By Chris Holmes, WF360 Louisiana Migration Editor
Louisiana duck hunters are eagerly awaiting this weekend’s opening of the 16-day teal season. The state dodged a bullet earlier this month as tropical storm Gordon veered east and made landfall over the Mississippi/Alabama line. Habitat conditions in the coastal marsh is generally good and mild to hot weather is forecast. But are the teal here?
The Louisiana Department of Wildlife and Fisheries (LDWF) recently completed their first aerial survey of the season. “The estimate of 59,000 total blue-winged teal from this survey is 84 percent smaller than last year’s estimate of 373,000 birds, 32 percent smaller than the most recent five-year average of 183,000 birds, and 75 percent smaller than the long-term average of 236,000 birds,” says Larry Reynolds, LDWF waterfowl study leader. “The overwhelming majority of bluewings counted on this survey were in agricultural habitat. The most notable concentrations were in flooded fields south and west of Gueydan and southwest of Crowley.”
Approximately 6,000 teal were counted on Catahoula Lake. “This year’s count was the highest since 18,000 were counted in 2012, but it’s still just two thirds of the most recent 10-year average of 9,000 birds,” Reynolds says. The 5,000 bluewings counted in the southeast is the third lowest ever counted in mid-September in that region.
Brian Windsor is a guide for Gros Chien Lodge in Welsh. The lodge is in one of the areas that had high teal counts during the survey. “We have been seeing dense populations (thousands) of teal in the rice fields from Thornwell to Gueydan. The farmers are finishing cutting the crops, and fields are getting flooded daily,” he says.
Windsor is also encouraged by habitat conditions in the coastal marsh. “Many areas in the marsh had low water over the summer, which helped some areas with vegetation growth. The tropical weather system pushed water into these marshes, so hunters have that to look forward to as well,” he says.
Down in Buras, Captain Cody Obiol with Cajun Fishing Adventures says their marsh just east of the Mississippi River is in great shape. “The recent high tides did not kill off any feed, and our ponds are still matted up with vegetation. We’re not seeing huge numbers of birds, but certainly huntable numbers. We might not get 15-minute limits, but we will have some good shooting,” he says.
Cajun Fishing Adventures also has a hunting property farther down river in the Venice area. “The property near Baptiste Collette has a good number of birds,” Obiol adds.
Jared Hall, with Quackheads Outfitters, has been out in the marsh in Plaquemines Parish the last few weeks hunting alligators. “I haven’t seen anything promising in terms of teal in most of the southeast marshes. I just don’t think they are here yet, but that can change overnight,” he says.Hall reports that the water levels in his area have returned to normal and habitat conditions have improved. “The marsh in the northern part of the parish looks great with lots of feed. We just need the birds,” he says.
Overall, hunters shouldn’t expect to see large numbers of teal in many areas of Louisiana, but some folks will undoubtedly have good hunts. Teal are notorious for suddenly showing up out of nowhere. Hopefully, more birds will begin to arrive soon. You never know unless you go.
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A lifelong resident of southeast Louisiana, Chris Holmes is a freelance writer, avid waterfowl hunter, and fisherman. He will be providing Louisiana migration, habitat, and hunting alerts to Waterfowl360 throughout the 2018–2019 wa-terfowl season.