DUCK NUMBERS INCREASE ACROSS FLOODED WEST TN...HEAVY RAINS LEAVE ABUNDANCE OF BACKWATER AS COLD WEATHER (FINALLY) ARRIVES
By Steve McCadams
It has been a long time coming but a cold front finally arrived this afternoon across west Tennessee and northwest winds pushed a stubborn low pressure out that stalled for three days and drenched an already soaked region.
Duck numbers have increased in the Obion River bottoms and several other Mississippi River drainage areas such as the Hatchie and Forked Deer River zones within the last 48 hours. Large bunches of mallards were observed entering the river bottoms this afternoon.
Thousands of acres of backwater are out giving ducks ample opportunities for fresh food in both flooded grain fields and timber.
A lot of ducks are now in west TN but flooding throughout the four state region of west KY, southeast MO, and eastern AR has given the ducks a million and one places to go. The next few days should see an improvement, however, as north winds are expected to continue with temperatures falling below freezing the next few nights and climbing only into the upper 30's Tuesday and low 40's on Wednesday.
Local duck hunters have not had a good weather forecast like this in quite some time. The next several days could be interesting for some areas. Most of the duck activity is now in the bottoms and flooded fields. Ducks continue to leave open water areas around Lake Barkley and Kentucky Lake and head to the abundance of backwater to the west.
Brisk winds the next two days could see some good shooting for hunters who have been starved for windy mornings and cool temperatures. However, sometimes this much water can scatter the ducks out too much and make it tough on hunters for a few days. Still, area waterfowlers are welcoming the arrival of normal winter weather as thirteen days remain in the Tennessee season.
Hopefully, the ducks will remain in the area as waters recede later in the week and could return a more normal pattern by the weekend and early next week. Right now the Ohio and Mississippi Rivers are flooding and inundating miles of backwater which has an adverse effect on Kentucky Lake and Lake Barkley hunting areas as numbers on those area refuges have declined since ducks headed to the floodwaters.
UPDATED REFUGE SURVEYS BELOW (>From the week of Jan 8-12)
Putting the duck puzzle in perspective comes updated surveys from the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service this week from both Tennessee National and Cross Creeks National Wildlife Refuges on the Kentucky Lake/Barkley Lake region. At a time when duck numbers should be building and reaching peaks in wintering ground populations comes news of decreases from aerial surveys taken recently, a further reflection of the unusual weather that has dominated for most of the season thus far.
Ducks are down at Tennessee National Wildlife Refuge based on aerial surveys conducted Monday, January 8. There were 129,957 ducks and 3,902 geese observed. From the last survey taken back in mid-December ducks have continued to decrease as the last count was one percent below the previous one and some 8 percent below the survey taken last year at this same time.
A clearer picture develops when comparisons are made to the 5-year and 10-year average for this time of year as the numbers are 13 and 19 percent below average respectively. Out of the total count mallards topped the list at 86,028, followed by gadwall at 11,174 and greenwing teal at 8,467. There were 6,470 pintails recorded in the survey. Normally, greenwing teal have moved on through the area by this time but the high number on hand further reflects the unusual year we’ve been having.
Over on the Cumberland River near Dover at Cross Creeks National Wildlife Refuge the duck numbers have also dwindled lately. Ducks were reported at 20,322 and numbers of Canada geese were 3,418 based on aerial surveys taken January 4th. From the previous survey there ducks are down a whopping 38 percent and down 19 percent from last year at this same time. When compared to the 5-year average the survey was down 31 percent.
And, on the 10-year average the total is down 42 percent. A lot of ducks that moved back north the last couple of weeks could return to the area quickly if cold weather arrives. Numbers of ducks here can increase literally overnight if weather returns to its normal pattern next week.
Season here runs through January 28, 2007.
Below are survey dates by USFWS on TN Nat'l Wildlife Refuge and total duck count with comparisons to last year at the same time in parenthesis).
SURVEY DATE TOTAL DUCK COUNT
October 26th 23,194 (+177% Last Yr)
November 3rd 32,632 (+11% Last Yr)
November 20th 49,492 (-15% Last Yr)
December 8th 138,174 (+80% Last Yr)
December 18th 131,731 (-14 Last Yr)
January 8th 129,957 (-8% Last Yr)