Four weeks from now, maybe five weeks, the first cool front blowing through western Canada will trigger one of nature’s grandest parades.
While most Louisiana outdoorsmen will be trying to figure out where and on what to catch the last of the summer trout and get to the bluewater for what’s been a spectacular run on billfish, tuna, wahoo and reef species — remember the recreational amberjack season resumes Aug. 1 — some outdoors folks will be making sure levees around rice fields and water control structures are ready to hold water.
That’s because those first chilly winds will be the signal to bluewing, greenwing and cinnamon teal to move south. Pintails and gray ducks will follow, then shovelers, a species we call “spoonbills;” wigeon; redheads; canvasbacks; dos gris, a species the rest of the world knows as scaup; and finally, mallards.
And these migrants are headed south, lots of them to Louisiana, and they’ll need water when they get here.
Before all that happens, teams of U.S. and Canadian waterfowl biologists and program managers fly over two million square miles of prairieland and parkland Canada and the vast grassland prairies in eastern Montana and North and South Dakota to get an idea of what kind of breeding numbers there are for these species and a handful of other ducks.
Everything hunters do during the migratory waterfowl season depends on those aerial surveys, notably numbers of days in seasons and number of birds allowed during daily forays.
This year’s survey is off the charts: The estimate of 48.575 million ducks on the breeding grounds is the highest since the biologists began counting estimates in 1955. That number is seven percent higher than last year and nearly eight million higher than May 2010.
And this record count came despite the loss of 32 percent of the ponds (5.544 million compared to 2011’s 8.132 million) in the survey. Problems ahead could come from a 49 percent decline in ponds in northern U.S. survey areas.
Yet even better is that record number of ducks is 43 percent higher than the average annual total all surveys taken from 1955 through 2011.
For hunters, the biologists and U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service managers plug the number of mallards in the survey — 10.602 million this year — and the number of ponds into the Adaptive Harvest Management chart and determined that Louisiana hunters will get another in a long string of 60-day seasons with a daily limit of six ducks with a restriction of four mallards (only two of which can be hen mallards) in the daily bag.
Highlights from the USFWS survey report included:
- Mallard abundance is 39 percent higher than the long-term average of 7.6 million, and gray ducks numbers are 96 percent above their long-term average.
- Wigeon estimates were up three percent over last year, but are 17 percent below the LTA;
- For the special September teal season (Sept. 15-20 in Louisiana), the bluewing count was up just three percent but the estimate of 9.242 million is 94 percent greater than the LTA, and greenwing numbers increased by 20 percent over last year;
- Spoonbill numbers continue to rise and hit a record 5.018 million this year; canvasback, a key duck in the Catahoula Lake area is up 10 percent to 760,000; and, dos gris numbers finally turned the corner from significant decreased during the last five years and climbed to four percent above that species’ long-term average.
Earlier this month, State Waterfowl Study leader Larry Reynolds outlined proposed duck seasons for the state new three-zone/two-split framework. The Louisiana Wildlife and Fisheries Commission will finalize the dates during its Aug. 2 meeting in Baton Rouge.
The proposed dates include: Coastal Zone: Nov. 10-Dec. 2, Dec 15-Jan. 20, youth weekend Nov. 3-4; East Zone: Nov. 17-Nov. 25, Dec. 8-Jan. 27, youth weekend, Feb. 2-3; and, West Zone: Nov. 10-Dec. 9, Dec. 22-Jan. 20, youth weekend, Nov. 3-4.
White Lake lottery
Hunters can apply to the Department of Wildlife and Fisheries for any nine days of lottery hunts on the White Lake Wetlands Conservation Area in Vermilion Parish during the special September teal season.
Dates are Sept. 15, 16, 18, 20, 22, 23, 26, 29 and 30.
Hunters 18 and older can apply. Only one application per hunter will be accepted. There’s a $5 nonrefundable application fee. If drawn, a hunter can bring one guest and must forward an additional $250 for the hunt. All hunters must have all required licenses, a Louisiana and federal waterfowl stamps and a HIP permit.
Applications are available on the LDWF website: http://www.wlf.louisiana.gov/hunting/lottery-hunts. The application deadline is close of business Aug. 15.
For information, call Wayne Sweeney (337) 536-9400. Email: firstname.lastname@example.org.