By Wade Bourne,
Ducks Unlimited Magazine Editor-at-Large
A strong frontal passage on Nov. 12 pushed new ducks into America's heartland. Aerial surveys show impressive numbers in the Illinois River Valley and along the upper Mississippi River.
Aaron Yetter is a research scientist for the Illinois
Natural History Survey. During fall and winter, Yetter flies weekly waterfowl counts from the Great Bend of the Illinois River near Hennepin, IL to the river's confluence with the Mississippi River at Grafton, IL. Then he turns north and flies up the Mississippi River to the Wisconsin border.
When he flew this route on Nov. 13, Yetter counted significantly more ducks than are typical for this area at this time. "We are way ahead of the 10-year average for both the Illinois and Mississippi. Habitat conditions are very good along both rivers this year. I think this partially explains the increase."
For instance, during his Nov. 13 survey, Yetter counted 305,310 ducks along the Illinois River, well ahead of the 10-year average of 234,434 birds for this same week.
Numbers along the upper Mississippi River are equally impressive. On the Nov. 13, Yetter counted 356,735 ducks, well in excess of the 10-year average of 226,801 birds.
"It looks like we got a big push of new mallards
. We also have well above average numbers of pintails, gadwalls, lesser scaup and other species.
"A good example of the current situation is the Mark Twain National Wildlife Refuge at the confluence of the Illinois and Mississippi rivers," Yetter continues. "They've held around 120,000 ducks the last couple of weeks, and their peak migration typically averages 60,000 to 70,000 birds."
Yetter's observations are borne out by increased hunter success in both the Illinois
and Mississippi River valleys. For instance, Tony Colvin is site manager for the Woodford and Marshall State Fish and Wildlife Areas just north of Peoria. Colvin reports that before the cold front on Nov. 12, duck hunters on his areas were averaging one duck per day in the bag. But on Tuesday, Nov. 13, that average jumped to four ducks per hunter.
"We've had a very slow start to our season due to mild weather and low bird counts in mid-Illinois," Colvin reports. "But this recent push of birds
with the cold front has brought a big change.
"Now the weather has moderated again, and hunter success has fallen off some. Still, we have a lot of new ducks in the area. This big push has saved our season for now."
Find habitat and hunting reports in your area on the Ducks Unlimited Migration Map.