DU Podcast Transcript: Ep. 12 – Tony Vandemore Joins the Show to Discuss Habitat Changes Caused by Spring Flooding (Part 2 of 2)

Vandemore details habitat conditions following spring and summer flooding

© Michael Furtman

Clay Baird: Welcome to the Ducks Unlimited Podcast, the only podcast about all things waterfowl from hunting insights to science-based discussions about ducks, geese, and issues affecting waterfowl and wetlands conservation in North America. We bring the resource to you, the DU podcast with your host, Chris Jennings and Dr. Mike Brasher.

Chris Jennings: Tony Vandemore, owner, operator, guide at Habitat Flats. How's the teal season going for you?

Tony Vandemore: Man, I'll tell you what, this teal season has been tough for us. We'd been licking our chops because everything looks incredible. It couldn't look any better. But on the flip side, there's still tens if not hundreds of thousands of acres of water in that Missouri river basin from, from us to South Dakota. It's incredible. There's still high winds. It just got opened up here the last couple of weeks. So they're really scattered out. There's just good habitat everywhere. Everything you drive past is just prime time teal habitat. So they've been pretty scattered out. Talking to some of our guys, like Ben, one of our guides from South Dakota, every pothole up there is still covered blue wings, but it's 93 degrees here and it's 85 up there. I think they're really delayed.

Chris Jennings: Yeah, I've heard that all the way up and down the flyway, so...

Mike Brasher: It is interesting. Blue wings, you normally think they're going to... And they do, they'll migrate, they'll start their migration regardless of the temperature. But this kind of year really does make you think about how that species as well can be influenced by temperature. And as you mentioned, Tony, also influenced by the amount of habitat on the landscape up there and those areas, all of it, those decisions a lot of times reflect this balance between, what do I need relative to the conditions that I'm experiencing right now. And so yeah, they may be just hanging out a little bit longer than they normally do.

Tony Vandemore: Yeah, I agree with you. We're still going to see, blue winged teal, the first week of August here in Missouri. That's about when I see the first one come through. I'll see one or two here and there, and then you're going to see some alert, throughout August you're going to be seeing teal and those teal, we see them I don't care what chance there's a food source, you're not going to hold them, they're going to be in Mexico by the time we even open up. And it seemed like when I was younger and it could just be time warping my memory or whatever, but opening day you could count on teal season was going to be incredible. And that first week it was always good. But the last few years honestly, our second week has been way better than our first week.

Chris Jennings: Yeah, that's interesting.

Tony Vandemore: I think the ones that come a little bit later are the ducks you hold blue wings, those are the teal, that hold and they stay, and they'll stick on food sources and whatnot. And the ones that come earlier, they're just part of the coast and it seems like they've come a little bit later each year.

Chris Jennings: You're you're opening that new lodge, the grand. Tell us a little bit about it, tell some of our listeners, about why you decided to open up this new awesome lodge it looks like.

Tony Vandemore: Yeah, it's going to be a pretty neat area for us. I mean we've hunted down that way of all time. It's only 35 minutes south of our home lodge, but there was some farms that had come for sale and right next to the refuge and we were able to purchase those and the bluff right next to that one. We could cut the lodge in and it certainly has not been a very good year to do all that from a dirt work perspective with the floods and the rain and all that. It's been a humongous struggle, but overall it's going to be a very cool area. Right on the Missouri river, which I mean any more, there's just so many ducks, that went around the river that it's just pretty wild. We just don't get the winters we used to and the river never freezes solid. So there's a lot of ducks that winter there and never get any further south than that. There's 3, 4, or 500,000 ducks that stay in South Dakota regardless of the temperature and they never make it to us.

Chris Jennings: Yep.

Mike Brasher: Yeah. I think sometimes we don't give those birds enough credit for being smart enough to figure out what allows them to survive through a winter.

Chris Jennings: They're tough birds.

Mike Brasher: We think one of our flaws as people as to assume that these birds are supposed to do the same thing year after year after year, and they absolutely do not, they respond to a very dynamic system, and that system changes from year to year and it also changes over long time periods and what you've just described there is a reflection of that. Just another reflection of that. So it's pretty neat deal.

Tony Vandemore: [inaudible 00:04:53] and all that. But the biggest change I've seen growing up everybody had snowmobiles. Man, we had lots and lots and lots of snow. You could count on our area a lot of years. Especially December was our free job and then you were done. And heck, last year it was 75 degrees there when we ended up. I mean we just don't get the winters. Might still get a snow, but we don't give those birds enough credit. If you actually sit there and watch them, we can get a six or seven, eight inch snow, like we had the 8th of November last year and they'll sit there on the ice or they'll sit there in the refuge and, and huddle up together. But they know, two days later it's got to be 60 degrees and, and no more snow. You can bet they know when they can sit through it.

Chris Jennings: Yeah. And, say we don't give enough credit for just being smart enough and being tough enough.

Mike Brasher: It was just like those plants that you were talking about earlier, the ones that have persisted and been able to survive through all that and now, those are the ones that we're left with on the landscape. And a lot of respect, that same thing, it kind of happens with waterfowl.

Tony Vandemore: There's a lot of debates with habitats and all that. But you can take devil's advocate and take it the opposite direction and probably even further left. But are they getting smart enough to know that the further north they stay seasons are closing and they're not getting pressured? And I don't know. I just know there's a lot more ducks that are wintering and further North than they used to...

