barreling through the state. Everything is going to change for the better, I think. There are large numbers of birds in Illinois and Missouri and their reports are well above average. The cold weather has a whole lot of ducks susceptible to head our way being pushed down by the weather.”

That cold front swept through the midwest and into north Louisiana last night and lowered temperatures drastically and brought gusty winds.

More numbers coming next week

The aerial survey preliminary numbers also only include the southeast, southwest and Catahoula lake numbers. Surveys in the northern part of the state will be flown next week and added to the final report. Already in those areas even before the weather change, Reynolds is hearing good things.

“I’ve heard lots of reports from people in the field there that say there are several areas in north central and northeast Louisiana that are chock full of ducks,” he said. “That’s encouraging.”

A lot of the agricultural fields got flooded by recent rains and are holding good numbers of ducks. Those numbers will become official when the surveys get flown next week, Reynold said.

Location of 27 transect lines flown in September, November, December, and January to estimate duck abundance, species composition, and relative habitat use in coastal Louisiana.
Location of 27 transect lines flown in September, November, December, and January to estimate duck abundance, species composition, and relative habitat use in coastal Louisiana.

A few other highlights of the survey work done so far

  • Last November’s survey was not completed because of bad weather, and comparisons with this year are only possible for SW LA. The 597,000 total ducks estimated in SW LA on this survey is more than twice the 247,000 estimated in November 2018 but remains the lowest in this region in at least 10 years, 40% below the 2008-2017 average of 994,000.
  • Estimates for all species except mottled ducks were higher than last November in SW Louisiana.
  • In SE Louisiana, the largest flocks of mostly blue-winged teal were seen in the marsh north of Pointe a la Hache and east of Venice.
  • The 103,000 ducks counted on Catahoula Lake is about the same as the most recent 10-year average, with more diving ducks than normal for November. Foraging conditions were excellent for ducks.
  • Water levels in the coastal marsh were high during the survey and not optimum for foraging ducks across south Louisiana. Submerged aquatic vegetation was visible in some areas, but only average at best.

The state’s duck season opens in the Coastal Zone Saturday, Nov. 9, followed by the West Zone on Nov. 16 and the East Zone on Nov. 23.

Kinny Haddox
About Kinny Haddox 283 Articles
Kinny Haddox has been writing magazine and newspaper articles about the outdoors in Louisiana for 45 years. He publishes a daily website, lakedarbonnelife.com and is a member of the Louisiana Chapter of the Outdoor Legends Hall of Fame. He and his wife, DiAnne, live in West Monroe.

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