Conditions remain tough, but some relief on the way
LITTLE ROCK – Dry conditions remained in place for the opening weekend of Arkansas’s duck season, and while substantial rainfall is needed to provide abundant waterfowl habitat in the state, weather forecasts call for at least a little relief in the coming days.
Meanwhile, results from the Arkansas Game and Fish Commission’s November aerial waterfowl surveys, which were conducted a week prior to the season opener, revealed duck abundance was about 40 percent lower than this time last year.
"That’s probably not much of a surprise to anyone," said AGFC waterfowl program coordinator Luke Naylor. "Conditions have been extremely dry compared to last year, when there was abundant habitat as a result of record rainfall just before the season. The landscape looks very different this season."
Aerial waterfowl surveys in the Mississippi Alluvial Valley, commonly known as the Delta, estimated total duck abundance at about 1.1 million, with roughly 181,000 mallards.
"It’s interesting to note that our observers saw about 40 percent of the ducks in the Delta on rice fields, which isn’t surprising," Naylor said. "But what is notable is that about 20 percent were in cypress/tupelo brakes and 20 percent were in fish ponds. That includes mallards, and it’s just one more indication of the dry conditions."
This is the second year that AGFC has used a newer and more reliable transect method to count ducks in the Delta. Pilots and biologists fly randomly selected east-west lines and count ducks through a grid drawn on the aircraft’s window. Previously, AGFC used a "cruise" method, flying over selected habitats and counting all visible waterfowl. Because of the different survey methods used prior to last year, it’s invalid to compare numbers from this year’s and last year’s surveys to results from previous years’ surveys.
In western Arkansas, where biologists continue to use cruise surveys to sample selected habitats, aerial counts revealed an estimate of roughly 30,000 ducks, including 14,000 mallards, in southwest Arkansas, and about 6,000 ducks, including less than 100 mallards, in the Arkansas River Valley. Observers reported drastically different habitat conditions in the western Arkansas survey regions. Flights over the Arkansas River Valley revealed very little flooded agricultural habitat, while southwest Arkansas flights showed some private landowners actively pumping hunting lands.
Weather conditions likely will provide at least some improvement in habitat conditions and waterfowl abundance in the coming days. The National Weather Service in North Little Rock is calling for 1 to 2 inches of rainfall across much of the state Wednesday night through Thanksgiving Day. According to the weather service, as much as 2 inches of rain fell across portions of east-central Arkansas on Monday night, including totals of 2.05 inches at the Stuttgart Municipal Airport in Prairie County and 1.70 inches at Brinkley in Monroe County.
Colder temperatures also could bring waterfowl migrations into the state. Behind the rainfall predicted for Wednesday and Thursday, cooler air will move into the state, bringing nighttime lows in the upper 20s and daytime highs in the 40s and lower 50s. Waterfowl biologists in Missouri reported seeing large movements of ducks and geese during that state’s aerial waterfowl survey flights earlier this week.
The first segment of Arkansas’s duck season closes at sunset Sunday, Nov. 28. The second segment opens Dec. 7 and continues through Jan. 17, and the third and final segment opens Jan. 22 and closes Jan. 30.
To assist waterfowl hunters with the latest information, he AGFC provides links to sources on waterfowl location and abundance in Arkansas and other states. The links are available at http://www.agfc.com/hunting/Pages/HuntingWaterfowlReport.aspx#1
This waterfowl report provides capsule information from agency staff in all corners of Arkansas and is updated each Wednesday throughout waterfowl season. To receive the report each week on your computer, send an e-mail to firstname.lastname@example.org
and type "Waterfowl Report" in the subject line.