Clay Baird: [ADVERTISEMENT] Be the first to know when ducks are on the move. Sign up for DU's waterfowl migration email alerts and receive ongoing in-depth updates on the latest habitat conditions, weather changes and hunting reports for your flyway. Visit ducks.org/MigrationAlerts...

Chris Jennings: I'll apologize up front, but I just want to ask you some questions, and get you to relive that nightmare that was the light goose conservation order of 2019. I know I lived through it. I survived it. I survived my nightmare. But I know you guys started out in Arkansas and, where I hunt is not too far from where you got some of your guys were bumming around over there and, it was tough, and it didn't really matter what you threw at them. They were smarter. They were very good at being able to pick out hunters. And the reality was it was all adult birds. But what were you seeing all the way up the flyway from Arkansas all the way back up into your place?

Tony Vandemore: Well, I mean we knew with the production, it was going to be a tough year. But bottom line is that they're still have feet. So going into it, we said that if we got the right conditions, there were still going to be good hunts to be had. And we got down to Arkansas the first two mornings. I think it was, yeah, the first two mornings, no wind, cloudy, not great conditions. Had a couple of big spins that got in there. But they had specks in there with them, and if we hear or see a spec, there's no shot called, that's just our rule, we're not going to take a chance on it. So opening day, I don't think we pulled the trigger. We had like three bunches in there that were big bunches right in our face, but they had specks in them, so... We were a little disappointed but a little bit encouraged that yeah, we know we've got them, got them to work they're adults, whatever. It's not going to be that bad. On the third day we caught sun and wind and cold killed 150 of them in like the first hour we're like, "All right, yeah, this the season's not going to be too bad." Long as we get the right conditions. And then, if you remember, it started raining, and that was it.

Chris Jennings: Yeah. Yeah.

Tony Vandemore: That sums up, 2019 spring season for me was rain clouds, no wind, mud, just terrible, terrible conditions. Half Arkansas flooded. Instead of getting geese, still getting geese coming a mile or two, stringing out off the roost and roosting in the same field of seed man, they're hopping about a hundred yards away to eat. And a lot of birds you couldn't even get to because of the flood water. And we got back up here to Missouri, it was no different up here. And we had a boatload of geese staged here last year and just terrible conditions to try to kill them. I mean I like sunshine and wind and it seemed like every day last year was raining or cloudy or calm. It was just a rough spring.

Chris Jennings: Yeah, yeah. I think out of the 10 or 12 hunts that I did last year, we had maybe two decent days and I say decent only because in comparison to 2018 it was unbelievable. And yeah, it was just conditions. It was literally a nightmare. We really struggled, and really when it rains, if it's raining or anything, we're not even hunting, it's not worth it to get out there for us.

Tony Vandemore: I'd have to look at my journal, but I bet I have 45, 50 days or whatever, 100, and I bet we didn't see the sunshine seven or eight of them.

Chris Jennings: Yeah. Yeah. That makes it tough. Those birds are smart enough as it is.

Mike Brasher: Especially when you have as many adults in that population as you did last year.

Chris Jennings: Yeah. We don't have all the information right now for the full goose numbers, but it looks like... You can go ahead and explain what you've been hearing on as far as goose numbers. I'm sure Tony would be interested in hearing about that.

Mike Brasher: Yeah. We're going to try to have at least one, maybe a couple of people on a little bit later to talk about what we're seeing on say, goose recruitment and light goose, and white front goose recruitment here. Oh, I don't know. In the next three, four weeks or so, maybe even a bit longer than that. But we'll see. We'll try to get them on. And what I've heard thus far is that production up in the Arctic in some locations was pretty poor. In some locations that production that had a decent hatch, but then a lot of those goslings just didn't make it. And then, in some of the colonies a little bit farther east, the hatch was about average, but it seemed to be a little bit late, if I'm remembering this correctly. It seemed to be a little bit late. The true test was going to be how the weather conditions materialize between that point and when those birds, those goslings took flight. So they still had to make it through that, because the time window within which they have to breed up there and get on the wing is so compressed anyway. Just a little fluctuation in timing of bad weather can really hurt things and so we want to get somebody on to talk a little bit more in depth about that, what they're seeing and what are the different explanations for the poor production in recent years. And a lot of it will just be driven by the weather. I think some of that happened this year, but then it might also be some sort of habitat issues going on up there in some locations. So we want to explore that in a little bit more detail. But I think the bottom line from what we heard is that the general expectations should be for another year of sort of fairly high percentage of adult birds. Then a lot of that though is going to depend on what happens in some of those other colonies that might not be monitored as closely. So we'll have more information here I think in next few weeks. But yeah, don't get too excited I think in terms of expecting a whole lot of juveniles in the population.

Chris Jennings: Well, see, I took that just the opposite when you said there's a chance, "So you're telling me there's a chance."

Mike Brasher: There is a chance. All right.

Tony Vandemore: That's right.

Mike Brasher: That's right... It would be very difficult to do a lot worse than last year, right?

Chris Jennings: Yeah, absolutely.

Mike Brasher: And that's one way to look at it.

Chris Jennings: Hey, Tony, we'd like to have you on as a regular guest as the season progresses and we just really appreciate it. Thanks a lot.

Tony Vandemore: Hey, that sounds good. It was good talking with you. Thank you.

Clay Baird: Thank you for listening to this episode of the DU podcast. Be sure to rate, review and subscribe to the show and visit www.ducks.org/DU-podcast for resources based on today's topics, as well as access to more episodes. Opinions expressed by guests do not necessarily reflect those of Ducks Unlimited. Until next time, stay tuned to the ducks.