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Guest Blog

Teal and shorebird census

Thu, September 03, 2015


The first teal flight for fall 2015 is in the books, and so we begin our 67th year of waterfowl surveys on the Illinois and Mississippi rivers.  Frank Bellrose started flying the waterfowl survey back in 1948 when pilots, aircraft, and fuel became available after WWII.  Aaron Yetter on plane

Since 1948, we have only missed one fall of data collection.  The 2001 survey was not flown due to funding issues and pilot availability.  This aerial inventory has a longer history than even the aerial breeding waterfowl population survey of the prairies which originated in 1955.  We are proud of this accomplishment and usually note that our long-term database has only had 4 biologist observers over the years.  I give kudos to my predecessors Frank Bellrose, Tud Crompton, and Michelle Horath as this fall marks my 11th year in the airplane.

Click here to learn more about past inventories.

Duck numbers this week for the Illinois River were comparable to the weekly 10-yr average and totaled 31,900 total ducks.  Blue-winged and American green-winged teal abundance (23,895) was 7.2% above the 10-yr average (21,975).  Total ducks on the Mississippi River were well above the 10-yr average; however, early season duck abundance (8,055 ducks) along the Mississippi River is typically lower than the Illinois River. 

Teal comprised 92% of the ducks observed this week on the Mississippi River.  Other early season migrants noted along both rivers included northern shoveler and northern pintail.  The weather forecast from North Dakota predicts above normal temperatures for the first week of September so I doubt we get a wave of migrating teal out of the prairies anytime soon.   

My early September estimate of wetland habitat conditions for waterfowl this fall ranked well below average for both the Illinois and Mississippi rivers.  It was a wet June-July and consequently our rivers were elevated for most of the growing season.  The last rise in water levels in late August destroyed any chance for waterfowl foods in the unprotected wetlands of the Illinois Valley. 

Most of the refuges and duck clubs along the Mississippi River had below average moist-soil plant growth as well.  Some notable exceptions include Ted Shanks, Delair, Keithsburg, and Port Louisa refuges.  Along the Illinois River; Hennepin & Hopper lakes, Banner Marsh, and Emiquon were the only places with significant amounts of duck food.  For more information about the waterfowl survey, check out our webpage at  .

Good luck teal and Canada goose hunting and stay tuned for more updates next week.

Here are the complete aerial counts.




Spring waterfowl conditions average

Thu, April 16, 2015

Delta Waterfowl

Prairie Pothole Region wetlands have enjoyed a five-year boom, nourished by significant spring rains and heavy winter snowfall. Thus bountiful food and nesting opportunities were afforded to ducks, which in turn set breeding population survey records in 2011, 2012 and 2014.

But the wet streak couldn’t last forever. This spring, returning mallards will find more typical wetland conditions.

“It was a fairly mild winter with below-average precipitation,” said Mike Buxton, waterfowl program coordinator for Delta Waterfowl. “If there’d been a drought last summer, we’d be in trouble, but the PPR was so wet that there’s ample carryover water present. I don’t think duck production will approach the past few dynamite years, but we should manage an average spring — especially if we get timely rains through May.”

Here’s a breakdown of early wetland conditions in key duck-production areas:

By late January, Alberta was in a degree of trouble.

“The weather was warm and there was almost no snow on the ground,” said Matt Chouinard, waterfowl program manager for Delta Waterfowl. “I had my concerns.”

However, since that time Alberta has received several much-needed squalls, including a mid-March blizzard resulting in 10 inches of snow.

“A good little storm like that can actually make a real difference for duck production,” Chouinard explained. “Alberta’s water conditions aren’t unbelievable this spring, but they’re sufficient. It should be a normal production year.”

Neighboring Saskatchewan was off to a better start: Colder and with a few inches of snow on the ground during Chouinard’s late January visit.

“While installing Hen Houses in key production areas, I observed numerous wetlands that extended clear up to the surrounding cattails — that’s a good sign,” Chouinard said. “Often after a dry summer and fall, seasonal wetlands are surrounded in a bowl of dirt or completely empty.”

Overall, Saskatchewan’s snowpack is less significant than recent years, but the province’s wetlands continue to benefit from residual water.

“It should have a decent year for duck production, especially if wet get a little rain in the coming weeks,” Chouinard said.

Manitoba’s nesting habitat is less susceptible to annual variation, as its wetlands are disproportionately permanent and semi-permanent. Given that the province experienced flood warnings for much of the summer, its wetland basins are in solid shape.

“There should be pretty good water throughout the breeding season,” Buxton said. “It would take a few rain-free months to dry those basins. I’ve also observed seasonal wetlands taking shape during visits to the southwest corner, but they’re less plentiful this year. All considered, it should be a typical production year for Manitoba. The mallards have begun to arrive.”

North Dakota
North Dakota might be considered on the bubble in terms of duck production. While its vast temporary wetlands are currently in good shape, a minimal snowpack means there’s precious little water in reserve.

“If we don’t get rain during the rest of April and May, I fear the wetlands will contain significantly less water for nesting ducks,” Buxton said. “I’m already not seeing the massive stretches of sheet water like we had last year. Initial nesting attempts should be unaffected, but renesting efforts — which made a lot of ducks these past few years — are another story. If the wetlands begin to dry up, hens won’t have the invertebrates available to recharge nutritionally. And diminished wetlands would also cut way down on available habitat for brood survival.”

Still, if North Dakota receives even an average amount of spring precipitation, expect a normal year for duck production.

“I’m not all that concerned just yet,” Buxton said. “The wetlands are in reasonable shape, since many held water to begin with, and the ducks have begun to arrive. All species have been accounted for.”


Youth antler hunt a success

Wed, April 15, 2015


The Heart of Illinois Quality Deer Management Association (QDMA) held its first Youth Antler Hunt on Sunday April 12th at Oak Ridge Sportsmen’s Club in Mackinaw Illinois. Fifty-six kids, 17 and younger, attended the event, with parents and children traveling as far away as Iowa. Each child received a grunt call, deer poster set, Rack Pack membership, and an engraved QDMA deer antler. A Pellet gun range, and world class shed antler display from Goliath Outdoors were also a part of the event.

The HOI QDMA board members hid 188 antlers for the kids to find that day. All deer antlers were shed antlers that were donated by area hunters, and organizations. Some local supporters donated 20-40 antlers per person! The McLean County Sportsmen’s Association, Sugar Hill Archery Club, Oak Ridge Sportsmen’s Club and Goliath Outdoors were among the largest contributors for the event.

Not all antlers were found that day, in fact around 12 of them remain hidden and out of sight. But one antler in particular was found. The HOI QDMA’s “Shed Antler of the Year”. This was by far the largest antler hidden, the young man picture above received a free ticket to the HOI QDMA Banquet at Crestwicke Country Club, Bloomington IL on August 7th 2015. The antler will be auctioned as a fundraising item for next year’s event, however the young man will get to keep his antler at the end of the night.

If you would like to keep up to date with the Heart of Illinois QDMA group, email them at .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address) and like them on Facebook.


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