Arkansas Wildlife Waterfowl Report

LITTLE ROCK — More of Arkansas’s ducks were found in the east to northeastern part of the state, according to the most recent Arkansas Game and Fish Commission aerial survey.

Observers during the Dec. 16-20 survey flights saw more than half of the mallards counted in the Delta in the Cache, Black-Upper White and Little River survey zones and, like in November, many of these ducks were in the northern portions of these zones. Mallard hot spots were limited to portions of southern Jackson and western Craighead counties along with Big Lake National Wildlife Refuge and Big Lake Wildlife Management Area, according to the report released last week.

The most telling number about the 2019-2020 water season, though, was the count of nearly 1 million light geese (lesser snow/blue and Ross’s) and about 158,000 greater white-front geese in Arkansas’s portion of the Mississippi Alluvial Valley (or Delta), compared with an estimated 898,656 total ducks in the same region.

On-the-ground anecdotal reporting indicated a “tremendous” number of snow geese on the ground in the Walnut Ridge area just off U.S. Highway 67 in the northernmost reach of the state, along with continuous good reports of both snow geese and speckle bellies (greater white-fronted geese) into the central and southern portions of the Arkansas Delta. Meanwhile, anecdotal reports of ducks in the area ranged from poor to good on private lands.

The observations in the Arkansas River Valley put total duck numbers at just 20,000, with 11,000 mallards estimated during the December survey. On the AGFC’s public lands, duck use on Ed Gordon Point Remove WMA has been moderate, and hunter success on the WMA has been fair, with excellent water coverage and good habitat in that area. In Gala Creek WMA, the area had 85 percent coverage and good habitat while duck use and hunter success on the WMA has been low to moderate. Estimates for all ducks in the Arkansas River Valley were slightly lower than normal, while the mallard estimate was about average, with the highest mallard and total duck estimates in the West Dardanelle, Petit Jean and Point Remove-Placerville survey zones.

The nearly 900,000 total ducks in the Delta is about 75% of what has been seen, on average, in December for the past decade. The nearly 450,000 mallards estimated in the Delta was much lower than the 2009-2019 long-term December average of over 650,000. Luke Naylor, the AGFC waterfowl coordinator, said the biggest influence on the duck numbers. “Generally, ducks were not widely scattered across the landscape,” Naylor said. “The north Delta had relatively more habitat than portions of the Delta farther south, but overall habitat availability – that is, flooding – appeared somewhat limited. Habitat conditions also were declining in the Arkansas River Valley before and during the survey period.”

This past week, Arkansas received one front that brought a day of rainfall, but the amount did not raise many water levels. Several of the AGFC’s greentree reservoirs are at full pull already, however. There are vastly fewer fields covered in sheet water at this time compared with last December, when the state saw heavy rain and significant drop in temperature at times.

Naylor did note that mallards typically make up about 56% of all ducks during December surveys in the Delta, and this month’s mallard percentage was only slightly lower than this long-term average. He said most ducks appeared to be concentrated on waterfowl rest areas, private agricultural reservoirs (without noticeable hunting blinds), and moist-soil habitats during the December survey. The biologists on the aerial survey noted, particularly in the north Delta, that a there were a few fields here and there that did not get planted this spring that experienced a substantial moist-soil plant response. A fair number of ducks were using these fields during this survey, partly because this is a desired habitat type and partly because some of these areas did not have blinds or pits; thus they likely are serving as unmanaged sanctuaries.

Ducks are appearing to get wise to where the hunters are, according to Naylor’s report. “The concentrations of ducks on rest areas or non-hunted fields was again noticeable and almost certainly are a reflection of widespread hunting pressure,” he said.

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Arkansas isn’t experiencing anything that neighboring states aren’t also seeing. Ducks Unlimited biologists report that the states in the Mississippi Flyway saw an earlier than usual migration in early November, and ducks either continued on or retreated into many rest areas on the way.

