Larry Reynolds, Waterfowl Study Leader for the Louisiana Department of Wildlife and Fisheries is hoping he won't have to write a gloomy report after this season like he did a year ago. After an early forecast filled with optimism before last duck season, the results overall fell as flat as a duck's foot; the birds just never showed up in the expected numbers.
"Right now," Reynolds began, "we're shaking off the disappointment of this year's teal season. The bluewing teal numbers were only slightly lower than a year ago when they were at an all-time high. However, when it was time to open teal season last month, the birds just weren't here.
"We're getting the impression that the migration this year is going to be delayed just a bit because the amount of water on the northern breeding grounds we have this year delayed breeding which is putting our migration, we think, a couple of weeks behind," he said.
"That's the bad news; the good news is that our habitat here looks good, improved over last year. There is more water on the landscape in both northwest and northeast Louisiana, the marsh conditions in southwest and southeast areas of the state are much better than they were a year ago."
Reynolds noted that there are lots of birds on Catahoula Lake right now, one reason being that the annual drawdown got the lake area a bit drier, giving the de-watered areas more vegetation growth, creating better habitat conditions today. In addition, he said, there is an increase in rice production of some 10,000 acres in northeast Louisiana which should bode well for duck hunters this year.
"All in all when you look at the whole picture, we have a good solid duck population, we had good water on the breeding grounds with up to 25% increase in water up that way, so we're expecting good populations of ducks that will be headed south this year. Because of the later breeding, it may be that it may delay their departure from breeding grounds to wintering grounds and could take them somewhat longer to reach our state," Reynolds added.
On the day I visited with Reynolds, he had just flown an aerial survey that morning and was encouraged by what he observed.
"We were flying south of the Cameron Prairie National Wildlife Refuge and spotted a good many ducks, including one big flock of gadwalls, probably 5,000 ducks in one spot, which is a good population.
"I normally begin getting calls from hunters around the middle of October letting me know that the ducks have started arriving. I didn't get any calls like this until near the end of October, which makes me think the migration will be delayed.
"I've been hearing about some good duck numbers down in the Delacroix area and one reason this area should hold lots of ducks is that we have had some good vegetation growth in the marsh in that part of the state," he said.
With plenty of ducks on the breeding grounds this year, about the only elements needed are the absence of flood rains to put too much water on the wintering habitat and some freezing weather to lock up food sources to our north, forcing ducks on down south where the food is available and plentiful.
Let's hope everything falls into place so Larry Reynolds won't have to have the unenviable task of writing a gloomy report after season ends this year.
(Duck season dates: WEST ZONE – November 16-December 15; December 21-January 19. EAST ZONE – November 23-December 8; December 14-January 26; COASTAL ZONE – November 9-December 1; December 14-January 19)
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