TPWD News Release — Feb. 9, 2004
Recently completed mid-winter aerial surveys of waterfowl populations conducted by TPWD confirmed what many hunters already knew the birds flew south.
“South Texas duck numbers went through the roof this season,” said TPWD waterfowl program leader Dave Morrison. “Survey estimates for the region were up more than 60 percent from last year and the Sand Plains in deep South Texas saw a 300 percent jump.”
Despite a lull from Thanksgiving through most of December when moderate weather conditions slowed waterfowl migration throughout much of the Central and Mississippi Flyways, Texas actually received more birds this year, 3.8 million compared to 3.7 million last year, according to TPWD estimates.
“All in all I think the season was better than last year,” Morrison offered. “The greenwings showed up this year and didn’t last year. That’s our bread and butter duck on the coast. Gadwalls were also an important component and saved a lot of hunts this year. That was the biggest difference this year; the coast actually got some birds.”
“There was a lot of bragging on the early teal season,” confirmed TPWD coastal waterfowl biologist David Lobpries. “Most of the guides were limiting out on the prairie and calling it one of the best seasons ever. The first couple of weeks into the regular season some were saying they’d killed more ducks than they had all of last year.”
Areas along the middle coast, such as Peach Point and Mad Island Wildlife Management Areas, were reporting twice as many hunters as last year and they weren’t coming away disappointed as strap counts averaged nearly two birds apiece.
Despite migration shifts in recent years from the Central to the Mississippi Flyway and mild winters that kept birds to the north, Lobpries also reported more geese showed up this season.
Other parts of the state were not as fortunate. In the Panhandle, biologists reported less than one percent of the playas had water. Those few spots where water was available, however, saw times of excellent hunting, according to TPWD waterfowl biologist Bill Johnson.
The lack of water was a factor in moving many Panhandle birds into the Blackland Prairies region, according to Morrison. Surveys from that area showed a jump from 595,000 birds a year ago to 815,000 birds this season.
Dry conditions also plagued the eastern half of the state for the second straight season, with East Texas and the upper coast being short-changed.
“During early November large numbers of ducks and geese moved down the Central Flyway almost en masse,” said Carl Frentress, TPWD waterfowl biologist for East Texas. “Their coordinated arrival was obvious in East Texas. If these birds had found abundant water in the wetlands, they would have stayed. Duck hunters who initially were thrilled with the abundance of arriving migrants soon became disenchanted as the birds departed to more attractive habitats. This predicament characterized the East Texas season for the duration.”
Frentress noted that hunting success was hit or miss for much of the season. “Great hunts would be had one weekend to be followed by a complete absence of ducks the next weekend,” he said. “At the same time, nearby duck habitats would be producing opposite experiences. I have the feeling the birds were drifting about the wintering grounds seeking satisfactory habitat resources.”
Even some of the traditional hotspots like the J.D. Murphree WMA were left holding an empty bag as high salinity levels along the upper coast provided little support for waterfowl.