Water resurgance bodes well for duck reproduction in North Dakota
Talk about rags to riches. North Dakota is setting up for a strong year of duck production, thanks to a resurgence of wetland abundance across the state. According to the North Dakota Game and Fish Department's annual water and breeding pair surv...
Talk about rags to riches.
North Dakota is setting up for a strong year of duck production, thanks to a resurgence of wetland abundance across the state. According to the North Dakota Game and Fish Department's annual water and breeding pair survey, pond counts across the state are up 293 percent from 2008.
"It's the single-largest turnaround in wetland conditions we've ever had," said Mike Szymanski, migratory game bird biologist for the Game and Fish Department in Bismarck. "And most of that was because we were so dry last year."
Szymanski said this year's water index is up 69 percent from the long-term average.
The Game and Fish Department has conducted the survey every spring since 1948, dividing the state into eight transects extending from the South Dakota border to Canada. Two-person crews then count all the wetlands and waterfowl they see along the survey routes, which cover 1,816 miles, compiling an index they use to measure trends over the long term.
Game and Fish conducted this year's survey the week of May 18
THEN AND NOW
Last year, Szymanski said, the western half of North Dakota was almost totally dry. This year, by comparison, water conditions are anywhere from good to excessive just about everywhere in the state.
The water part of the survey includes everything from Type 1 seasonal wetlands to lakes, which are classified as Type 5 wetlands.
"If they've got enough water to float a duck, we count them," Szymanski said. He said the shallower Type 3 and 4 wetlands are especially important to producing ducks.
According to Szymanski, the driest conditions were in the northwestern part of the state and, even there, wetland counts still were fair to good.
"They aren't real fantastic, but they're certainly better than the last couple of years," Szymanski said. "And once you move east into the central part of the state, it's really pretty good water conditions."
Szymanski said the return of water to the landscape is especially beneficial for ducks because North Dakota is poised to lose another 500,000 acres of land in the Conservation Reserve Program during the next couple of years.
"It was on my Christmas wish list to get some water before all the CRP was gone," he said.
GOOD FOR PINTAILS
According to Szymanski, the resurgence of wetlands also seemed to change the composition of duck species showing up in this spring's survey. Pintails and shovelers were especially abundant, he said; canvasback numbers also took a nice jump.
He said the pintail index was the highest recorded in the survey since 1979, and the shoveler index set a record.
"We've got almost three times as many pintails as we had last year," Szymanski said. "We had the table set very well, and pintails and shovelers really responded this year. Right now, there's a lot of grass, which should be good for the pintail population."
Blue-winged teal and mallards were relatively unchanged from the past couple of years, Szymanski said. Canada goose numbers were down slightly, but the drop wasn't significant.
Szymanski cautions hunters against reading too much into the spring outlook until the department conducts its brood-count survey in mid-July. Some areas, especially east of Bismarck, have received too much rain during the past week, likely flooding some duck nests.
"It's like going to the gas station and expecting your tank to be full before you pull up to the pump," Szymanski said. "The habitat is out there, which is a really good thing. We do have a very strong breeding population going into this."
Brad Dokken reports on the outdoors for the Grand Forks Herald. Reach him at (701) 780-1148; (800) 477-6572, ext. 148; or send an e-mail to firstname.lastname@example.org .