We managed to get the Illinois River flight in on Friday, September 21st. The airplane was down for maintenance early in the week and winds were excessive late in the week. The wind was gusting to 29 mph on Friday along the central Mississippi River, which prevented our flight.
We had a push of ducks into the Illinois Valley this week. Teal numbers (21,945 teal) were up 144% from last week, but down nearly 20% from the 10-yr average for the 3rd week in September. I noticed a few gadwall and American wigeon on this week’s count and northern shoveler and northern pintail numbers continue to increase. Some of our ducks may depart central Illinois this weekend as the temperatures drop into the low 50s and upper 40s. However, there is a northwest coming out of the prairies on Friday afternoon and evening, which could bring a few more teal to Illinois this weekend.
A friend and colleague of mind sent me this link the other day. The link gives a visual of real time wind movements across the country. It is a pretty unique tool to help us predict migration events. Check it out! Thanks Jeff Levengood!
How many teal and pintail do you see in the attached photo? Check out our Facebook page for the number… Good luck teal hunting on this last couple days of the season.
Those fickle blue-winged teal! They left us for the most part along the Illinois River. The remnants of Tropical Storm Gordon on September 7th and 8th increased water levels along the Illinois River. All that water coupled with the cool north winds and rain forced out our bluewinged teal on opening weekend of teal season. Similarly, recent rains across the upper Midwest have the central Mississippi River above flood stage or higher. Blue-winged teal numbers (7,715 ducks) this week were down 62% from the 10-yr average and decreased 60% from last week along the Illinois River. Blue-winged teal (8,565) on the central Mississippi River were up 95% from the 10-yr and 108% from last week; however, the majority of the teal were using the shallow waters of Swan Lake at Two Rivers NWR near the confluence of the Illinois and Mississippi rivers. Many of our refuges along the Illinois River held out the devastating flooding and the duck food plants were spared; but the Mississippi River was not so fortunate. Many of the refuges along the Mississippi lost their moist-soil plants from New Boston to Grafton and only the areas behind major levees remain intact.
Blue-winged teal (Spatula discors) prefer to feed on the sloppy mudded areas along our rivers and wetlands. Water more than a couple inches deep sends them packing for shallower foraging sites. This is why the recent rains have caused our picky bluewings to head further south. The cooler weather did bring in a few more of the early migrants like northern pintail, northern shoveler, and green-winged teal. See if you can identify them in the photo below. Good luck hunting out there!
We’re back at it again! We flew the first teal flight of 2018 on Tuesday, September 4th. Blue-winged teal abundance was above average (22%) along the Illinois River for the first week of September and totaled 20,340 teal. We saw average numbers of teal along the central Mississippi River (4,120 birds). The larger concentrations of teal occurred near Chillicothe, the Rice Lake Complex, Clear Lake, Chautauqua NWR, and Emiquon Preserve on the Illinois River and in the Grafton area of the central Mississippi River. Actually, I started seeing appreciable numbers of blue-wings on August 22nd while doing some shorebird flights of the Illinois River, and teal abundance has been slowly increasing every week. Wetland habitats and moist-soil vegetation (waterfowl food) along both river systems looked phenomenal this week. Let’s hope the remnants of Tropical Storm Gordon don’t ruin the bountiful crop of duck groceries out there.
Good luck with the early teal season opener on September 8th!
We flew the waterfowl survey on December 26th 2017 and the air temperature was 3 degrees. Almost everything was iced up, and when we found ducks, they were tightly packed into a little bit of open water. I have included a couple of photos to illustrate my point. Duck numbers were down considerably along both rivers, but a few of those die hard mallards and canvasbacks were holding on. For those of you still hunting ducks out there; be careful, it’s COLD! Thanks for following my blog…
We flew the waterfowl inventory on Tuesday, December 19th . Nearly all of the ice that formed over the last couple of weeks was gone, and we still had a bunch of ducks around for the 3rd week in December. We estimated 184,710 total ducks in the Illinois River valley, which was 31% down from last week but 30% above the 10-yr average. Similarly, mallards (153,935) were down 22% from last week but still 35% above the 10-yr average. Total ducks (796,480) on the Mississippi River dropped 8% from last week but were 142% above average. Likewise, mallards were abundant (417,185), especially in St. Charles County, MO, and were nearly double (96%) the 10-yr average.
However, the real story this week was the huge number of canvasbacks observed on Pool 19 of the Mississippi River. We estimated 246,125 canvasbacks between Nauvoo, IL and Fort Madison, IA. This raft of ducks stretched 5 miles in length and in spots approached a mile wide. This was a phenomenal number of canvasbacks when you consider this year’s breeding population of canvasbacks from the U.S. and Canada was estimated at 732,500 ducks. Even when we consider this year’s recruitment of ducklings, we very likely have less than 1 million birds in the population. So, this impressive raft of canvasbacks likely exceeded 25% of our continental population of canvasbacks. Now that’s a bunch of divers!
We tried to capture a video of the canvasbacks with a cell phone (What would we do without cell phones?). I will post the video on the Forbes Biological Station Facebook page for your viewing. Sorry for the bouncing video but that’s what it is like in the plane! Enjoy! Thanks to Joe Lancaster for the video!
