While this spring’s water from Devils Lake to floods in the Red River Valley and recent downpours in Minot have been bad for people the ducks have been loving it. Silver lining? Small..but it is a silver lining:
The North Dakota Game and Fish Department’s annual spring breeding duck survey showed an index of more than 4.5 million birds, an increase of 12 percent from last year and 107 percent above the long-term average (1948-2009). The 2010 index is the third highest on record.
All species, except for wigeon (-9 percent), showed an increase from last year. Pintails were up 10 percent and were at the highest level since 1970. Mallards were up 12 percent and were the fourth highest on record. The most significant increases were ruddy ducks (+162 percent), green-winged teal (+91 percent), scaup (+54 percent), and redhead (+33 percent).
In addition, all species were above the long-term average.
The spring water index was up 5 percent from 2009 and 76 percent above the long-term average. It was the fifth highest in survey history and the highest since 1999.
Mike Johnson, game management section leader, cautions that the water index is based on basins with water, and does not necessarily represent the amount of water contained in wetlands. “Water conditions were generally good throughout the state, with the abundant snow cover and significant spring rains filling most basins,” he added. “The large number of ducks tallied during our survey is consistent with the well-above-average populations we have been carrying since 1994. These high numbers are the result of abundant Conservation Reserve Program nesting cover combined with the wet conditions that have been in place since the summer of 1993.”
Additionally, reports indicate that much of the Prairie Pothole Region in South Dakota and Montana was in good shape this spring. While much of prairie Saskatchewan and Manitoba were dry at the time of spring migration and settling, Johnson said Saskatchewan has since experienced significant improvement in water conditions that should benefit renesting and brood survival for those birds that did settle.
However, nesting cover in North Dakota continues to decline. Since the beginning of 2007, North Dakota has lost more than 700,000 CRP acres, and projections for the next two years indicate up to another 1.7 million acres could be converted to cropland.
“This loss of our critical nesting cover will be disastrous for breeding ducks and hunting opportunities in North Dakota,” Johnson said.
The July brood survey will provide a better idea of duck production and insight into what to expect this fall. Observations to date indicate that production will be improved across the state due to improved water conditions and increased wetland availability for brood production.