Louisiana waterfowl hunters have reason to be optimistic on the eve of the 2020 early teal season based on information from the Louisiana Department of Wildlife and Fisheries (LDWF). As is always the case, teal numbers and habitat availability will dictate success as the season begins.
Louisiana’s September aerial survey was partially completed earlier this week, covering all coastal transects and Catahoula Lake. “We estimated a total of 236,000 bluewings, which is well above last year’s count of 127,000 birds, 55 percent above the most recent five-year average of 152,000 birds, and slightly higher than the long-term average of 227,000 birds,” reports Larry Reynolds, LDWF waterfowl program manager.
Reynolds notes that despite the cancellation of waterfowl breeding population surveys this spring, other data sources have provided some welcome good news.
“Limited banding that is going on in the Dakotas, southern Saskatchewan, and Manitoba had trap sites dominated by immature bluewings. There appears to have been pretty good reproductive success,” Reynolds says. “Here in Louisiana, we have been getting reports of decent number of bluewings in both southeast and southwest Louisiana since mid-August. Some agricultural fields in the southwest up to central Louisiana have reported some very good flocks. Additionally, our wood duck banders have been capturing far more bluewings than usual this year, so we felt that at least before Hurricane Laura, we had more bluewings in the state earlier than in recent years.”
Southwestern parts of the state were recently slammed by Category 4 Hurricane Laura. Several of the commercial guiding operations are in recovery mode, and much of the area remains without electricity. For many waterfowlers, rebuilding homes, camps, and lives is taking precedent over hunting.
“Nearly all the teal in southwest Louisiana were seen in agricultural fields. The marsh habitats in this area were greatly impacted by Hurricane Laura with high water, drainages blocked by debris, and vegetation damage from storm surge and salinity,” Reynolds notes. “We saw virtually no blue-winged teal and very few waterfowl of any species in the marsh along established transects.”
However, agricultural fields appear to be in much better condition than expected considering the intensity of the storm. “We saw bluewings in a number of rice fields, including those southwest of Gueydan and south of Jennings, and the largest concentration was just north of the transect line (thus not included in our survey estimate) west of Crowley. Although there is above-average shallow flooding in the agricultural region, outside of the marsh we did not see extensive flooding,” Reynolds says. “In addition, wind, storm surge, and flooding with saltwater appear to have greatly reduced water hyacinth and giant salvinia to the point that we saw virtually none from the air.”
On the southeastern side of the state, hurricane effects were minimal with just a brief period of high tides and short-term flooding of the marsh. Veteran guide and duck and goose calling champion Mike Smith, with Louisiana Marsh Guide Service, is eagerly awaiting opening day on his Delacroix Island property. “We’re holding birds. A few areas have aquatic vegetation and some don’t, but teal really aren’t feeding on the grass beds,” he says. “I prefer a high tide and setting up on their flyway. With high tide, the birds have access to smartweed, one of their preferred foods. I’m expecting to do fairly well opening weekend, provided the birds are still here.”