By Wade Bourne, WF360 Mississippi Flyway Migration Editor
Hunting resumes tomorrow (Saturday, Dec. 14) in Louisiana's East and Coastal Zones after a five-day split and a 12-day split, respectively. (Hunting in the West Zone has been open since Nov. 16 and closes Dec. 15 for a six-day break.) Biologists with the Louisiana Department of Wildlife and Fisheries (LDWF) are completing their December waterfowl survey as this report was being written. Final numbers haven't been tabulated, but conversations with biologists provide a picture of mixed opportunity. Some areas are holding generous numbers of ducks, while others are lacking for birds.
"It's tough to make any definitive judgment on where we stand before the aerial survey data is compiled," says Larry Reynolds, waterfowl study leader for the LDWF. "Still, I've been in the air this week and will be back flying and counting today, and I can provide some general observations about what I've seen."
Reynolds says Catahoula Lake near Alexandria is "wrapped up" with canvasbacks and ring-necked ducks, but numbers of pintails and other dabbling ducks are surprisingly low. "We saw very few canvasbacks when we flew in November, but they're there now, so we've had a big migration of diving ducks into Catahoula," he says. "Also, I'd suspect the reason we don't have more pintails and mallards on the lake is because we've had only a five-day split this year, and there hasn't been enough time for big concentrations of these ducks to rebuild."
In the Coastal Zone, Reynolds says duck numbers are "clearly better than November." He says he and his pilot observed "a lot more diving ducks and mallards and also good numbers of gadwalls and green-winged teal, but fewer blue-winged teal than normal."
But large concentrations of ducks seem spotty in the Coastal Zone. Specifically, Reynolds mentioned good numbers of pintails and diving ducks at the mouth of the Mississippi River south of Venice. He saw a big increase in gadwalls and ring-necked ducks in Terrebonne Parish (Houma area). And he noted two large concentrations of ducks in southwest Louisiana: one between Little Pecan Island and Grand Lake and another concentration east of Pecan Island in the west Vermilion Bay marshes.
Scooter Trosclair is the on-site biologist at the Rockefeller Wildlife Refuge near Grand Chenier (Vermilion and Cameron Parishes). He reports that numbers of ducks in the southwest coastal region "look bad." "Everybody here is puzzled about where our birds are," he notes. "Our numbers are lower than they should be, especially for teal. They usually make up a big portion of hunters' bags here, and when we don't have teal our people tend to struggle."
Trosclair says one bright spot is the Atchafalaya River Delta. He describes this area as ‘jam-packed' with mallards, gadwalls, canvasbacks and redheads."
"I plan to be in the marsh tomorrow (near White Lake), and I'm expecting a good shoot on ‘gray ducks' (gadwalls), but I'm worried about what we'll have to shoot at two days later. When there are no teal around, it can be pretty tough hunting."
John Hanks is the waterfowl biologist at the LDWF's Monroe office. He reports that conditions and duck numbers in northeast Louisiana are "fair to good, but not great." Hanks says this area has had intermittent rains throughout the last month, and there is some sheet water in rice and soybean fields. However, river levels are low, and there's been very little spill-over water in adjacent low-lying areas.
"We've got ducks on the landscape, but we're not brimming over with birds," he says. "I don't think any big concentrations of ducks have built back up in the five days of the split."
Drew Keeth is general manager of Honey Brake Lodge south of Jonesville (east of Catahoula Lake). This is one of Louisiana's premier hunting establishments and typically holds a large concentration of ducks during fall and winter. "We're loaded up right now," Keeth says. "We probably have 200,000 ducks on our property today. When the big freeze hit up north last week, a lot of new ducks came into Catahoula. We've had a lot of rain, and our water situation is good. I'm anticipating some very good hunting in the days ahead."
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.