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Nesting Pond Report

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Watefowl breeding grounds dry, dry, dry

What a difference a year makes.

Last year the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service's annual Waterfowl Breeding Population and Habitat Survey painted a rosy picture -- Canada had the fourth-highest pond count in recorded history and five duck species were in record or near-record territory.

The 2008 breeding population survey, released this week by the Service, shows a 39 percent decline in Canadian ponds and double-digit percentage drops for 5 of the 10 most abundant species in the traditional survey area.

"Overall, the duck numbers aren't as bad as they might have been, but don't look for much production this year," says Dr. Frank Rohwer of Louisiana State University, Delta Waterfowl's scientific director. "Those areas across the breeding grounds that are wet are not the productive areas, and the most productive areas are dry...real dry...bad dry."

The combined May pond count for the United States and Canada was 4.4 million, a drop of 37 percent from a year ago and 10 percent below the long-term average. The mallard population was surprisingly strong, down just 7 percent to 7.7 million breeding birds. Total ducks dropped 9 percent from 41.1 million to 37.3 million.

Among the biggest surprises of the survey was the canvasback, which fell 44 percent from last year's record 865,000 to just 489,000 this year.

Northern shoveler dropped 23 percent from last year's record high of 4.6 million to just 3.5 million, northern pintail fell 22 percent from 3.3 million to 2.6 million, gadwall slipped 19 percent from 3.4 million to 2.7 million and American wigeon numbers slid 11 percent from 2.8 million to 2.5 million.

On the positive side of the ledger, scaup numbers jumped 8 percent from 3.5 million to 3.7 million, making it the third most-abundant species; redheads rose 5 percent from last year's record high of 1 million to 1.1 million, and green-winged teal edged up 3 percent to 2.9 million, the second-highest population ever for the No. 2 bird in harvest.

Dry conditions across the prairie breeding grounds took a toll on mallard numbers. The eastern Dakota mallard population was down 24 percent from last year, Montana and the western Dakotas slipped 36 percent and Saskatchewan was down 12 percent. Increases in mallard numbers were seen in the "bush" regions of the northern provinces, suggesting the birds over-flew the prairies.

"When the prairies are dry, a lot of mallards will over-fly the prairies and sit out the summer up north," says Delta President Rob Olson. "We don't get a lot of production from those birds."

Olson says mallard and pintail numbers in Alberta continue to be a concern for Delta scientists. "Alberta's pond count is still 15 percent above the long-term average, but the pintail population there is down 66 percent from its long-term average and mallards are 20 percent below their long-term average.

"When Alberta is the one bright spot in terms of spring habitat, we would have hoped for a better result there. We haven't seen a response for mallards or pintails in Alberta, despite good wetland conditions."

The story is different in the eastern Dakotas, where the mallard population is still 75 percent higher than its long-term average despite a 16-percent drop in wetlands long-term. "That's a function of the Conservation Reserve Program (CRP), which put millions of acres of undisturbed grass nesting cover on the landscape," Olson says.

"The mallard breeding population across the duck factory is still above the long-term average because of CRP, but at the rate we're losing CRP, it's going to be difficult to maintain those levels."

In the eastern survey area, mallards were unchanged at 450,000, black ducks dropped 13 percent to 496,000, green-winged teal were up fractionally at 261,000, ring-necked ducks dropped 17 percent to 551,000, goldeneyes fell 7 percent at 424,000, mergansers dropped 4 percent to 412,000, wigeon lost 40 percent to 8,000, scaup rose 4 percent to 32,000, bufflehead climbed 93 percent to 30,000 and scoters lost 17 percent to 86,000.

The survey is conducted annually by the Fish and Wildlife Service and the Canadian Wildlife Service.

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i would guess that the season in both miss. and central flyways would be a liberal season again. yea numbers are down some but these figures are in comparison to last years numbers which were some of the highest ever. Most of the main targeted species are still above long term averages and so are pond counts. also i know that in sd we have had tons of rain in late may and throughout june and there is water everywhere, so late and re-nesters should have ideal nesting conditions. For sure the central flyway will have a liberal season once again. justin

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I also question the accuracy of the canvasback count. Nearly half of the entire population from last year is gone? With the massive die offs of blue bills and other divers from last year on Winnie and the mississippi and the bill numbers went up. Dont you think someone would have noticed and reported tens of thousands of dead cans somewhere? That many birds just dont dissappear.

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well as seen on another site, it seems the USFWS is allowing the states in the Mississippi Flyway to choose between a 45 day, 2-bird season and a 60 day, 1 bird season (FOR SCAUP ONLY).

The USFWS is operating with their heads up their rears...it is virtually unanimous among waterfowl researchers that hunter harvest has little to no effect on the bluebill population. I'm just hoping the duck hunting season itself remains at 60 days and if allowed by the USFWS, the DNR doesn't screw things up using one of its famous "hunter opinion surveys" to try and get us to set an example for the other states by setting the bag limit at 4 birds.

I'm also hoping that the powers that be somehow figure things out on the conservation front in the next few years before all the CRP is exchanged for corn to "create" more worthless ethanol.

I'll get off my soap box now.

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SA, I think we are seeing the good old "political correctness" taking effect here... instead of biology.

Shotting less ducks but growing more "ethanol" has got to be good, right?!?!?! That is what the "feel good" crowd thinks... sheeees.... what a mess... Just when you think things might, just might, be starting to head slightly in the right direction, we plow under the CRP and step back 20+ years...

I am off my soapbox now too wink I think we are sharing the same one.

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Everyone get back on your soap box!! We all need to stand on our collective soap boxes and scream at the top of our lungs in hopes that someone with a shred of brains and common sense will hear us. We marched, we shouted at the steps of the capital and we have yet to get anything accomplished. Alot of politician promises, and we all know what those are worth. WE HAVE to speak louder against ethanol than those preaching for it. I truly believe we(the powers that be), will look back on this ethanol thing and see what a mistake it was. I hear alot of...well at least its a start somewhere. At what cost? How many years are we going back in the conservation timeline. I stand tall on my soap box and preach to those who need to hear...non hunters and non outdoors people. Hand written letters are in my future for my legislators. Good god I'm turning into my old man. Cripes.

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the amount of grass land in my area of ne sd that has been plowed under in the last year is unreal. and very sadning to say the least. i have and always will preach to anyone who does and doesnt care about ethanol and its huge negative effects regarding corn based ethanol. all i can say is that corn based ethanol will not last and is not the answer to are problems. there have been numurous plants that have cancelled or delayed construction because of the hard times they are having producing cost effetcive ethanol. as people in the US become more aware of the negatives of ethanol the faster things will change. and change they will. hopefully sooner an later.

-just a fact: corn based ethanol only makes up 3% of americans gasoline consuption but will cosume nearly 30% of the corn produced this year.

if that doesn't outline whats going on here what does? let your voice be heard on the subject to others.

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