Migration Alert: Louisiana Teal Numbers Improve Despite Hurricane Impacts

Sept. 17, 2021 – Louisiana

© Jay VonBank

Even with Hurricane Ida pounding the Southeast just before the opener, Louisiana’s 2021 teal season got off to a great start. Many hunters were preoccupied with repairing storm-damaged homes, and many others chose to forgo hunting in areas where folks were still in recovery and cleanup mode.

The vulnerable Delacroix Island area, in extreme southeastern St. Bernard Parish, was spared a direct hit but was still plagued with coastal flooding, extensive power outages, and some structural damage. Jared Serigné could not wait to get out to his hunting property and assess the changes to the landscape.

“Ida put about a 14-foot surge across the marsh. Some small islands are completely gone, and pieces of the marsh were rolled up and now clog some waterways,” Serigné says. But he and friends started the season with a five-man limit of bluewings all the same. “The teal are very concentrated in specific areas. With some good shooting, we had a great hunt,” he adds. The storm ravaged the marsh and most of the submersed aquatic vegetation (SAV) in the area is gone, but Serigné reports that pockets of smartweed and duck potato are still present.

The September aerial waterfowl survey was also promising for a change. “The estimate of 281,000 blue-winged teal from this survey is 19 percent higher than last September’s estimate of 236,000, 66 percent higher than the most recent five-year average of 169,000, and 24 percent higher than the long-term average of 227,000,” reports Larry Reynolds, biology director for the Louisiana Department of Wildlife and Fisheries. Although no green-winged teal were officially counted in the survey, hunters are reporting a few greenwings mixed in with bags of majority blue.

“The 66,000 bluewings estimated from southeast Louisiana transects is five times the most recent 10-year average of 13,000 despite the widespread impacts of Hurricane Ida,” Reynolds explains. The survey further confirmed the habitat destruction to the areas hit hardest by the storm. “Indeed, the habitat across southeast Louisiana was severely impacted by the hurricane from western Terrebonne Parish east to the Mississippi River. Marsh was broken up, and vegetation was scoured away, flooded, and presumably affected by saltwater. We saw very little [submersed] aquatic vegetation across wide expanses of marsh, including where we have consistently seen dense stands in prior years,” Reynolds continues.

The popular Venice area was spared major impacts from the storm, but the local marinas are still working on repairs and power restoration. They hope to be fully operational soon. Due to travel conditions and a current lack of accommodations, little hunting was reported in the area. However, the survey provided good news for habitat and bird numbers. “We counted the largest number of both bluewings and mottled ducks in this region in the marsh east of Venice and north of Baptiste Collette Bayou, where virtually no storm impacts were visible and dense vegetation was evident.” Reynolds says.

Over to the west, Ida had little to no impact, and many found outstanding hunting in the area. The aerial survey showed habitat in the southwest sections of the state vastly improved over last year, when the region was hit by consecutive hurricanes. Steve Stroderd started the weekend off in the marsh and moved to the agricultural fields earlier this week. “There are lots of teal from Lake Arthur all the way up to Kinder,” he reports. “Opening weekend, I hunted with my son and a close friend in the Johnson Bayou marsh and did very good. I’ve also heard some other good reports from the marshes around Holly Beach west to Johnson Bayou. We’ve killed some greenwings amongst the bluewings, and the ag field hunting has been consistent.”

Reynolds reports that southwest Louisiana marsh habitat is as good as he’s seen it in years, boasting abundant SAV. He also noted that the strong numbers of bluewings in this survey could be indicative of the poor habitat conditions in the Prairie Pothole Region. One sign of this was the male-to-female ratio he noticed among birds while performing the survey.

“Typically, when we jump a bunch of bluewings out of an area during this survey, the bright-white wing patch of male blue-winged teal is noticeable,” Reynolds explains. “This year, it was clear that it wasn’t just males. That’s a good sign that many females migrated early.”

ShellShocked Guide Service, located in east-central Louisiana near Jonesville, reported a great start to the season as well. “We had a banger of an opener, with 242 birds for the weekend,” says guide Jon Despino. ShellShocked hunters continued to bring home limits throughout the week, with bags of mostly bluewings.

As this update was being written, Hurricane Nicholas made landfall in Texas. Primarily a rain event, the downgraded tropical storm remnants dumped large amounts of rainfall across south Louisiana. However, all the hunters we spoke to expect to have good hunts for the remainder of the 16-day teal season. “This tropical storm dumped a lot of water on us and the teal are scattered,” Despino says.

Reynolds explains that the data is showing that larger populations of bluewings are staying in Louisiana, and the peak of the bluewing migration doesn’t usually hit until the first week of October.

“It’s going to be difficult for some areas in southeast Louisiana to hold birds due to the habitat loss,” Reynolds says, “but there are pockets of good habitat, and the southwest part of the state has fantastic conditions.”