By Alicia Wiseman, Ducks Unlimited Biologist
Rainfall across south Louisiana has been scattered and sparse. However, there seems to be plenty of water on the landscape. Crawfish ponds are flooded, most to a depth of six to eight inches and will provide valuable resting and loafing habitat for early-migrating waterfowl. Crawfish ponds can also provide foraging habitat if they are full of natural grasses and sedges or un-harvested second crop rice. The shallow depth will likely be maintained until December – all creating prime real estate for ducks.
The rice crop was harvested in early August, but many fields were fertilized and re-flooded to produce a second crop. These fields are dry right now as they are being harvested, but most will be flooded again by December 1. Even though harvested, this second crop is extremely valuable to waterfowl as it puts waste grain available to waterfowl at key times. Also, harvesting the second crop flattens more of the rice stubble and the open water makes easily accessible foraging habitat for ducks. Establishing a gradual flood on these fields to make new food sources available throughout the winter and then responding by changing blind locations as necessary can make these second-crop fields extremely profitable for hunters.
Marsh conditions around the Wax Lake Delta look very good. Well-timed rains have kept things fresh into the fall and allowed submerged aquatic vegetation to thrive and recover after damage from Hurricane Isaac. Passes that hunters used during teal season may be closed due to the fast growth of water hyacinth so additional scouting is probably wise. Current high tides related to the moon phase are also flooding emergent and edge marsh and ducks are responding to the tidally flooded food sources.
A large influx of waterfowl in the Atchafalaya and more western marshes was reported after the recent cold front. Reports from the rice fields are still showing only fair bird numbers. Hunters should remember, however, that these reports are from before duck season. With lots of habitat, birds will respond quickly to hunting pressure.
The regular waterfowl season opener is only a few days away and hunters with up-to-date scouting reports and the ability to adjust accordingly will likely have a great opener. An additional influx of birds will be needed for everyone to report hot shooting, but there is opportunity for all to have a satisfying opening weekend.
Alicia Wiseman has been a biologist for Ducks Unlimited for 3 years. Her current work on the Rice Stewardship Program keeps her connected to the fields and the farmers throughout southwest Louisiana.
Find migration and hunting reports in your area on the Ducks Unlimited Migration Map.