State of Waterfowl Podcast

Discussion in 'Louisiana Flyway Forum' started by bill cooksey, Nov 16, 2021.

  1. bill cooksey

    bill cooksey Elite Refuge Member

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    And if we had weather patterns which were considered normal, it wouldn't matter what habitat is available. While I will absolutely agree there are more leases and such than we had in the 30/3 days, there's actually less duck food on the landscape than 20+ years ago. We have less habitat, but what we have is staying more available because our climate has moderated.
     
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  2. Rick Hall

    Rick Hall Elite Refuge Member

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    Don't know where the figures stand now, but years back the late Senior Mississippi Flyway Biolgist, Art Brazda, told me that even accounting for all the birds greedy Americans were whacking illegally there, Mexico only accounted for around 5% of the continental bag. Canada was credited with another 20% (with Americans, of course, killing much of that), and the US took the lion's share of 75%. Would think border-hopping Americans have expanded those "other" countries' piece of the pie in the years since. Crumby foreign game hogs.
     
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  3. JJVizinat

    JJVizinat Senior Refuge Member

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    Hahaha, you have to admit, that was a totally valid question. A might witty I might add.
     
  4. bill cooksey

    bill cooksey Elite Refuge Member

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    It's really not. The kill in MX is damn close to inconsequential.
     
  5. Sunklands

    Sunklands Elite Refuge Member

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    Best I can tell and my research, the states of ND, SD, NE, KS, southern MN, IA and northern MO had alot of prairie. So they lost prairie to agriculture, whereas LA up to SEMO lost hardwood bottoms, swamps, natural moist soil areas, and whole stretches for miles of native meandering rivers and sloughs, do to channelization. The lakes of Arkabutla, Sardis, Enid and Granada, starved the MS delta alluvial plain. The St. Francis, Black, White, Cache and Little Rivers have all been dredged in locations, to speed water up. There’s absolutely no comparison to what it looked like compared to before. When the Panama Canal was completed. US engineers turned their sights on draining the mid and lower Mississippi plane. Lack of jobs in the area, along with the Great Depression put lots of men to work and they got the job done pretty darn quick. It’s a shame what happened, but folks lifestyles back then weren’t as comfortable as they have been in the last 50 years, either.
     
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  6. WuChang

    WuChang Elite Refuge Member

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    Hope you took some rain gear,you old coot
    Weatherman says you better take some long pants….forecast cold and windy high of 39 for turkey day
    Low Friday 24 high 47
    Then back to the 50’s
     
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  7. greyduck

    greyduck New Member

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    From a literature search done at the end of the 2018-19 Arkansas season - would be interested in your thoughts, especially those of Steel3's...

    Anecdotal evidence suggests duck hunters in Arkansas experienced a tough 2018 season. Environmental conditions have a great influence on the distribution of wintering waterfowl. Rivers in the Delta got out of their banks relatively early and created many acres of very good habitat for a long period of time. Hunters on established clubs with managed water usually experience a poor season when this happens and those who hunt backwater and are mobile usually report good success – which anecdotal evidence indicates was the case this year.

    Complaints by hunters on internet duck hunting sites are the norm. This year, some hunters throughout the MS flyway were unusually vocal about the lack of ducks. People with proven duck hunting property and a lengthy history of success year in and out, no matter the river stages and who are generally more rational also expressed concern about the lack of ducks this year. It certainly appeared to be a season without precedent.

    Is something happening with duck populations? Do we have cause for concern?

    Adaptive Harvest Management (AHM) was implemented in 1995. This management plan is designed to “explicitly recognize(s) that the consequences of hunting regulations cannot be predicted with certainty, and provides a framework for making objective decisions in the face of that uncertainty. “ Prior to AHM there were wide fluctuations in season dates and bag limits based on breeding waterfowl population estimates. In effect, AHM created broader parameters and created stability in the season length and bag limits. AHM was implemented at the start of a time when waterfowl and mallards especially, experienced a sustained period of relatively good breeding habitat and production. Under AHM there have been 22 years of the liberal alternative to season length and bag limits. (There have been some adjustments in the bag limits for pintails and scaup since the beginning of AHM in recognition of the low breeding population of those species.) It is natural that waterfowl hunters are especially optimistic when they are told that the liberal alternative is set for the next season. But not every liberal season is the same. This past season was a good example. The FWS estimate of breeding birds for 2018 estimated that the total duck population was 12% lower than the 2017 survey. Mallards were 12% below 2017 and gadwalls were a whopping 31% below the prior survey year. May pond counts were 14% below the 2017 count. All species and ponds are above the long term average but that is cold comfort to a duck hunter who has been conditioned to believe that liberal season frameworks guarantee lots of birds.

    There have been some significant events that have potentially made a big difference in harvest rates of ducks since 1995.

