Wind, Rain, & Fog

It has been a rough two weeks trying to get the waterfowl surveys completed. If you remember, the week of October 12th, the wind blew with gusts to 45 MPH all week, and this week (October 19th) we had wind, rain, fog, and low ceilings. Those weather conditions aren’t conducive to flying VFR (visual flight rules) surveys. To add to the frustration, I was out of commission this week and my colleague, Josh Osborn, had to step in and fly the surveys. Josh and Mike were able to complete the Illinois River Valley (IRV) and partially finished the central Mississippi River Valley (CMRV) flight on Wednesday, October 21st, 2020. We failed to obtain waterfowl abundance on the lower CMRV from Clarence Cannon refuge to the confluence with the Illinois River. I did speak with some duck club managers in the confluence region, and they indicated good numbers of ducks down there with recent arrivals. With that, total duck numbers (205,140) were up 24% in the IRV from last week and were very close to the 10-yr average of 215,777 ducks. Josh noted that nearly every surveyed location had increased duck numbers this week, compared to last week. A random assortment of nearly all the monitored species of ducks and geese were present this week, including a smattering of diving ducks in a few locations.

I wanted to plug our research project on wood ducks again this year. The Forbes Biological Station has ~100 wood ducks marked this fall. This study is part of a 3-yr project to evaluate postbreeding wood ducks in the IRV. We captured wood ducks near Banner, Havana, and Chandlerville this year and deployed 33 GSM cellular transmitters and 70 VHF transmitters. The birds are currently scattered between Pekin and Beardstown along the Illinois River and in streams, ditches, and ponds several miles from the river floodplain. I would expect a few of the birds to depart central Illinois with the cooler weather that is arriving and the start of the Illinois central zone ducks season opener on October 24th. If you happen to harvest one of these ducks, please give us a call so we can add the information to our database. Our office number is 217-332-3825(DUCK); however, most of our staff are working remotely from home due to Covid-19. You can also email me at with your harvest, and we will do our best to give you a brief history of the birds movements since August. The harvested transmitter is yours to keep, we just want the information about the bird. Of course, PLEASE report your leg bands to

Good Luck to those of you heading to the duck blind this weekend for the central zone waterfowl opener!

Illinois River Waterfowl Aerial Inventory – 10/21/2020

Central Mississippi Waterfowl Aerial Inventory – 10/21/2020

Drake wood duck with bib-mounted VHF transmitter.
Hen wood duck with a GSM cellular transmitter. Photo credit to Ryan Askren.
Hen wood duck with a GSM cellular transmitter. Photo credit to Ryan Askren.

Teal numbers lower this week

After the rain and weather kept us grounded last week, we got back at it on Wednesday, September 16th. Blue-winged teal (Spatula discors) numbers dropped this week from what we witnessed on September 2nd; however, this wasn’t a big surprise. The teal migration was a little early this year with the weather patterns we have been witnessing. BWTE usually start with a bang in early September and decline rapidly from there. Green-winged teal (GWTE; Anas crecca) start slow and peak in late October/early November (Fig. 1). I expect the BWTE numbers to be even lower next week as the temperatures are forecast to dip into the lower 40’s over the weekend. Teal abundance this week was 30,895 and was down 32% from the September 2nd numbers along the Illinois River. This week we were closer (+9%) to the 10-yr average of 28,417 for teal. We also estimated 7,685 teal along the central Mississippi River, which was up 24% from the 10-yr average but down 23% from earlier in the month. Water was scarce at several of the top refuges of the lower Mississippi this week from Quincy to Grafton. This water management practice is usual as they gear up for October arrivals.

I saw a Facebook post from a friend today that caught my eye. Pat Gregory hunts near the Forbes Biological Station and is usually successful at harvesting a few of the “blue rockets” storm trooping his decoys. Pat loves to hunt over wooden decoys, as he is a passionate decoy carver himself. A tradition that was handed down from his grandfather I believe. Anyway, Pat snapped this photo of the morning’s bounty. He informs me the decoys were carved by Tyler Wood, and they were obviously good enough to lure this individual within range. Thanks for sharing Pat!

Be safe out there and enjoy the last weekend of teal season.

Illinois River Waterfowl Aerial Inventory – 9/16/2020

Central Mississippi Waterfowl Aerial Inventory – 9/16/2020

blue winged teal with 2 wooden decoys
Successful harvest of a blue-winged teal (Spatula discors) using handmade wooden decoys along the mudflats of the Illinois River. Photo by Pat Gregory and decoys carved by Tyler Wood.
Migration chronology of teal along the Illinois river. Weekly numbers represent the 10-year average (2010–2019).
Migration chronology of teal along the central Mississippi river. Weekly numbers represent the 10-year average (2010–2019).

Back in the air

We’re back in the air again. Actually, we’ve been at it for a month now counting shorebirds, but we completed the 1st teal flight of the year on Wednesday, September 2nd. There was an abundance of blue-winged teal (Spatula discors) along both rivers for the first week of September. We estimated 45,240 blue-wings along the Illinois River Valley (IRV), coming in at 139% above the 10-yr average. The central Mississippi River also had good numbers of blue-wings totaling 9,910 birds, 127% above average for the first week of September. Blue-wing numbers in the IRV were actually quite staggering. The 45,000+ birds witnessed this week was the 9th highest total in 72 years of surveys and will be the 5th highest peak count of blue-winged teal since 1948. Hopefully we will enjoy a great opening day of teal season beginning Saturday, September 5th.

Illinois River Waterfowl Aerial Inventory – 9/2/2020

Central Mississippi Waterfowl Aerial Inventory – 9/2/2020

scattered blue-winged teal in wetlands
Blue-winged teal (Spatula discors) prefer the very shallow water and sloppy mud usually found along the perimeter of wetlands.
Southwesterly view of Chautauqua NWR on September 2, 2020.
Northerly view of the Cuba Island complex at the Sanganois State Fish and Wildlife Area near Chandlerville, Illinois. The Cuba Island complex is a mix of public and private wetlands. The bottom portion of the photo is known as the Barkhausen Refuge. The central portion is called Otter Lake, while the northern end is Mound Lake. In the distance, you can see Crane Lake in the top left portion of the photo.