During mid-July we obviously note the sun is setting a bit earlier, the small grains are nearing harvest and the August 15 early Canada goose opener is nearing and hunters can begin to form plans for the fall hunting seasons.
In the past few weeks the North Dakota Game and Fish Department has released some numbers from spring surveys, which might give hunters some idea of how this fall could play out compared to the last few years.
For ducks, the numbers were down just slightly from last year. The Game and Fish Department’s annual spring breeding duck survey conducted in May showed an index of 3.4 million birds, down 5 percent from last year. A much more significant dip occurred last year, when the spring count was down 25 percent from the year before.
When it comes to producing ducks, North Dakota is part of the Prairie Pothole Region’s duck factory, which also encompasses parts of South Dakota, Minnesota, Montana and Iowa, as well as the Canadian provinces of Manitoba, Saskatchewan and Alberta.
Sometimes ducks move around in the Prairie Pothole Region, looking for the best spring habitat, so a decline in spring numbers in North Dakota doesn’t necessarily mean fewer ducks overall, but it might mean fewer “local” ducks produced.
The basic recipe for ducks includes lots of water in wetland of various sizes and depths, plus nearby grassland nesting habitat.
When this year’s numbers were documented, conditions in North Dakota were not favorable to keep nesting ducks in state.
“The spring migration was well ahead of normal as open fields and warm temperatures allowed early migrants to pass quickly through the state,” said migratory game bird supervisor Mike Szymanski.
Survey results indicated all species, except ruddy ducks (up 19 percent) and gadwall (up four percent), decreased from their 2015 estimates, while shovelers remained unchanged. Mallards were down nine percent, pintails down 17 percent and canvasbacks down 18 percent. However all species, with the exception of pintails and canvasbacks, were above the long-term average for this long-running state survey, which began in North Dakota in 1948.
Szymanski said the number of temporary and seasonal wetlands was substantially lower than last year, with the spring water index down 50 percent.
“However, conditions coming out of May into June were much wetter than what we observed during the week of the survey,” Szymanski added.
The water index is based on basins with water, and does not necessarily represent the amount of water contained in wetlands or the type of wetlands represented. In addition, heavy rains in parts of the state the first 10 days of July may also provide some additional benefit for waterfowl production.
Szymanski said the July brood survey will provide a better idea of duck production and insight into expectations for this fall.
“The total breeding duck index is still in the top 20 all time, so there is still a lot of potential for good production this year,” he added. “Hopefully improved wetland conditions since the May survey will carry through into increased wetland availability for duck broods.”
Leier is a biologist for the North Dakota Game and Fish Department. His blog is atdougleier.areavoices.com.