The Missouri Department of Conservation’s most recent report, which came out Monday, indicated that ground counts of ducks in the three conservation areas closest to Arkansas, in the southeast portion of The Show-Me State, indicated nearly 45,000 ducks on Ten Mile Pond CA, 12,000 ducks on Coon Island CA, and 3,900 ducks on Little River CA. The totals at Ten Mile Pond were significantly up from an early December count. But the upper third of the state had fallen off in duck numbers, the MDC said. The count Dec. 24 in Swan Lake National Wildlife Refuge in Missouri was 175,000 ducks, with 172,000 being mallards.

Louisiana’s coastal and WMA survey in November reported a count of 79,204 waterfowl, the second lowest estimate in November since 2004, and approximately 48% (or 85,420 ducks) below the long-term average from 2004-2019 of 164,624. Rockefeller Wildlife Refuge contained 77% of all waterfowl observed during the surveys. No other WMA or refuge accounted for greater than 8%, according to Louisiana Wildlife and Fisheries.

The 2019-20 Southern Illinois aerial survey on Dec. 10 counted almost 71,000 ducks in that region of the state, but well below the 10-year long-term average for the survey period of nearly 112,000 ducks.

The AGFC staff is planning to take its annual midwinter waterfowl survey the week of Jan. 6.

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Arkansas’s regular waterfowl season will run through Jan. 31, 2020. Shooting times are 30 minutes before sunrise until sunset (shooting times are available for Little Rock in the AGFC’s Waterfowl Guidebook; subtract 1 minute for every 9 miles eastward, add 1 minute for every 9 miles westward). The daily duck bag limit is 6, which may include no more than 4 mallards (2 hens), 3 scaup, 3 wood ducks, 1 pintail (a change from last year’s limit of 2), 2 redheads, 2 canvasbacks (a change from last year’s limit of 1), 2 black ducks and 1 mottled duck. Coot daily bag limit is 15. Merganser daily bag limit is 5, of which only 2 may be hooded mergansers. Daily bag limit for snow, blue and Ross’s geese is 20; daily limit for white-fronted geese is 3 and for Canada geese the limit is 2.

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Check out the current habitat conditions for the AGFC’s managed areas for waterfowl (all conditions were reported as of Monday, Dec. 30; real-time water levels are available through the USGS for George H. Dunklin Bayou Meto WMA, follow the water gauge link listed for the WMA).

Central Arkansas conditions

Bell Slough WMA

Map | Weather Report

The Bell Slough GTR is primarily rainfall dependent with the exception of a limited amount of water that the AGFC can back in and catch from Palarm Creek.

Bell Slough GTR

Habitat: Moderate mast crop.

Water Level: 100% flooded.

Palarm Creek WRA

Habitat: Millet was planted as a cover crop this year following disking within the moist-soil units.

Water Level: 100% flooded.

Craig D. Campbell Lake Conway Reservoir

Map | Weather Report

Habitat and water levels are normal on both Pierce and Dix creeks.

Cypress Bayou WMA

Map | Weather Report

Hunt Area

Habitat: Good mast crop

Water Level: 85% coverage.

Red Cut Slough Tract

Unit 1

Habitat: Good stand of millet and native vegetation.

Water Level: 55%

Unit 2

Habitat: Excellent stand of millet and native vegatation.

Water Level: 100%

Unit 3

Habitat: Good stand of millet and native vegetation.

Water Level: 100%

Unit 4

Habitat: Good stand of millet and native vegetation.

Water Level: 100%

Unit 5

Habitat: Good stand of native vegetation.

Water Level: 50%

Unit 6

Habitat: Good stand native vegetation.

Water Level: 50%

Harris Brake WMA

Map | Weather Report

Harris Brake Upper Unit

Habitat: Good hard mast production within the GTR.

Water Level: 100%

Harris Brake Lower Unit

Habitat: Good hard mast production within the GTR.

Water Level: 100% flooded.

Holland Bottoms WMA

Map | Weather Report

Hunt Area

Habitat: Good mast crop.

Water Level: 35%

Lake Pickthorne WRA

Habitat: Excellent.

Water Level: East cell is 100% coverage. West cell is 85%.

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