Heckled By ParrotsBlue Sky WritingRebecca K. O'Connor

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Where the Waterfowl Were

A few tidbits from the Mid Winter Waterfowl Survey Report from California:

by JamesJordan at Flickr.com

by JamesJordan at Flickr.com

In the Sacramento Valley, fall ground surveys on federal refuges indicated peak duck numbers of about 1.7 million, about 15% lower than last year. Of course, precipitation was below average. Areas like Lincoln which depend more on precipitation showed a decrease in the amount of quality wetlands. Seasonal wetlands that were flooded in the fall were in average to below average condition due to two dry springs in a row. Flooded rice offered habitat comparable to last year. (Tough on us falconers to have the only good habitat be large stretches of water, but at least there was someplace for the ducks to winter.) For the second year in a row, the peak occurred 2-3 weeks earlier than average with the ducks then dispersing out of the west Valley.

In the Northeast, fall populations of waterfowl peaked at 0.7 million in the Klamath Basin, less than half of the 1.5 million counted in 2008. Considerably lower populations of arctic nesting geese and pintails were noted in the fall. Populations of canvasbacks were notably decreased as well.

Down south the temperatures were running 5 to 10 degrees above average. Which I’m sure everyone who waiting for some crisp weather to encourage high flying falcons definitely noticed.  Again irrigated lands had good to excellent habitat conditions, but everywhere else was hurting a bit for the lack of precipitation.

Looking at waterfowl numbers in specific locations from one year to the next really doesn’t give you a very good view of the overall picture, so I would caution against reading into these numbers. If you’re hunting or waterfowl watching in Northern California though, you can see a reflection of what our season looked like. Primarily these counts are on bigger water and since most of the ducks we hunt have dispersed from concentrated areas, you can sort of extrapolate what you saw from the big picture.

I wouldn’t hazard a guess to what all of the numbers and observations mean, but if there’s something in particular you want to know, I can corner a biologist and try to get an answer for you.  My only interpretation of both the numbers and the season itself would be to say that it was a better year to be flying a goshawk out here than a falcon…  But there’s always next season.


  1. Jon says:

    The anecodotes from waterfowlers certainly do support these numbers – even at the 30-thousand foot level. Everyone was bemoaning the poor (good) weather conditions and lack of water.

  2. rebecca says:

    We falconers prefer “good” weather as long as it’s cold. While you all want the ducks to fly about, we’re thrilled to find a few loafing and oblivious somewhere.

    However, we generally fly small water. (Like jump shooting) So if there isn’t enough vernal ponds to disperse, we’re dead in the water (without water?).

    Seems it was just all around a mediocre to piss poor season, depending on where you stood in your waders.