Numbers may be down, but there are still plenty of blue-wings
For the first time in its 65-year history, the annual Waterfowl Breeding Population and Habitat Survey was cancelled in 2020, a victim of the COVID-19 pandemic. The survey’s partners, the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service, the Canada Wildlife Service and the many state wildlife agencies are forced to rely on long-term data for their 2020-21 forecasts.
There’s good and bad news in those numbers for September teal hunters.
The 2019 survey, for the third-straight year, showed reduced numbers of blue-winged teal. Last year’s survey produced an estimated 5.4 million blue-winged teal, a 16% decrease from the 2018 count. It’s significantly lower than the peak count in 2010 of nearly 10 million blue wings.
But, the 2019 estimate was still 6% above the long-term, 65-year average for blue-wings.
“The last few years’ trend is not great news, but last year, even with the decreased count, we still had a good season because the population is still above average,” said Gabe Evans of Southaven. “I can only speak for myself and my hunting partners who hunt the North Delta, but we had limit hunts on blue wings every day we went. Some days, it was quick, like we were done and back at camp by 8:30. Other days, we’d be closer to noon, but still we had lots of birds.”
Evans said his group had to travel further south than normal to find the birds late in September.
“Early on, we seemed to have the peak of the migration come through DeSoto County right at the start of the season,” he said. “We noticed toward the end of the first week that the concentration of birds was dwindling on our holes. Instead of being in there and out in an hour or two, we were staying until 11 or noon.
“We made some calls, and some friends of ours down around Grenada said the teal had shown up at Grenada Lake and on some converted catfish ponds to the west over by Greenwood. Sure enough, when we got down there, they were as thick as they had been around DeSoto County the first week of the season.”
Making a plan
Evans said this year, if the pattern holds true, his group has invited the Grenada group to hunt the North Delta early and then follow the birds south again.
“I hope it works out as well as it did last year, but I know that it may have been a freak thing,” he said. “But it makes sense that the birds are migrating, so they will move south. The key is when the peak of their southern flight pushes them into Mississippi. There have been seasons when the peak actually occurred before our season even opened, just like there’s been some when the peak came after.
“All we can do is prepare some good habitat for them, shallow mud flats where they can rest and feed, and hope their schedule puts them here during our 16-day season. I hate they missed out on the 2020 survey, because I’d like to know if they downward trend is continuing. The more birds there are, the longer the migration will last, and the better our hunting will be. That’s just common sense.”
The limit will again be six per hunter per day, with a possession limit of 18.
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