Last flight of 2020 fall migration

We flew most of the waterfowl survey on Tuesday January 5th and finished up the last of the upper Illinois River on January 8th. Fog and low ceilings plagued us this week above Peoria. Most of the ducks are now gone except for a few mallards, common goldeneyes, and common mergansers. A raft of Canvasbacks is hanging on near Nauvoo, Illinois. I never did see the large numbers of Canvasbacks this fall on Pool 19. I think they may have overflown us during the Christmas Holiday. This was my last flight of the 2020 fall migration. We will start flying again in mid-February, or when the ice starts to break up.

Good Luck to the goose hunters and the southern duck hunters!

This was our view of Pool 19 near Hamilton, Illinois on Tuesday afternoon. Plenty of ice with only a few pockets of open water.

Illinois River Aerial Survey – 1/5/2021

Central Mississippi River Aerial Survey – 1/5/2021

Cold-weather ducks

We waited until Wednesday of this week (December 2nd) to fly the waterfowl survey. The weather looked good so we decided to see what the cold snap would do to duck numbers. I feared most of the ducks would get out of here with the 20ºF low temps on Monday and Tuesday. Boy was I wrong! We had lots of ice on Wednesday morning, but the ducks stayed. In fact, we saw more ducks than before Thanksgiving along both rivers. I am sure we had some new ducks arrive with the cold weather and north winds, as evidenced by the increasing number of mallards and common goldeneye (commonly known as whistlers or ice ducks). And we had some other divers (primarily lesser scaup) take off for warmer climates. The departure of scaup was also apparent in our band return data from ducks that we leg band during spring around Havana, IL and Pool 19 of the Mississippi River. Our weekly band return report from the Bird Banding Lab indicated the lesser scaup are definitely in Louisiana and Texas with several bands being reported from the deep south.

This week we observed ~423,000 ducks along the Illinois River and ~830,000 ducks on the central Mississippi River. These numbers are well above average for the first week of December and 7% greater than last week along the Illinois River and 25% more than last week on the central Mississippi. Once again mallards were the most numerous species with almost a half a million mallards along the central Mississippi River and well over a quarter million on the Illinois River. I know many duck hunters in Illinois are going to doubt those numbers because hunting success has been poor for the most part, but we took several photos to show how they hunkered down and kept pockets of water from freezing in the cool temps. I guess we will see next week when we warm up and thaw if the ducks continued to stick around.

Be careful in the cold and ice!

Ducks using an open water area on one of the frozen refuges on December 2nd, 2020.
A dense flock of mallards.
More mallards from the central Mississippi River.
Can you pick out the northern pintail and green-winged teal among these mallards?

Illinois River Waterfowl Aerial Inventory – 12/2/2020

Central Mississippi Waterfowl Aerial Inventory – 12/2/2020

Still lots of ducks

We had a great day for the waterfowl survey on Tuesday, November 17th. The winds weren’t excessive, and we even had some cloud cover part of the day. I prefer to fly with some cloud cover because the direct sunshine and the sun’s reflection off the water aren’t blinding me on overcast days.

I know this is starting to sound like a broken record, but we really do have a lot of ducks around for mid-November. Illinois River duck numbers (427,525 total ducks) were 48% above average and up slightly (11%) from last week. The same goes for the central Mississippi River with 589,460 total ducks, which were up 36% from average and up 32% from last week.

It seems the ducks are switching refuges as more water is becoming available on the landscape. For instance, Chautauqua NWR has been slowly adding water, and the ducks have found it. I estimated over 100,000 ducks on the South Pool of Chautauqua this week and white-fronted geese were abundant was well. This contrasts with Emiquon, which usually holds a big slug of birds. Emiquon Preserve was partially dewatered this year to reset the marsh cycle; as a consequence, most of the moist-soil vegetation out there is high and dry. I only counted 1,300 ducks on the “Big E” on Tuesday. The big winner for the upper Illinois this week was Douglas Lake with over 70,000 ducks. Most of those birds were on the eastern side of Douglas Lake, which is what I call the Rice Pond refuge.

On the lower Mississippi River, the Cannon refuge keeps making headway with new water and duck numbers jumped to over 62,000. The Shanks refuge operated by Missouri Department of Conservation had over 66,000 ducks on Tuesday morning, with a healthy mob of green-winged teal (14,500) concentrating on the lower end of the refuge. And of course, Swan Lake at the confluence of the Illinois and Mississippi rivers was still hovering around 100,000 ducks. I have witnessed hunters posting pictures of diving ducks around the internet over last week. We indeed had an influx of lesser scaup (34,000 which doubled last week’s count) on Pool 19, and even a few common goldeneye made their way into the central Mississippi River.

I know the general public has been enjoying Illinois’ mild weather over the last couple of weeks, but the waterfowl hunters are needing a change. Right now, it is taking some big winds to get the ducks to move around a little. Otherwise, it is stagnant out there in the duck blind. Here’s to the HOPE of blustery weather to come!

Good luck to Illinois deer hunters as they embark on the first half of shotgun deer season, hopefully everyone will stay safe!

Illinois River Waterfowl Aerial Inventory – 11/17/2020

Central Mississippi Waterfowl Aerial Inventory – 11/17/2020

Honey Point dabblers
Honey Point dabblers at Meredosia Lake, near Meredosia, Illinois.
Pool 19 divers near Hamilton, Illinois. Note the white canvasbacks, grayish lesser scaup, and darker colored ruddy ducks in the mix.
Northern pintails and mallards on Rice Pond Preserve near Chillicothe, Illinois.
Note the dull coloration of the green-winged teal loafing on the southern end of Ted Shanks refuge near Louisiana, Missouri.
Mallards and assorted dabblers basking in the sun at Ted Shanks refuge near Louisiana, Missouri.