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Abundant Ducks, Water Have Waterfowlers Pumped
By DAVID RAINER
With abundant water in the nesting grounds and a wet summer along the Mississippi Flyway, Alabama’s waterfowl hunters currently have the odds in their favor for a successful 2009-2010 season. Add that duck numbers are up and it’s easy to get pumped about the possibilities.
David Hayden, waterfowl specialist with the Alabama Department of Conservation and Natural Resources’ Wildlife and Freshwater Fisheries Division, said Alabama’s waterfowl seasons will again fall under the liberal framework with a six-duck daily bag limit and a 60-day season.
The 2009-2010 seasons are split to take advantage of the weekend after Thanksgiving. The season will be open for two days, Nov. 27-28, and then re-open Dec. 5 and run through Jan. 31.
One canvasback per day has been added back to the bag limit after a closed season last year. Also two scaup per day will be allowed for all 60 days, whereas last year the daily bag limit was one for part of the season and two for the rest. One of the few ducks that hasn’t fared well in recent years is the mottled duck. For that reason, the mottled duck daily bag has been reduced to one bird. Hunters may take six ducks per day with no more than four mallards, only two of which may be female. The bag limits on other species are: 3 wood ducks, 1 mottled duck, 1 black duck, 2 redheads, 1 pintail, 2 scaup and 1 canvasback.
Habitat-wise, nesting conditions improved in most areas with the number of ponds and potholes up considerably.
“Total ponds for prairie Canada and the U.S. Midwest is 6.4 million,” Hayden said. “That’s about a 45-percent increase over last year and 31 percent above the long-term average. We’ve got lots of water this year.
“From what I’ve heard at the flyway meetings, the habitat along the migration route – areas between Canada and the South – appears to be in good shape. What we’ve got to do down here is hope for favorable conditions to continue and not turn into drought conditions between now and November.”
As usual, duck breeding success followed the increase in nesting habitat.
“For most duck species, the numbers were up,” Hayden said. “Generally speaking it was a good year for waterfowl. For geese, that is not true. Most of the populations of geese did not have a good nesting season because of a late spring. There was ice and snow cover for a long period of time. But most goose populations were good, so by and large, there are not any differences in seasons or bag limits.”
The mallard is usually the benchmark used to judge duck populations and that number looks good. The mallard number is 8.5 million, which is up from 7.7 million.
“That’s a significant increase, about 13 percent, so that’s good,” Hayden said. “That’s 25 percent above the long-term average, which goes back to 1955. So that’s a good number of mallards. Gadwall is another popular species and is still way above its long-term average – about 3.1 million birds this year, which is about the same as last year. So they’re doing real, real well.”
Green-winged teal (3.4 million) and blue-winged teal (7.4 million) numbers are similar to last year. Both are above long-term average. Pintail numbers are 3.2 million, up from 2.6 million last year, which is a 23-percent increase and 20-percent above their long-term average. The canvasback count was 700,000, which is 35 percent above last year’s estimate of 500,000
“Scaup (bluebill) numbers have been dropping for quite a while, but the 4.2 million estimated for this season is similar to last year,” Hayden said. “That’s down 18 percent from long-term average. But we’re pleased to see them level off. We hope the downward trend is over. Of course, we won’t know for another couple of years to make sure these numbers hold steady.”
Hayden said no goose population showed a significant negative 10-year trend. Production of geese was variable by region, but production is reduced from last year because of the late spring thaw.
“Water conditions in Alabama have been good this year,” Hayden said. “I’m optimistic that we’ve had good food production. Hopefully there will be a lot of seed and good mast crop with plenty of acorns for the birds. We’ve still got September and October to go through, and we could have some dry periods, but it looks good now.”
Waterfowlers get their first opportunity in the field with the special Canada goose season, which runs Sept. 1-15. The bag limit is five per day with 10 in possession. The regular goose seasons are Sept. 26-Oct. 7 and Dec. 5-Jan. 31. The daily bag limit is 5 with no more than 2 Canada geese or 2 white-fronted geese. The possession limit of 5 shall include no more than 4 Canada geese and white-fronted geese in aggregate. The Special Youth Waterfowl Hunt is set for Feb. 6-7, 2010.
The special teal season is set for Sept. 5-20 with a daily bag limit of four and a possession limit of eight. After an early cool front in the middle of August, waterfowlers are reporting seeing flights of teal already heading south.
“Teal numbers are up this year so we hope that the cooler weather they’ve had this summer up north will mean more birds in our area when the early season opens,” Hayden said. “We’ve had a lot of rain in the middle part of the state and a lot of rain in the Tennessee Valley, so I’m looking favorably at a good year. Of course, we’ve got to have the cold weather to push the birds on down.”
The use of non-toxic shot is required for waterfowl hunting in Alabama. A valid hunting license and state and federal waterfowl stamps are required, as well as a free Harvest Information Program (HIP) permit. Shooting hours are one-half hour before sunrise to sunset statewide except for the area of the Mobile-Tensaw Delta north of Battleship Parkway, west of Alabama Highway 225, south of the CSX Railroad tracks, and east of the west bank of the Mobile River. In that area of the Delta, shooting hours are one-half before sunrise until 12 noon Monday through Thursday. Friday through Sunday shooting hours will be one-half hour before sunrise until sunset.
Visit http://www.outdooralabama.com/hunting/season-limits/ for all hunting regulations for the upcoming seasons.
PHOTO: blue-winged teal (USFWS photo)