January duck numbers well below 2010 count
LITTLE ROCK – Arkansas Game and Fish Commission observers took to the skies between Dec. 27 and Jan. 11 for the annual midwinter aerial waterfowl survey, finding The Natural State’s duck count to be about half of what it was for a similar time frame a year ago.
The difference was most striking in the Delta, where total duck numbers were down from an estimated 2.8 million in 2010 to an estimated 1.1 million in 2011. Likewise, mallard estimates were down from 2.3 million to 671,982 in the Delta. For the second year in a row, AGFC observers are using a transect method, flying randomly selected east-west lines, to estimate duck numbers in the Delta region
Counts in western Arkansas, where observers use traditional cruise-survey methods, also showed substantial declines, with both southwest Arkansas and the Arkansas River valley 2011 counts for mallards and total ducks approximately half those of 2010. The western Arkansas estimated total declined from 126,330 to 62,487 ducks.
Conditions for the 2011 midwinter survey were in stark contrast to the 2010 survey. The late fall and early winter of 2010-2011 featured extremely dry conditions and limited waterfowl habitat, while last year’s rainfall totals were far above average, which created abundant waterfowl habitat across the state.
AGFC waterfowl program coordinator Luke Naylor attributed the drop in this year’s midwinter numbers to the lack of rainfall.
"Most often, duck migration and duck numbers in wintering states like Arkansas are discussed in terms of temperature in Arkansas and states to the north," Naylor said. "The striking differences in habitat conditions and duck numbers during the 2010 and 2011 surveys highlight the critical roles rainfall and subsequent natural flooding play in regulating wintering waterfowl populations in Arkansas."
"No doubt habitat provided through artificial flooding is critical in supporting duck populations. But duck numbers likely are most enhanced with some combination of this artificial flooding and natural flooding not observed during the 2011 midwinter waterfowl survey."
Naylor pointed out that this year’s midwinter survey coincided with one of the few major rain events of the fall and winter, and also during a time of wide temperature fluctuations. Nearly two inches of rain fell in Little Rock during the survey period. Temperatures began cold, jumped to quite warm, returned to cold, and then moderated again to near normal (highs around 50 degrees, lows around 30 degrees). Because of these weather cycles, the survey period started with much of the limited habitat in the state frozen; additional habitat became available with rainfall and warmer temperatures, and then much of the shallow water in the state froze again.
Arkansas’s duck season currently is closed for the second split of the 2010-2011 season. The season reopens Saturday and runs through Sunday, 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.