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Duck numbers abound according to survey

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The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service recently released a report titled “Trends in Duck Breeding Populations, 1955-2012.”

The report summarizes information about the status of waterfowl populations and wetland habitats as surveyed by USFWS and Canadian Wildlife Service during the spring of 2012.

Officials have conducted the annual survey since 1955, and the 2012 survey showed the highest spring population of ducks ever recorded. This record high of 48.6 million ducks represents a 7 percent increase over the previous record of 45.6 million ducks in 2011.

Species not included in the total duck population estimate are scoter, eiders, long-tailed ducks, mergansers, and wood ducks. Dr. Frank Rohwer of Delta Waterfowl said, “We had excellent wetland conditions in 2011, the second-highest pond count ever. So last year, we made a pile of ducks.”

New York waterfowlers have to put this good news in perspective, though, because the survey does not include the Atlantic Flyway. Instead, the record duck numbers reflect the “traditional survey area,” and that area consists of the north-central United States, south-central and northern Canada, and Alaska.

SPECIES COUNTS

Mallards were the predominant species in the survey, which shows an estimated 10.6 million breeding birds, a figure that represents a 15 percent increase over 2011 and a 40 percent increase over the long-term average.

The estimate for blue-winged teal is 9.2 million, a mark that was similar to the 2011 count but 94 percent higher than the long-term average.

The 5.2 million in scaup in the 2012 survey is a 21 percent increase over the 2011 estimate, while the 5.0 million in northern shovelers is similar to the 2011 number but a 111 percent increase over the long-term average.

Gadwall estimates are 3.6 miilion ducks (96percent above the long-term average), green-winged teal estimates are 3.5 million ducks (20 percent above the 2011 estimate), American wigeon estimates are 2.1 million (similar to 2011 estimate but 17 percent below the long-term average), redheads estimates are 1.3 million (89 percent above the long-term average), and canvasback estimates are 0.8 million (33 percent above the long-term average).

The northern pintail count is 3.5 million ducks, which reflects a 22 percent drop from the 2011 estimate of 4.4 million pintails.

Officials are not overly concerned about this near-million drop in pintail numbers because authorities theorize that dry conditions in the survey area caused these ducks to go further north to the boreal forest.

Breeding Habitat

While total duck numbers are at record levels, the news is not so good for waterfowl breeding habitat. The USFWS and CWS survey indicates that 2012 is an average to below-average year for moisture, and the total pond count for the United States and Canadian prairies saw a 32 percent drop from an estimated 8.1 million in 2011 to 5.5 million this year. Worst hit were the Dakotas and Montana, which have 1.7 million ponds, a number that is 49 percent below 2011. Because of a shallow frost seal and below-average precipitation, the 2012 pond count for Saskatchewan and Manitoba dropped from 4.9 million last year to 3.9 million this year. Despite the current drop in pond-count numbers, the overall pond count stands at 9 percent above the long-term average.

Regarding the high duck numbers and declining pond-count numbers, Joel Brice of Delta Waterfowl said, “Let’s not forget that we hunt the fall flight, not the spring count. Lots of ducks jammed into fewer wetlands negatively impacts breeding success. There’s a good chance we won’t see as many juveniles as last year, and those are the birds that are the easiest to decoy. Still, it promises to be a great year. We may just have to work a bit harder.”

Tentative Waterfowl DATEs

DEC has announced the tentative dates for the 2012 waterfowl seasons, but those dates become official only after USFWS approval in late summer.

The tentative dates for the Northeast are Sept. 22-23 for youth days, Oct. 6-14 and Oct. 27-Dec. 16 for regular duck season, Sept. 1-25 for Early Canada Goose Season, and October 27-Dec. 10 for regular goose season.

CALENDAR

Monday: Lisbon Sportsmen’s Club hosts Trap and Skeet Shooting at Pray Rd. Property at 5:30 p.m.

Saturday: Sporting Clays Shoot at Black Lake F&G Club at 9 a.m.

Saturday: Spey Casting Seminarat Pineville Boat Launch on Salmon River (www.speynation.com).

July 15: 3-D Archery Shoot at Racquette Valley F&G Club (Registration from 7-11 a.m.).

July 27-28: Trapper Safety Course at Massena R&G Club (Pre-register at 389-5096).

July 28-29: St. Lawrence County 3rd annual Trappers Rendezvous at Massena R&G Club (389-5096).

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