An ‘odd year’ for annual waterfowl, wetland tally
Bemidji, Minn. — When Steve Cordts tallies the number of ponds he sees while flying this year’s annual spring waterfowl survey, there’s no doubt it will be down from last year, a record-wet spring.
And it also will be lower than it would have been if the survey had been flown in more recent days, after some parts of the state enjoyed near-record levels of precipitation during May.
As it were, though, the survey was too early for that, and, likely, too late to make a dramatic difference for ducks. It would have been more helpful if the rain came in March or April, said Cordts, a DNR waterfowl specialist.
“By the time we started the survey in late April, most of the birds, essentially, already had settled,” he said. “They already had picked the areas they were going to breed.”
And though it would have been more helpful earlier, the rain certainly isn’t bad news, from a waterfowl perspective.
“More water is generally good for birds that re-nest and for brood-rearing and that sort of thing,” Cordts said. “It won’t hurt anything if we keep getting rain for the next couple of weeks. It helps with brood-rearing, puts water in some additional wetlands, and bumps up some lake levels.”
All that rain affected the annual survey, too. It lasted about three weeks and included many days that were rained out. But Cordts watched the ground change before his eyes.
“It was sort of an odd year for wetland conditions,” he said. “When we started the last couple of days of April, it was generally pretty dry in most places. Right now, it’s pretty wet in some places. There are still some places were it’s kind of dry, but things have really changed over the last three weeks or so.”
In terms of ducks, it’s been an odd year, too.
There was an early influx of ducks the coincided with a warm March and early ice-out on lakes. Then April was cooler, and the migration ended up being about normal.
But it’s hard to say how many ducks there were because so many of the trees had leaves on them.
“We had full leaf-out pretty much from the start of the survey,” Cordts said. “Most years, we don’t have hardly any leaves. Also, the vegetation in the wetlands impacts visibility from the air … It just made it almost impossible to see ducks from the air.”
Much of the actual estimate of the breeding duck population depends on the “correction factor,” which takes into account visibility from the air.
“In a nutshell, duck numbers seem sort of as expected,” Cordts said. “I would think (the final estimate) will be somewhere in the range of average.”
Anecdotal information that Cordts has heard supports that.
“People seem to think there are pretty good numbers of ducks around this spring – as far as breeding ducks and nesting ducks and that sort of thing,” he said. “Hopefully there won’t be any huge surprises when the estimate comes out.”
Cordts expects the DNR to release the breeding waterfowl population estimate in coming weeks.