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 email@example.com 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 www.reportband.gov.
Good Luck to those of you heading to the duck blind this weekend for the central zone waterfowl opener!
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.
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.
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.