Migration Alert: Drought Impacting Texas Habitat Conditions; Duck Numbers Increasing

Nov. 2, 2022 – Central Flyway – Texas

© Michael Furtman

Texas continues to suffer through severe drought in 2022. Lakes are evaporating, rivers are drying up and water managers are rationing.

It doesn’t look good. Habitat is stressed, marsh ponds are hypersaline, moist-soil units are dusty and brittle, burn bans are in effect and river authority canals that normally are swollen with “duck water” are empty.

“Dang, it has been a weird year,” Pierce Ranch’s Andrew Armour says. “Our ponds have been dry for two weeks.”

Armour reports that water rationing from the Colorado River has limited the amount the Lower Colorado River Authority (LCRA) has allowed him to pump for his freshwater impoundments.

“They shut our water off August 15,” he says. “We looked alright for teal season, but it hasn’t rained in over two months and everything has evaporated.”

Those able to pump from private water wells have had to decide whether inflated fuel prices are worth the cost of pumping a pond full of water to watch it go dry. Just like a loaf of bread or a carton of eggs, every cost in the waterfowl hunting business has skyrocketed with inflation. Diesel pumps were ginning on $4.80 per gallon farm diesel during teal season and that water has disappeared with evaporation. Hard dollar decisions are being made for those considering their duck hunting situation and outfitters are at a crossroads on whether to go in the hole financially or pray for rain.

Waterfowling On a Budget

“There is a lot of expensive water being pumped right now due to the drought,” says longtime farmer and seasoned guide, Matt Sbrusch, of Wharton County. “The good news is: if you have water, you will have ducks.”

With evaporation goes the prime duck food production grown during a scorching September and mild October that carries coastal ducks through the winter.

“Freshwater ponds that have been able to keep water since teal season are full of food,” reports Calhoun County guide Jake Huddleston.

The drought affects marsh hunters as well. Backwater ponds fed by rising and falling tidewater need a balance to the brine to produce vital aquatics like wigeongrass and other sea grasses that sustain coastal duck populations. Salinity levels have risen to that of ocean water and stunted the growth of marsh vegetation this fall.

“Lack of rain has hurt the turtlegrass and wigeongrass,” Huddleston says. “Water levels are fair to good in the marsh and the Delta (Guadalupe) is holding gadwalls, wigeon and teal.”

Bleak habitat conditions doesn’t mean Texas is not holding huntable numbers of ducks for the South Zone opener on Nov. 5. Huddleston reports good numbers of ducks showed up on the last full moon and continue to build with each passing front.

“Strong numbers of pintails, greenwings and bluewings are showing up with scattered gadwalls and wigeon,” he says. “Redhead numbers on the bay are low, but sandhill cranes and whooping cranes showed this week.”

There is good news: a weather system sat along the coast early this week and dumped five inches or better of freshwater in briny marshes. That’s a blessing for waterfowlers and waterfowl but a lot more is needed.

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