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Duck Numbers

Ice pushed ducks out

Fri, December 23, 2016

What a difference a week makes! 

We flew the waterfowl survey on Wednesday, December 21st, and the survey locations along both rivers were almost entirely frozen. 

As the saying goes, “the ol’ lady is singing”.  Just as the Illinois Central Zone duck season closed, we lost 805,000 ducks compared with last week’s estimate of 1,148,990 birds.  Despite the ice, we still had a few ducks holding on.  The Illinois River had 127,625 total ducks which was 19% below average. 

Similarly, the Mississippi River had 215,970 ducks which was 32% below average.  Mallards comprise the majority of the ducks still hanging around, along with some common mergansers and common goldeneyes.  We also picked up a few Canada geese on the rivers where I counted 22,425 honkers on the Illinois River and 12,155 along the Mississippi.  Now that duck season is over in central Illinois, it’s time to shift over and field hunt Canada geese. 

This will be my last blog for the fall, and this week I chose a photo of the iced up Mississippi River.  This view is looking north towards Nauvoo, Illinois from just above the dam at Hamilton and Keokuk.  If you remember from last week, this section of the river held 160,000 canvasbacks.  They have all departed now for warmer climates.  The second photo shows a pocket of open water with some trumpeter swans, Canada geese, white-fronted geese, and mallards.  Enjoy!

Thanks for all your interest in the waterfowl surveys and for more information, check out our web page at www.bellrose.org

Merry Christmas and Happy Holidays!

swan lake ducks geese

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Ducks abound despite ice

Wed, December 14, 2016

We flew the waterfowl survey on Monday, December 12th, and many locations were nearly frozen. Despite the ice, we found substantial numbers of ducks holding on in small pockets of open water or in the windswept areas of big water.

I have had many questions from the hunters about the arrival of migrating Canada geese, but my goose numbers along both rivers were insignificant and below average. I am sure our local geese are getting consolidated down to the big waters or power plant cooling lakes as we continue to freeze up.

Our estimate (289,215) of ducks along the Illinois River increased 32% this week and were 51% above average for mid-December. There was a big increase in divers along the upper Illinois River where found a couple of rafts of diving ducks that totaled 38,000 birds. Other increases along the river included mallards (186,855) which were up 17% from average and 36% above last week.

Duck numbers along the central Mississippi River valley (CMRV) were busting at the seams. We estimated 859,775 total ducks along the CMRV which was 191% above average and a 24% increase from last week. Mallards were estimated at 482,325 birds which were 168% above average and 50% up from last week. A whopping 159,675 canvasbacks were counted on the Mississippi and most were in the vicinity of Nauvoo, IL on Pool 19. Canvasbacks were 272% above average and 99% up from the December 7th estimate.

These staggering numbers from the CMRV represent the 10th highest count of total ducks and the 5th highest count of canvasbacks dating all the way back to 1948. I am sure Frank Bellrose would be doing cartwheels if he was still around to see these canvasbacks and mallards on the central Mississippi River! 

I snapped a couple of nice photos this week, and if you remember from last week’s blog, I was trying to show what a mallard looked like from above. As you can see, the black stripe on the drake’s back can be very prominent from different aspects while the white sides dominate the bird from other views.

mallard from plane

Additionally, I got a nice photo of diving ducks. I hope you can see the red head and white body on the drake canvasbacks in contrast to the overall black appearance of the ring-necked ducks and the grayish tone of the lesser scaup (middle of photo). 

canvasbacks from plane

For more information on the waterfowl surveys, check out our web page at www.bellrose.org Stay tuned for more updates next week.

 

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More mallards along Mississippi River

Tue, December 06, 2016

We completed the waterfowl survey on Tuesday, November 29th following the arrival of new ducks into Illinois over Thanksgiving. Duck numbers (301,955) on the Illinois River were up 6% from last week and 38% above average for the last of November. Most of the increase was due to the arrival of some mallards which now stand at 127,915 birds; however, mallard numbers were below (24%) normal on the Illinois River.

An even larger movement of mallards landed in the central Mississippi River region which were up 94% from last week and totaled 222,095 mallards. This mallard estimate was right at the 10-yr average. Total duck abundance for the Mississippi was 623,160; up 33% from last week and 50% above average for late November.

I was asked several times after the survey numbers were posted why hunter success was down. Specifically, one question was “How can duck hunting be slow if we have almost a million ducks between the two river systems”? I replied that our mallard numbers were currently average for the central Mississippi, but still 24% below average on the Illinois. We all know Mallards are “King” when it comes to duck hunting in Illinois, and mallards drive the harvest rate and duck hunter satisfaction in Illinois.

So when mallard numbers are average or below, hunter success and satisfaction will be down. Further, I believe most of the other ducks have been here for at least a couple of weeks and many for about a month. The majority of the ducks have figured out where to avoid gunning pressure. Additionally, our mallards have started feeding late in the afternoon and into the night. I have heard multiple reports of mallards moving from refuges to the duck clubs at sunset to avoid hunting pressure.

One of my colleagues joked that we have turned them into bats, forcing the ducks to feed at night to get a reprieve from the duck hunters. Hopefully, the weather system coming across the prairies this weekend (Dec. 2nd) will bring us more of those “prized” greenheads. Time will tell I guess. 

For more information on the waterfowl surveys, check out our web page at www.bellrose.org Stay tuned for more updates.

The attached photo from November 29th depicts several thousand American green-winged teal and northern pintails foraging in some shallowly flooded moist-soil vegetation. In fact, you can see the muddy water where the birds were feeding at the water-vegetation interface. Enjoy!

duck feeding

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