As of Tuesday an estimated 930,000 ring-necked ducks were observed on Rice Lake National Wildlife Refuge near McGregor, according to Steve Cordts, waterfowl specialist for the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources. That total is far above previous recorded counts on the 4,500-acre Rice Lake within the refuge and represents the largest flock of ducks ever recorded in Minnesota, Cordts said.

The lake was partially frozen, he said, but he said there were enough ducks on the water to keep it open.

In some recent years, Rice Lake personnel have counted as many as 200,000 to 300,000 ring-necked ducks on the lake.

Duluth artist wins walleye stamp contest

Duluth artist Dean Kegler has won the Minnesota Walleye Stamp contest. His painting was selected by judges from among 11 entries for the annual contest sponsored by the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources.

Kegler's painting of a walleye about to strike a crankbait will be featured on the 2018 walleye stamp. This is the third stamp contest win for Kegler; he also won the 2016 trout and salmon and 2009 pheasant stamp contests.

The voluntary walleye stamp validation costs $5 but is not required to fish for or keep walleye. For an extra 75 cents, purchasers will be mailed the pictorial stamp. A pictorial collectable stamp without the validation is available for $5.75. Walleye stamps are available year-round and do not need to be purchased at the same time as fishing licenses.

Mille Lacs winter anglers allowed one walleye

Walleye fishing on Mille Lacs Lake will open for the winter on Dec. 1, with no bait restrictions and a limit of one walleye 20-22 inches, or one longer than 28 inches.

"We're glad results of a fall population survey show Mille Lacs anglers will be able to keep some walleye during the winter walleye season," Don Pereira, fisheries section chief for the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources, said in a news release Friday. "We know this is important to resorts and businesses because the ice fishing season contributes a lot to the local economy."

The DNR has tightened fishing regulations on Mille Lacs in recent years in an effort to boost the lake's declining walleye population. Walleye fishing was catch-and-release all last summer, and was off-limits entirely for four weeks.

The DNR selected the size regulations to protect Mille Lacs' walleye spawning population, which is largely comprised of walleyes hatched in 2013.

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Study examines grouse decline, West Nile virus

The Wildlife Society has shared results from a recent study in Pennsylvania that suggests West Nile virus may be partly to blame for the decline of ruffed grouse. Ruffed grouse populations have decreased by at least 30 percent in the Appalachians over the past three decades, largely because of losses in young forest habitat, according to the society.

"But since the arrival of the West Nile virus in Pennsylvania 17 years ago, researchers found, ruffed grouse occupancy was most susceptible to decline in areas where West Nile infection rate in mosquitoes was greatest," the society writes on its website.

The research points to a correlation, not necessarily a cause-and-effect, relationship between ruffed grouse and West Nile virus. The study was led by Dr. Glenn Stauffer and was published in the Journal of Wildlife Management.

Lots of rough-legged hawks over Hawk Ridge

October was a banner month for rough-legged hawks at Hawk Ridge Bird Observatory in Duluth, according to Hawk Ridge officials. More than 800 rough-legged hawks were counted in October, and as of Thursday, the count was up to 934. The record for rough-legged hawks at Hawk Ridge was 1,026 for an entire season in 1994.

Banders at Hawk Ridge banded a record 24 rough-legged hawks in October, said Frank Nicoletti, banding director at the observatory. By Thursday, the banding total of rough-legged hawks was up to 27, he said.

A total of 330 rough-legged hawks were counted in a single day in October, the fourth-highest single-day total ever in North America, said Clinton Nienhaus, education director at Hawk Ridge. A location in Ontario holds the North American record for most rough-leggeds counted in one day with more than 1,000 counted, he said.

"Typically, the big rough-legged flights are in November," Nienhaus said. "The fact that we're seeing so many in October is amazing."

Thorson named to deer post

Erik Thorson, the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources' Park Rapids area wildlife supervisor, has accepted a temporary assignment to oversee the agency's while-tailed deer and other big game programs.

Thorson officially begins his new position on Nov. 15.The big-game program leader manages deer and elk populations and harvest seasons, and works with groups and individuals to manage seasons and populations to address the expectations of a diverse public.