October 23rd aerial inventory

Wow, this week’s inventory of the Illinois River had 360,860 total ducks which was 167% greater than the 10-yr average for 3rd week in October. This is an astonishing number of ducks for an October flight, and it exceeded the fall peak number of ducks along the river in 16 of 65 years of data collection. Total ducks this week were 43% higher than the 10-yr average for midNovember. I observed more American green-winged teal, gadwall, and northern shovelers this week than have ever been observed along the Illinois River in October, and it was the 2nd highest number of northern pintail ever observed during an October flight. Amazingly, I still had 7,610 blue-winged teal on the flight; normally blue-winged teal have nearly all departed by this time of year. Total duck numbers along the Mississippi River were not as staggering as the Illinois, but they were still 33% above the 10-yr average; non-mallard dabblers were boosting numbers on the Mississippi. The lower numbers along the Mississippi River are likely due to the fact that several refuges have only partially flooded; namely Cuivre, Cannon, Delair, and Shanks. Total duck numbers along both rivers should offer excellent hunting opportunities for Illinois’ central zone, waterfowl opener this weekend. Let’s hope Mother Nature cooperates and provides some “ducky” weather!

Stay tuned for more updates next week…

October 14th aerial inventory

This weekend marks opening day of duck season in the north zone of Illinois. Nearly all refuges and hunting clubs along both rivers are pumping or moving water, duck blinds are brushed, and it appears everyone is ready for the opener. Hennepin & Hopper on the upper Illinois is the noteworthy area this fall. It is very similar to the Emiquon Preserve located downstream. Hennepin & Hopper was completely dewatered during 2012 for invasive carp removal; however, the basin is now full again and submersed aquatic vegetation (SAV) is back and plentiful. This type of vegetation grows under the water’s surface and is the food of choice for many waterbird species including gadwall, American wigeon, lesser scaup, canvasbacks, and American coots. In fact, nearly 23,000 coots were observed on the site during this week’s inventory.

I estimated 168,375 ducks on the Illinois River this week which was 83% above the most recent 10-yr average and 43% greater than last year’s estimate (Oct. 15th). Northern pintail and American green-winged teal comprise nearly 60% of total ducks along the Illinois River. I also estimated over 77,000 ducks on the Mississippi River this week which was 23% above the 10-yr average; however, total ducks were only 6% greater than last year at this time. Like the Illinois River, Northern pintail and American green-winged teal comprised the majority (81%) of total ducks counted along the Mississippi River this week.

Stay tuned for more updates next week…

September 13th aerial inventory

The weather finally allowed us to get the 2nd teal flight in last Friday the 13th. Excessive temperatures prevented the flight early in the week, and fog was an issue on Thursday. Our flights start shortly after sunrise and take 6 to 8 h to complete; depending on how many ducks are here. If you’re ever wondering why a flight hasn’t been posted, please consider what the weather was like over the entire survey route (Pekin to Grafton; Grafton to the Quad Cities; cut across country to Hennepin, and back to Pekin). Wind is an issue too, as I have a hard time counting ducks when the wind approaches or exceeds 20 mph. Waterfowl numbers will be distributed as soon as I get them tallied, and Michelle Horath, former observer of the INHS waterfowl flights, posts them to our web page (www.bellrose.org) after I tally the location data.

Not much changed between the 3rd and the 13th of September. Teal numbers in the Illinois River valley increased by only 4% from the previous week; however, there was a more even mix of blue-wings and green-wings. Teal numbers on the Mississippi increased (66%), but there were fewer than 7,000 teal recorded at Mississippi River refuges. On a brighter note, several duck clubs and refuges started pumping water in anticipation of fall migration. Hopefully the cooler weather and north winds will increase the number of ducks along both rivers before the last weekend of teal season. Finally, the 3rd teal flight will be late again this week. Mechanical issues with the airplane will prevent the flight until at least Wednesday, September 18th .

September 3rd aerial inventory

I completed my first flight for fall 2013 on Tuesday. It started out as a great day to fly with cool temperatures, clear skies, and light and variable winds. Temperatures peaked in the low 80’s by 3 PM when I recorded a temperature in the cockpit of 98 degrees. Duck numbers for the Illinois River exceeded the 10-yr weekly average by 60% and totaled 38,620 total ducks. Blue-winged (22,555) and American green-winged teal (6,230) exceeded their 10-yr weekly average by 51% and 31%, respectively. Total ducks on the Mississippi River were near the 10-yr average and totaled 5,300 ducks; although blue-winged teal (3,610) were 17% below average for the first week of September. With the heat wave currently hitting the prairies, I doubt we get a push of teal by the opener on Saturday, September 7th. The extended forecast for Devils Lake, ND, shows milder temperatures by the middle of next week so let’s hope for a movement of teal into Illinois by the second weekend of teal season. Wetland habitat conditions for waterfowl are variable this fall. The extended flooding of the rivers during spring 2013 prevented early drawdowns. The Illinois River fell below 8 ft. at Havana on July 18th and has remained low to date.

Wetland managers that dewatered had time to grow moist-soil vegetation “duck groceries” and a few areas have abundant submersed aquatic vegetation. Indeed, some areas look great; notables include Cuba Island, Carlson Unit at Anderson Lake, Chautauqua NWR, Emiquon Preserve, Hitchcock Slough, Swan Lake, and Hennepin & Hopper. Similarly, a few areas along the Mississippi River have above average duck forage this fall including, Delair, Cannon, Batchtown, Arthur, and Louisa refuges. However, many refuges along both rivers held their water or only partially dewatered. My estimate of duck food in the Illinois and Mississippi river valleys is slightly below average for fall 2013.