Waterfoul Fall Flight Forecast 2009
Most duck populations responded to the abundance of water in the breeding grounds with an impressive breeding effort. The 2009 breeding population estimate for the 10 most common duck species in the traditional survey area was 42 million birds, a 13% increase from last year, and was 25% above the long-term average since surveys began in 1955.
Breeding populations of redheads, canvasbacks, and shovelers soared to record highs. Mallards had a breeding population up 10% from last year and the largest estimate since 2000. Gadwalls, bluewinged teal, and green-winged teal also had healthy increases in 2009 and were well above their long-term averages. American wigeon, which have lagged behind many other duck species in recent years, was estimated at 2.5 million and similar to the number in 2008. Only scaup numbers remained similar to last year and below population goals. Northern pintails were 23% above the 2008 estimate, but still 20% below the long term average.
The Central Flyway, of which Texas is the southern terminus, receives most of its waterfowl from the prairies, with the majority of ducks coming from Alberta, Saskatchewan, Montana, North Dakota, and South Dakota. Most of the flyway's geese, as well as most of its scaup, wigeon, and greenwinged teal, are raised in the western boreal forest and Arctic of Canada and Alaska.
Habitat conditions during the 2009 Waterfowl Breeding Population and Habitat Survey were characterized by above-average moisture across the southern portions of the traditional survey area, good habitat in the eastern survey area, and late spring conditions across northern survey areas. The total pond estimates for the U.S. and Canada was 6.4 million ponds in 2009, which is up 45% from last year and 31% above the long-term average.
The tall grass prairie population (TGPP) of Canada geese which winter mainly in the Central Flyway, saw reduced numbers of nearly 23%. M
id-continent lesser snow and Ross's geese, due to harsh spring weather conditions experienced poor production that will result in a below average proportion of young in the fall flight. Eastern mid-continent white-fronted geese also had reduced production in 2009 after their range experienced colder than average May temperatures and nesting activities were apparently delayed. Overall, production of Mid-continent white-fronted geese is expected to be near average.
In 2009, improved habitat conditions on key breeding areas allowed most duck species to build upon healthy population increases achieved in 2008, producing what by all indications will be a large continental flight of waterfowl this fall. Overall duck hunting prospects for this fall and winter look excellent. Goose production was below average but large numbers are expected to start arriving on the Texas coast with more mature birds that will test the skills of both experienced and novice goose hunters.
Habitat conditions on the Texas Coast remain critical to fair. Most water is found in second crop rice fields in the Texas Rice Belt. The lower and mid-Texas Coast remains very dry due to a severe drought in this area. The upper Texas Coast has considerably better habitat conditions. Most of the mid and upper coasts are still suffering from high saline conditions from Hurricane Ike. Moderate to heavy rains are needed to help replenish ponds and marshes along the entire Texas Coast.
Prospects for the early teal season look excellent but most of the good hunting will be confined to second crop rice due to extremely dry conditions. With the advent of good fall and winter rains duck hunting on the Texas Coast should be excellent. Due to below average goose production, goose hunting over decoys will be tougher than normal due to a reduced number of young geese in the fall flight.