We flew the waterfowl inventory on Thursday, December 7th and brrrrr… is it getting cold. Ice was forming on many of the refuges along both the Illinois and Mississippi rivers; however, we started running out of ice down around the Grafton area. Total ducks remained 6.5% above average for early December when we counted 218,600 ducks on the Illinois River, and ducks (520,880) were 24.5% above average on the Mississippi River. However, both the Illinois (32.4%) and Mississippi (29.2%) were down from last week’s estimates. I was hopeful this cold snap would push the last of the mallards into Illinois, Missouri, and Iowa, but after yesterday’s flight, it appeared as though our mallard numbers have already peaked, and we are on the downhill slide. Mallards (133,210) on the Illinois dropped 23.1% from last week; likewise, mallards (262,460) on the Mississippi River were down 34.8%. Although the duck numbers have declined, I am hopeful that the mallard hunters will enjoy some success as our refuges start to freeze; time will tell I guess.
Last week I had a few requests for aerial views of different species of waterfowl.
We flew the waterfowl inventory on Wednesday, November 29th. The Illinois River was 45% above the 10-yr average for total ducks. However, we have been hovering around 325,000 ducks for a couple of weeks now. The Illinois River had 172,090 mallards, but they were only up 1% from last week. The Mississippi River was 61% above the 10-yr average, and mallards were up 109% from last week and estimated at 402,800 birds. I’m not sure what was going with the big increase in mallards on the Mississippi. Based on hunting reports, I don’t think we had a major influx of migrant mallards. Maybe these ducks have been around the area for several weeks and have finally moved into the refuges counted from the air. Over the past 10 years, Illinois River mallard numbers have peaked on November 30th, with the Mississippi River being slightly later on December 3rd. Hopefully, all we need is weather and little ice to make them move around on the landscape. The weather forecast indicates we might just get those colder temperatures around Wednesday, December 6th. Let’s hope so because these ducks are stale.
We flew the waterfowl inventory on Monday, November 13th just 3 days following the Illinois River flight from last week. We usually would not do back-to-back flights, but the weather forecast was unpredictable for the rest of the week. Despite the short turn around, total duck abundance (387,440) on the Illinois was up 22% from last week and was 32% above normal. It appeared as though we had a little push of mallards over the weekend, and mallard numbers were up 14%. We also noticed a few black ducks in the counts this week. Duck numbers (640,180) on the Mississippi River were very similar to the previous week and were 92% above the 10-yr average. Numbers at Two Rivers NWR dropped about 58,000 ducks from last week; however, I suspect those birds have redistributed around the duck clubs in St. Charles County Missouri due to the early split in the Missouri, Middle Zone, duck season.
I wanted to send a little praise this week to Sanganois SFWA on the Illinois River. Waterfowl habitat at Sanganois looks phenomenal this year, and their duck harvest corresponds. Over the first 17 days of the season, Sanganois has harvested 3,726 ducks, or 219 ducks per day. We are fortunate for the dedication of the site staff and cooperation of the Illinois River. In late July, we were within inches of losing the bountiful crop of moist-soil to river flooding. I am also monitoring duck use of the Ash Swale Refuge this year. For those of you interested in those numbers, I am including a blurb each week in the email I send to the Illinois Department of Natural Resources. Ash Swale is comprised of willow and buttonbush, and it is hard to see the birds in the dense vegetation; however, this week I estimated 15,000 ducks using the refuge and I have no doubt that number is biased low due to the poor visibility in the woody vegetation.
If you can zoom in on the attached photo I took this week, you may be able to find a pair of American black ducks towards the lower end of the flock. By coincidence, a friend of the Forbes Biological Station sent me a photo of a mallard x black duck hybrid he harvested this week on Quiver Creek adjacent to Chautauqua NWR. The bird has characteristics of both mallard and black duck and is a very beautiful specimen. According to the annual parts collection survey (Wingbee) conducted each year by the USFWS, a duck hunter in Illinois has a 0.25% chance of harvesting a mallard:black duck hybrid for every mallard taken. This equates to 1 hybrid for every 400 harvested mallards. Ron, I think you should buy a lottery ticket this week!
We flew the waterfowl inventory of the Mississippi River on Monday, November 6th. We had some electrical issues with the plane at the start of the survey, preventing us from getting the Illinois River flight completed. I hope to fly the Illinois River on Friday, November 10th.
Total ducks on the Mississippi River were staggering at 146% above the 10-yr average and 86% above last week’s count. We had an influx of divers throughout the Mississippi River bordering Illinois, and we estimated 38,500 bluebills on Pool 19 this week. Most noteworthy was the number of birds in confluence region of the Illinois & Mississippi rivers. Swan Lake, which is part of Two Rivers National Wildlife Refuge, was holding ~324,000 ducks. This number is very large for the first week of November. In fact, this was the 3rd largest duck count at Swan Lake since the inception of the waterfowl surveys back in 1948; only to be beaten by December 5th , 1955 (581,495 ducks) and November 28th, 1952 (341,595 ducks). It was the largest count of northern pintail, gadwall, and ring-necked ducks ever recorded at Swan Lake, and the 65,400 gadwall at Swan Lake was the largest number recorded at one location along the Illinois and Mississippi rivers over the 69-yr history of the waterfowl survey. Enjoy them while they’re here!