    In 1998, in response to complaints from Mississippi duck hunters, Senator Trent Lott pushed through legislation extending the duck season framework for the state of Mississippi to the end of January. Hunters and waterfowl managers in more northern latitudes were outraged. Eventually a compromise was reached. The liberal season framework for the MS flyway was expanded to open on the Saturday closest to September 24 and close on the last Sunday in January. (Congress is in the act again. This 2018 bill proposed extending the duck season closing date to January 31.) The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS) estimated the framework extension would result in an increase of the harvest of midcontinent mallards by 15%. (p. 18, para 4). An updated estimate based on harvest rates is now 4%, but “the reader is strongly cautioned…reliable inference…depends on a rigorous experimental design.” If such studies have been conducted, the results were not found in the literature search.

    Mallards usually form breeding pairs in early winter, usually by December. Extending the season framework and allowing the harvest of the male of the pair has an adverse effect on the hen. This study showed that mate loss in mallards has an adverse effect on reproduction.”… widowed females laid 1.91 fewer eggs in first nests (P = 0.014) and 3.75 fewer viable eggs in second nests (P = 0.056)…”

    Although an online source/link cannot be located at this time, there is some research that suggests female mallards that survive into January, so called “super hens”, are much more likely to negotiate the return migration and bring off a successful brood in the spring. The season extension puts those hens at risk.

    Spinning wing decoys (SWD) first appeared on the hunting scene in about 1998 in California and soon after in other states. Their effectiveness was obvious and a group of state and federal agencies embarked on a study from 1999 through 2003 in several states to determine their effect on kill rates. The results are remarkable and confirmed what duck hunters already knew:

    · “Spinning wing decoys are strong attractants to ducks and increase kill rates over traditional decoying methods…” pg. 799 under Abstract

    · “SWD’s were effective at all locations and for all species of dabbling ducks…” Discussion, pg 802

    · “Among our study sites, SWD’s increased kill rates of ducks by a factor of 1.3…to 33.” Discussion, pg. 802

    · “In our combined analysis, we found that 2.4 times as many ducks were shot and retrieved when SWD’s were used…” Discussion, pg. 802

    A careful reading of the section titled “Management Implications” on page 803 is recommended. There is a difference between “kill rates”, which applies to the success of individual hunters and “harvest rate”, which relates to birds removed from the total waterfowl population by hunting. This study points out that “widespread use of SWD’s might simply redistribute a fixed level of harvest…” In other words, hunters in more northern states using SWD’s might enjoy greater hunting success because they get first crack at juvenile birds and birds that have not had time to become wary of SWD’s, while hunters in more southern latitudes are left with fewer birds that have been exposed to SWD’s for a longer period of time. The authors recommend future studies to determine the influence of SWD’s on harvest rate. If such studies have been conducted, their results were not found in the literature search.

    SWD studies in Illinois and Minnesota yielded similar results.

    One of the most interesting studies was conducted in Arkansas from 2004-2007.The justification for this study was “Hunters in the lower half of the Mississippi Flyway, especially in Arkansas, were concerned that the abundance of mallards during the first half of the hunting season was noticeably reduced (citation omitted) and “Many hunters and biologists attributed the supposed declines to ‘‘short-stopping’’”.

    Mallards were trapped post hunting season and fitted with GPS tracking devices. Autumn Migration of Mississippi Flyway Mallards as Determined by Satellite Telemetry revealed:

    · October 23 was the average date that mallards initiated fall migration (before lake freeze up in their wintering grounds, which in Canada is usually after November 15)

    · 10 mallards migrated non-stop to their wintering grounds

    · 5 tracked mallards overwintered in Canada

    · Most tracked mallards were in Missouri on December 15

    · Only 8 of 43 female mallards and 0 of 10 male mallards were in Arkansas on December 15

    · “the notion held by Arkansas duck hunters that mallards are not available coincident with the opening of duck season…is not supported by our telemetry data, at least for female mallards.”

    · “The fact that mallards did not return to the Delta the following year suggests that food resources to the north of the Delta were sufficient to offset the costs of more severe weather conditions in more northerly wintering locations. Second, mallards that winter in the Delta are exposed to high disturbance and high mortality rates from hunter harvest pressure there, and in subsequent winters, surviving mallards remain further north where harvest pressures are lower.” Pg. 248

    · “In examining mallard harvest across the Mississippi Flyway, Green and Krementz (2008) found the area of highest consistent harvest was Stuttgart, Arkansas, which is near the center of the Arkansas Delta. We hypothesize that mallards surviving a winter in the Delta forgo high food availability in subsequent winters in favor of higher survival to the north of Arkansas. Alternatively, surveys of mallards in the Arkansas Delta indicate high number of mallards present in Arkansas by mid-December (aerial survey data, unpublished). As noted, however, few mallards were marked prior to February. Perhaps these ‘‘early arriving’’ mallards were underrepresented in our sample. Under contemporary conditions, this cohort of mallards seems to arrive in Arkansas before major weather events to the north, possibly indicating a great level of philopatry than detected in our marked sample ” (Bold mine) Pg. 248

