OAK HAMMOCK MARSH, Manitoba – Nov. 3, 2010 – The "weather bomb" that recently wreaked havoc in numerous ways on much of North America also sent flight after flight of ducks south from Canada's Prairies.
"The warm October weather coupled with the amount of food available on the ground had not given the ducks much reason to move south," says Dave Kostersky, Ducks Unlimited Canada's manager of state grants. "When the cold snap crossed the Prairies last week, huge numbers of ducks took off south."
Kostersky says that a study led by Arkansas, Missouri, United States Fish and Wildlife Service and Natural Resources Conservation Service and supported by Mississippi and Central Flyways, Ducks Unlimited and the Livingston Ripley Waterfowl Conservancy showed that mallards they are tracking migrated quickly from Saskatchewan to the southern portions of North Dakota. This was just one group he was aware of. He says this year's late spring rainfall was unprecedented in many key duck breeding areas of Prairie Canada. And, by many accounts, the ducks responded big time.
"In years like this one, the Prairies of Canada probably produce in a major way," says Jeff Nelson, Ducks Unlimited Canada's CEO. "When so much agricultural production is put on hold, there is an abundance of weedy fields, little cultivation affecting early nesters, and water everywhere well into the summer. Duckling survival and nesting effort go way up, even in cropland-dominated areas, under such conditions."
Of the ducks harvested in Louisiana, more come from Saskatchewan than any other province or state. DUC uses the funding provided by states such as Louisiana to leverage matching dollars from governments on both sides of the border, resulting in a minimum 3:1 match for every dollar invested into Canada's breeding grounds. Nelson recently toured areas of Saskatchewan with DUC staff, after returning from his annual waterfowling trip with friends.
"We were out near Yorkton, which is one of the key Prairie Pothole Region breeding areas for ducks despite the historical drainage of wetlands in that region," says Nelson of his early October trip. "The vast majority of mallards we saw were young of the year and many were late-hatched. Our biologists saw lots of broods this year, which anecdotally supports our contention that late production was strong. Abundant rain across the Prairies started at the end of May, after the USFWS and Canadian Wildlife Service Annual Spring Breeding Population surveys. You can never discount what can happen in exceptionally wet years, even in areas dominated by cropland."
Nelson was relieved that the warm October weather across much of Canada's Prairies allowed many producers to access their wet fields and complete their harvest. He was also pleased with DUC's programs for having put habitat in place that was now highly productive with all the rain.
"With the absence of proactive wetland policy across the Prairie provinces that takes into consideration many of the business decisions faced by landowners when it comes to wetland decisions, we need to be especially efficient. DUC needs to be creative with the funding and support we receive from the state of Louisiana and our stateside partners, leveraging that to put as many ducks as we possibly can into the fall migration each year," Nelson says. "Our habitat programs have faced many challenges. However, by working with numerous landowners and partners, we can retain wetland basins across large landscapes so that when the water returns, they fill and ducks can respond as they did this summer. Together with our supporters, we certainly feel a strong sense of accomplishment, especially in years like this."
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