The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Services’ 2014 summer survey on adult ducks and breeding ponds shows populations are about eight-percent above the same survey last year. Preliminary estimates put the population at 49.2 million ducks, compared to 45.6 million last year. This year’s count is 43 percent above the long-term average.
Mallard, blue-winged teal and pintail populations are similar or slightly higher than last year at this time. Wigeon numbers are 18 percent above the 2013 estimate. Later in the summer Fish and Wildlife biologists will announce the result of another survey predicting how well waterfowl reproduction went across the northern U.S. and Canada.
A Kansas Department of Wildlife, Parks and Tourism press release said biologists were estimating the national population at 22,415 birds this year, compared to 18,747 last spring. The 2012 estimate was more than 30,000 birds. Several years of drought has greatly hurt lesser prairie chicken numbers by denying the grouse good nesting areas, safe places to raise chicks and cover from predators through the seasons.
Done during the early spring breeding season, the study only logs adult birds since the year's chicks have yet to be hatched.
“We were bone dry and coming out of a 2 1/2-year old drought. Things couldn’t have looked more terrible,” Theede said. “Then the heavens opened up and we had our best season ever.”
Last year hunters shot more than 6,000 ducks at the wetlands, topping the previous record of about 3,200. Theede credited those years of drought for allowing dense stands of weeds to grow up in the dry wetlands. They were flooded with the summer rains that made exceptional waterfowl habitat. This fall could be good, too.
“Some of our smartweed is approaching chest high,” he said. “The production of (seeds for ducks to eat) will just be quite amazing. It looks great for this fall as long as we can hold the water.”
Christopher Smith, Cedar Bluff State Park manager, said the lake had come up three feet by the middle of last week and another foot was expected. Unfortunately, that still leaves the lake 22 1/2 feet below normal conservation pool.
Smith said the lake was last full in September of 2001. He said it was at its lowest in the early 1990s when it was an estimated 50 feet below normal conservation pool.