By Wade Bourne, WF360 Mississippi Flyway Migration Editor
"They're here." That's what hunters in Illinois' central and south-central waterfowl zones are saying about ducks, or they should be! Recent aerial surveys counted impressive numbers of ducks on refuges and management areas in the mid-state region. The latest survey on October 28 tallied exceptionally high numbers of pintails, gadwalls, and green-winged teal. Mallard numbers are also good and are expected to climb with each new cold front.
Randy Smith, wetland wildlife program manager for the Illinois Department of Natural Resources, has the specifics. "Our pintail count is incredibly high," he says. "During our last survey, we counted 142,000 pintails. This compares to a 10-year average at this same time of 33,000 pintails. And gadwalls are through the roof. We counted over 100,000 gadwalls, compared to a 10-year average of 26,000. Overall, we had the highest non-mallard count in our survey's history. It's phenomenal how many ducks are here right now."
Jake Randa, wildlife biologist at the Chautauqua National Wildlife Refuge near Havana, Illinois, offers a similar report. "Right now we're holding over 150,000 ducks on our refuge," he says. "Last year we peaked out in late November with 106,000 ducks, so we're well above last year's peak number, and we're still gaining birds."
To the west, John Mabery, manager of the Two Rivers National Wildlife Refuge at the confluence of the Illinois and Mississippi Rivers just north of St. Louis, Missouri, is also impressed by the migration thus far. "We have good numbers of ducks on our refuge, and we're continuing to build," he says. "We're having a steady increase. We currently have more pintails than any other species, and we've also got a lot of mallards and green-winged teal. We typically hit our peak number of ducks around the end of November, and we're on target for that."
Hunting in Illinois' south-central waterfowl zone opens this Saturday (November 9). This zone includes two of this state's most popular public hunting areas: Rend Lake and Carlyle Lake. "Water conditions at Rend and Carlyle are very good," Smith says. "Based on the youth hunt results this past weekend, I expect a good opening day on both lakes."
The weather forecast calls for a significant cold front to arrive in Illinois by mid-week, bringing cooler temperatures and breezy conditions. "Hopefully this will get the ducks stirring," Smith says.
He adds that Doppler radar tracked some large movements of ducks out of Illinois this past Saturday night, but new birds have arrived to replace them. "I don't expect any big downturn in duck numbers, and hunter success should improve as the month goes on. Overall, I think we're setting up for a very good duck season in Illinois," he says.
Wade Bourne is the Ducks Unlimited Magazine editor-at-large, former DU-TV host, avid waterfowler and conservationist. Bourne will provide habitat and hunting reports for the Mississippi Flyway throughout the 2013-2014 season for Waterfowl360 and the DU Migration Map.