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Heartland Outdoors cover November 2017

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Duck Numbers

Ducks came … and then went

Fri, November 25, 2016

A major weather system tracked across the Midwest over the weekend of November 18th, and many of us were expecting a big push of ducks. But from what many hunters witnessed in the duck blind, we only had a small movement of ducks into the Illinois River valley on Saturday morning, or the mallards arrived and left very quickly as gunning declined drastically by Monday morning.

Indeed, Doppler radar indicated emigration events on both Saturday (November 19th) and Sunday (November 20th) evenings along the middle Illinois River. Darn the bad luck!

These observations were corroborated by the waterfowl survey that was flown on Monday, November 21st. Duck abundance (283,585) on the Illinois River actually declined 15% from the previous week, and even mallard numbers were down 14% from what we counted on November 14th. Illinois River mallards (114,300) were 19% below average for the week of Thanksgiving. In contrast, many reports of new ducks were heard from the lower portion of the central Mississippi River. We estimated total ducks (468,735) increased 27% from the November 14th survey and were 40% above the 10-yr average along the Mississippi River. Mallards more than doubled along the central Mississippi where they were up 52% from last week. We even had a bunch of canvasbacks (27,500) show up on Pool 19.

Other diving ducks observed on Pool 19 included common goldeneye and bufflehead. The difference between the two rivers can be attributed to the devastating flood that occurred in August along the Illinois River.

That flood wiped out most of the duck food in the Illinois Valley, and it has been apparent in our duck numbers this fall. For some of us, it has been the worst duck season in recent memory.

With the arrival of some diving ducks this week, I decided to write about the Forbes Biological Station’s banding program. Have you ever wondered where ducks go when they leave central Illinois? My colleagues, Chris Hine and Heath Hagy, described the recovery locations of spring banded lesser scaup in a popular article printed last winter and I’ll borrow from them. Since 2012, we have banded >7,500 lesser scaup during spring migration at Chautauqua National Wildlife Refuge, Emiquon Preserve, and Anderson Lake State Fish and Wildlife Area.

From these marked birds, we have had 164 recoveries (mostly hunter harvested birds) extending from the Northwest Territories to the Gulf of Mexico. Our spring banded lesser scaup were harvested in Louisiana (24%), Illinois (20%), North Dakota (7%), and several other states. The harvest distribution of these birds illustrated the need to manage our waterfowl populations at the flyway and continental scales. If you would like a copy of the lesser scaup article, go to the following link; http://wwx.inhs.illinois.edu/files/6614/4917/1617/INHSReports_December2015_ScaupBanding_02Dec2015.pdf

For more information about the waterfowl survey, check out our webpage at http://www.bellrose.org Stay .tuned for more updates next week…….

duck net

recoveries map

banded scaup

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Mallard numbers below average

Thu, November 10, 2016

The weather was perfect for a waterfowl survey on Monday, November 7th. 

We estimated 213,465 total ducks in the Illinois River valley (IRV) which was up 7% from the previous week; however, do to above average temperatures across the Midwest, we are running well below average (41% low) for the second week of November.  The central Mississippi River valley (CMRV; 253,375 ducks) is doing much better in relation to the 10-yr average (4% low), and duck abundance was up 28% from the previous week.  However, this increase was likely due to the middle zone duck season opener in Missouri on November 5th.  Ducks were dispersed around the duck clubs in St. Charles County prior to opening day and were forced into the refuges after the season started. 

The current weather pattern is at least part of the problem with our duck numbers along both rivers.  The species distribution usually starts to change by the second week of November when we shift from the non-mallard dabblers (northern pintail, gadwall, American wigeon, American green-winged teal, and northern shoveler) to mallards.  In fact, our mallard numbers this week were 67% and 38% below average along the IRV and CMRV, respectively.  In many years, Veteran’s Day weekend brings some gusty winds and colder temperatures, and this year’s forecast may bring some north winds and freezing lows. 

Some of you might even remember the Armistice Day blizzard on November 11, 1940.  We could sure use some “ducky” weather, but we don’t need a repeat of 1940.

Since my flight, I have heard reports of new migrants along both rivers.  Migrant mallards and some snow geese were noticed in the Louisiana, MO, area earlier in the week, and I am hearing more gunshots this morning from my office as I write this blog.  Good luck hunting and enjoy the Veteran’s Day Holiday.  To all the active duty military and veterans out there, Thank You for your service!
For more information about the waterfowl survey, check out our webpage at www.bellrose.org.  Stay tuned for more updates next week…….

This painting by David Hagerbaumer from Quincy, IL, depicts the blizzard and the duck hunting on that fateful day, November 11, 1940, when many duck hunters lost their lives.  If you have never heard the story, you should “Google it”, or better yet, ask an elderly hunter to recount the memories from that day. 

armistice pic

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Poor reports from waterfowl opener

Fri, October 28, 2016

The weather was right for a waterfowl survey of the Illinois and Mississippi rivers on Monday, October 24th, following the Central Zone duck season opener in Illinois.  Duck numbers (171,990) were up 71% along the Illinois River from the previous week; however, I think the majority of this increase was attributed to the shuffle of ducks out of the private clubs and into the refuges due to hunting pressure. 

There were some new immigrants into the Illinois River valley as noted by the increase in ring-necked ducks; nevertheless, we were still 12% below the 10-yr average for the last week of October.  On the central Mississippi River, I estimated 151,435 total ducks which was 10% above the 10-yr average, but only 7% up from the previous week.  The Mississippi likely didn’t see the big increase in duck numbers with the Central Zone opener because duck hunting in Missouri doesn’t open until October 29th in the North Zone and November 5th in the Middle Zone; therefore, the ducks were still scattered in the private clubs along the lower Mississippi River above St. Louis, MO.  Those white-fronted geese that showed up last week, must have continued their way south, because we only saw a handful of specks this week. 

I hate to be a “Debbie Downer” but hunting reports from the field were poor for the Central Zone opener with a preponderance of dismal from the Illinois River.  Some hunters in the vicinity of Bath reported their worst opener in 20 years, and many of the big duck clubs along the Illinois River reported fewer than 1 duck per hunter. 

Opening day hunting success at Anderson Lake and Rice Lake was 1.2 ducks/hunter which was down from the 2.2 ducks/hunter on opening day in 2015.  This year’s harvest was primarily wood ducks and teal.  Hunter success (1.6 ducks/hunter) at the Mississippi River Area (MRA) near the confluence of the Illinois and Mississippi rivers was a little better than the middle Illinois River; and again, American green-winged teal and wood ducks dominated the harvest.  Only 44 mallards were harvested in the entire MRA on opening day.  I don’t think it will get much better until this weather pattern breaks and we get a push of birds from the prairies.  Until then, be safe and enjoy the mild weather. 

Since we’re not having any luck duck hunting, we might as well dream of the big flocks of mallards that should be arriving in November.  For more information about the waterfowl survey, check out our webpage at www.bellrose.org.  Stay tuned for more updates next week…….

dreams of ducks

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