November aerial duck survey incomplete, but Southwest Louisiana looks promising

Good numbers of ducks in coastal marsh all the way from West Cove to White Lake, Reynolds says

Larry Reynolds, the state’s waterfowl study leader with the Louisiana Department of Wildlife and Fisheries, spent all day Thursday flying 11 transect lines for November’s aerial survey of the coastal zone from the Texas line to Marsh Island.

The good news is he saw quite a few ducks.

The bad news is he’s not flying the remainder of the coastal zone — pretty much all of Southeast Louisiana — until Friday, so duck hunters in that part of the state will have to venture into their blinds Saturday morning for opening day without final survey results.

“I think Southwest Louisiana is going to be good. It’s always risky for me to say that without crunching the numbers because I don’t know what my partner on the other side of the plane saw,” Reynolds said. “But we certainly saw more ducks than we did last November in Southwest Louisiana.

“Once we got to south of Sabine National Wildlife Refuge, we started picking up good numbers of birds. We saw big concentrations of birds south of West Cove, and then south of Calcasieu Lake.  Then the East Cove Unit of Cameron Prairie National Wildlife Refuge had lots of gadwalls, blue-wings, green-wings, shovelers and a good bunch of ring-necked ducks in there.

“Lacassine Pool on Lacassine National Wildlife Refuge had a pretty fair bunch of birds. Then we got into a really good concentration of ducks in the brackish marsh south of Highway 82 on the western side of Rockefeller Refuge.

“Literally in the coastal marsh from West Cove all the way over to White Lake, we saw good numbers of ducks in the coastal marsh.”

The team that flew the aerial survey for the state’s wildlife management areas covered Atchafalaya Delta WMA and part of Rockefeller today, and confirmed large numbers of birds there as well, Reynolds said.

“What they told me was they were very surprised at the number of ducks they counted on Rockefeller. They counted more ducks on Rockefeller today than they counted on all the other WMAs combined  — more than White Lake, Pass-a-Loutres, Pointe-aux-Chenes, Salvador and Atchafalaya Delta … And that’s consistent with what we saw today.”

On Monday, Reynolds said his team flew Catahoula Lake and saw good numbers of birds.

“It wasn’t bang-up, like the years where we’ve seen 300,000 birds on Catahoula Lake in November,” he said. “It wasn’t like that, but it was definitely better than last year.”

He also covered four transect lines on Monday from the east side of White Lake to south of Abbeville.

“There was nothing really notable on Monday, a handful here or there,” he said. “It wasn’t a ghost town by any means, but based on what we saw Monday, what I saw today surprised me.”

Habitat conditions, at least in Southwest Louisiana, are pretty good, he said.

“The water level in the marsh is still a little high. There are sections of marsh that are flooded out,” he said. “But I’m seeing good submerged aquatic vegetation.  Habitat conditions look good. In the agricultural areas, it’s probably average to below average as far as the amount of flooding.

“The managed water on the landscape — guys have pumped up their duck clubs and the crawfish ponds — so the managed water is there, but every other place that had water in September is dried up. We didn’t see any concentrations of ducks in agricultural habitat like we did in the marsh.”

Inclement weather on Monday, then Tuesday being an Election Day holiday and Friday also being the Veterans Day holiday — even though Reynolds and his crew will be in the air — have contributed to the November report coming out later than normal this year.

He’s hopeful to complete transect lines 16 through 27 in Southeast Louisiana tomorrow, but could very well run out time — in which case he’ll fly again on Monday to finish up and have the report out after that.

“We’ve got a big day on Friday,” he said. “I told everybody to bring a bag lunch because we don’t have time to waste.”

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Patrick Bonin is the former editor of Louisiana Sportsman magazine and