    Although the Arkansas study did not support that mallards show some fidelity to their wintering grounds, there are others that do: “Across all reference areas studied, Nichols and Hines (1987:39) concluded that ‘‘Mallards exhibit some temporal variation in wintering grounds, but that such variation is relatively small and that mallards do indeed exhibit a tendency to return to general wintering areas year after year….’’ In explaining the differences in age-sex winter philopatry, Nichols and Hines (1987) agreed with Hopper et al. (1978) who hypothesized that for sub adult mallards and to a lesser extent adult females, they were more likely to stray in their second year possibly because they contacted mallards using different migration routes and wintering areas.”

    “Why these marked mallards are not returning to Arkansas to overwinter is an important research question that deserves investigating.” (Bold mine) Pg. 248. If that research question has been investigated, the results did not appear in the literature search.

    Projected Influences of Changes in Weather Severity on Autumn-Winter Distributions of Dabbling Ducks in the Mississippi and Atlantic Flyways during the Twenty-First Century, if correct, should be of great concern to duck hunters in southern latitudes. This paper projects that “ …the Mallard, the most common and widespread duck in North America, may overwinter in the Great Lakes region by the late 21st century.”

    All the above referenced studies illustrate the pressure put on migratory waterfowl, but they on their own they do not really answer the question posed earlier – do we have cause for concern about waterfowl populations?.

    If waterfowl populations in Arkansas were reduced during the 2018 season it would be expected that the winter aerial surveys would also be reduced. That was not really the case this year. Arkansas surveys were pretty much on par with long term averages except that mallards were higher in the November survey. Mississippi (with the exception of higher mallards in their November survey) and Louisiana reported substantially reduced numbers of ducks in their winter aerial survey so there is no surprise that those hunters were unhappy.

    Perhaps as waterfowl managers suggested, unusually warm weather and plenty of water caused ducks to be widely distributed across the landscape or kept them from migrating. Maybe this year was an anomaly and next year will be better.

    The Atlantic flyway will have their mallard limit cut in half next year. Granted, that population of mallards does not share the same environment as midcontinent mallards but they are mallards. An estimated total of 523,000 mallards were harvested in the Atlantic flyway in the 2000 season. By the 2017 season 286,000 mallards were harvested flyway wide. This is a reduction of 45% in 17 years.

    The FWS reported that Louisiana hunters bagged a total of 1,014,855 mallards during the 1999-2002 duck seasons. (The year 2000 was very good for waterfowl production and the high Louisiana harvest numbers that year somewhat skew the average reduction in this calculation.) For the 2014-2017 seasons, the reported mallard kill in Louisiana was 321,467. This is a reduction – over only 17 years - of 68%. Why has there been such a significant reduction in the mallard kill in Louisiana over such a relatively short period of time?

    Most duck hunters do not remember the 1960’s and 1980’s when season length and bag limits were much reduced. Some day in the future the cycle will repeat and breeding habitat in the Prairie Pothole Region will deteriorate. Some day in the not too distant future the duck breeding population will fall below the threshold required to maintain a liberal season.

    Waterfowl hunting is a billion dollar business and there are many Non- governmental organizations that also depend on the duck hunters’ dollar. It will be interesting to observe the fight when AHM dictates a nationwide reduction in season length and bag limits.

    Kevin Wood
     
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  8. ducaholic

    ducaholic Elite Refuge Member

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    Again it’s not purely about volume but more so about specialization and variety. I’d also add it’s impacting average Joe hunters on the local level as well. So it’s a two fold scenario.

    With that said plenty of people are killing lots of ducks in La. The best habitat always produces especially early on.

    I like to see more significant weather begin to arrive during the mid December split. These one day north wind fronts are ok for November but not near enough as we move forward.

    Happy Thanksgiving Bill
     
    Last edited: Nov 25, 2021
  9. bill cooksey

    bill cooksey Elite Refuge Member

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    I'd argue the habitats you are referring to definitely impact local distribution, but they have no significant impact on migration. Before we did our thing and destroyed 90% of the habitat, they moved when weather made it biologically advantageous. They still do, but the weather has sucked.

    And I'm 100% with you on repeated solid December fronts. I'd love to see LA load up.

    Happy Thanksgiving to all!
     
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  10. bill cooksey

    bill cooksey Elite Refuge Member

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    Whole lot here to digest. Hopefully I can read it again next week on a computer screen and take time to also read the links.
     

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