Lots (and lots) of ducks

We got up early this week and flew the survey on November 3rd. Duck numbers were pretty good and totaled right at or slightly above the 10-yr average. This week we had over 361,000 ducks in the Illinois River Valley, and almost 368,000 along the central Mississippi River. Several times this week as I was figuring out the species composition I thought, it’s the whole gamut of ducks. Literally, there was a little bit of everything, except for the ice ducks (mergansers and common goldeneye), of course. Mallards (127,715) along the Illinois River were 17% above average, and we estimated 124,025 mallards (93% above average) along the central Mississippi.

We had a good start to the central zone duck opener on October 24th. I am pretty sure we had new ducks arrive on October 26th, and another small bunch of migrants arrived on October 29th and maybe some on November 1st. However, we have officially hit the duck hunting doldrums of early November. Everyone is complaining that duck hunting is SLOW at best. The weather pattern is giving us bluebird days with high temperatures in the mid 70’s and low temps well above average. That’s not what you want to hear as a waterfowler. I haven’t even considered going to the blind all week due to the weather. On the brighter side, the climatologists are predicting a change around Veteran’s Day – we can only hope they’re correct!

The other factor hurting central Illinois right now is the drought. While the southern states have been plagued with hurricanes and substantial rainfall, we can’t “buy” a drop of water up here. The drought naturally dewatered many seasonal wetlands this summer and made abundant food resources for ducks. However, many of refuges are struggling to get water back on the duck food. And, those areas without water control and pumps are high and dry.

Missouri’s north and central zone duck seasons open on Saturday, November 7th. Good luck to you hunters, and hopefully everyone will stay safe!

Illinois River Waterfowl Aerial Inventory – 11/3/2020

Central Mississippi Waterfowl Aerial Inventory – 11/3/2020

waterbirds basking in the sun
A variety of waterbirds basking in the sun at Hennepin and Hopper Lakes on the Upper Illinois River. Note the white breasts of the northern pintails shining in the abundant sun.
moist-soil vegetation waiting for water near Pekin, Illinois
An abundance of moist-soil vegetation waiting for water near Pekin, Illinois.
aerial view of Chautauqua National Wildlife Refuge
The drought has even impacted duck food at Chautauqua National Wildlife Refuge (foreground) and The Emiquon Preserve (background). Managers at both locations are trying to add water, but the drought and other factors are interfering with their efforts.
drought at Spunky Bottoms
This photo of Spunky Bottoms (Merwin Preserve) near Meredosia, Illinois really sums it up. Abundant natural vegetation, but the site was completely dry on November 3rd.