The cacophony of duck-like sounds echoed across the lower Mobile-Tensaw Delta recently, but it wasn’t the opening day of waterfowl season. Instead, it was a celebration of new, up-and-coming waterfowlers who participated in the Ducks Unlimited (DU) Greenwing event at 5 Rivers Delta Resource Center on the Causeway.
As the youngsters managed to create just about every sound imaginable from a duck call, it was obvious that some of the these kids gained quite a bit of instruction during the event, sponsored by the Mobile and Baldwin chapters of DU. I suspect that some of those youngsters may have spent some blind time with their parents and/or mentors and realized what a treasured resource we enjoy.
From the data from the fall flight survey conducted by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS), it appears there is also plenty to be excited about in the overall abundance of waterfowl in North America. The overall population estimate increased seven percent from last year to 48.6 million birds.
The estimated number of mallards, which is the gold standard for duck hunters, was 10.6 million birds, a 15-percent increase over 2011 and 40 percent above the long-term average.
The estimated number of gadwalls, which we see in relative abundance along the Tennessee River and Mobile-Tensaw Delta, is similar to last year’s at 3.6 million, a whopping 96 percent above the long-term average.
Teal numbers look excellent as well. Green-winged teal estimates are 3.5 million, up 20 percent over last year’s numbers and 74 percent above long-term averages. Blue-winged teal numbers were estimated at 9.2 million, similar to last year’s but 94 percent above the long-term average.
The scaup (bluebills) estimate came in at 5.2 million, which is 21 percent above the 2011 estimate and similar to the long-term average. Those numbers prompted the USFWS to increase the daily bag limit on scaup from two to four birds per hunter. Other diver numbers included 1.3 million redheads, similar to last year’s, and 800,000 canvasbacks, similar to last year’s numbers and 33 percent above the long-term average.
Northern shovelers were estimated at 5 million, which was similar to last year’s and 111 percent above the long-term average.
American wigeon numbers were similar to last year’s at 2.1 million, still 17 percent below the long-term average. But the northern pintail suffered a 22-percent decline to 3.5 million ducks, 14 percent below the long-term average.
While those overall numbers look good, the prolonged drought in the Midwest and some parts of Canada will impact the breeding grounds to a certain extent.
Of course, if the drought continues, the migration patterns may benefit those of us in the southern latitudes where there has been some rainfall.
As always, the success of the waterfowl season in Alabama is dependent on the weather. With a mild winter and early spring, the 2011 season in Alabama was hit-and-miss, according to David Hayden, waterfowl specialist with the Alabama Department of Conservation and Natural Resources’ Wildlife and Freshwater Fisheries Division.
“We didn’t have hardly any cold weather,” Hayden said. “Some guys had some decent hunting early. It sounded to me, from most of the guys I talked to, that it got slower as the season went along. Overall, it was a fairly slow season. My opinion is that it had to do with the weather.
“There’s a lot of dry country out there right now, including Alabama. This is speculation, because there are a lot of lakes and ponds out there, but if there’s a lot of dry country between here and Canada, that might force the birds farther south than they’ve been in recent years.”
For several years now, the flyway councils have recommended liberal seasons and bag limits. The regular waterfowl season in the Mississippi Flyway is 60 days. Alabama’s seasons are set for Nov. 23-24 and Dec. 1 through Jan. 27. The daily bag limit is again six ducks with no more than four mallards (two hens), three wood ducks, one mottled duck, two redheads, four scaup, two pintails, one black duck and one canvasback. The proposed daily bag limit of mergansers is five, only two of which may be hooded mergansers.
Shooting hours are one-half hour before sunrise to sunset each day with the exception of the Mobile-Tensaw Delta. In the area north of Battleship Parkway, west of Alabama Highway 225, south of CSX Railroad tracks, and east of the west bank of the Mobile River, shooting hours for Monday through Thursday are one-half hour before sunrise to 12:00 noon, while Friday through Sunday shooting hours are one-half hour before sunrise to sunset.
In terms of participation, waterfowl hunters in Alabama remain optimistic about the prospects for the future.
“Hunter numbers were up about 10 percent,” Hayden said of the Alabama numbers from last season. “The federal harvest estimate showed an increase of 25 percent, which surprises me. The average daily bag limit per duck hunter was about the same at the previous year’s, but the number of hunters increased; therefore, the overall harvest goes up. That’s what makes the difference.
“Our duck hunters are concerned about things being dry and the warm weather we’ve had for the last few years. At the same time, if we get a cold winter with snow cover up north, it could be a jam-up year. People are still looking for one of those years to come along.”
For goose hunters, the daily bag limit on Canada geese has been raised to three birds per hunter, while the daily bag limit on white-fronted geese (speckle bellies) remains at two. In a change from last year, the possession limit is now twice the daily bag limit for Canadas and speckle bellies. A Canada goose-only season is scheduled for Sept. 22 through Oct. 9.
“This was an effort by the Fish and Wildlife Service to help states deal with their resident populations of geese,” Hayden said. “The bag limit was increased to three birds, and the season was lengthened from 70 days to 78 days.”
A special early teal season is set from Sept. 8-23, while the early Canada goose season is Sept. 1-15. A special snow and blue goose season is set for Oct. 27 through Nov. 11 in Escambia and Monroe counties only. The special youth waterfowl days are Feb. 9-10.
Hunters must possess a valid hunting license, signed federal and state duck stamps, as well as a free HIP (Harvest Information Program) stamp. Visit www.outdooralabama.com for more information.