Silver lining to all of last winter and spring’s rain? Plenty of water for waterfowl to do their thing — and boy howdy did they ever.
Nearly twice as many ducks were counted in Washington compared to last year, according to a federal survey released today.
That’s good news for hunting in the early season, which is typically fueled by local production until migrating northern birds arrive.
“In Washington the total duck estimate was 99% higher than the 2016 estimate, and 44% above the long-term average (2010–2016),” reports the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.
They may not have the bright-orange legs of their Alberta brethren, but Evergreen State mallards did well, up 72 percent over last year and 29 percent above the 1978-2016 average, USFWS adds.
To the south, Oregon’s 2017 total duck and mallard estimates were similar to 2016 and the long-term average, though greenheads were down 21 percent over the long haul.
But there may not really be any reason for Beaver State waterfowlers to get their waders in a bunch over that.
For our September issue’s fall flight forecast, MD Johnson interviewed ODFW’s duck boss Brandon Rieshus.
“Normally, we count the best of the best – the Willamette Valley and the wetlands in Eastern Oregon – as examples. Maybe the birds were scattered across the basin in places we don’t count. But from a habitat standpoint, it looked very good. The best it’s been in four or five years. (My guess is) production will be pretty good,” Rieshus told Johnson.
The USFWS report backs that notion.
“Habitat conditions in Oregon were much improved relative to the past several years and were good to excellent in all surveyed areas. Some areas of southcentral and southeastern Oregon had basins and playas with water for the first time in a decade or more. Many playas and dugout ponds throughout the High Desert were flooded as well,” the agency stated.
It was even wetter to the north.
“In Washington, overall water availability was the among wettest seen in 20 years according to state wildlife area staff and others, particularly through the Potholes and Channeled Scablands region, where potholes and ponds were plentiful. Reservoirs throughout eastern Washington were at or above 100% capacity with associated flooding of fields and pastures. In early May, significant snowmelt runoff was still occurring throughout the Okanogan and Northeast Highlands,” USFWS reported.
In terms of hard numbers, Washington’s mallard population was estimated at 103,400, well above 2016’s 60,000 (overall ducks: 242,000 vs. 121,500.
Oregon’s duck population was 239,900, up from last year’s 213,600.
Looking across the rest of North America, Ducks Unlimited reports that the overall estimate of 47.3 million breeding ducks in traditional survey zones is less than a million birds below 2016’s count, but still 34 percent above the 60-year average.
While mallards are down 11.3 percent, DU points to dry conditions in the Canadians “Parklands” of southern Alberta and Saskatchewan.