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Anderson - Nesting numbers point to good duck seasons

July 15, 2007|By BILL ANDERSON

It might seem like fall and winter duck season are a long way off, but the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service released some very important news earlier this week.

The agency released its preliminary numbers on the success rate of U.S. and Canadian nesting areas in the prairie regions. The reports are generally very positive.

Overall, the numbers are up by nearly 14 percent over last year. There is also a rise in the 10-year average for eight of 10 of the most important species.

Right now, the local duck hunter may be wondering what this all means to him. The answer is that it means a lot.

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Each year, the USFWS' federal managers look at the spring and summer nesting conditions, along with the short and long term trends, and use the data to issue guidelines to the states for the upcoming season.

According to the managers, winter snowfall and spring rains resulted in good nesting habitat in the prairie regions where a high percentage of the migratory ducks are hatched and raised each year. So, the guidelines should be at least as good as last season - maybe better.

States, like Maryland, set season dates, length of season and bag limits based upon the federal guidelines received in mid-summer.

For example, based on the guidelines, the state will decide how many days to allocate to the early segment of the season, when the local wood ducks are most abundant and how many days to allocate in December and January when the most migratory birds will be moving through the region.

The guidelines will also determine how many of each species may be included in the overall daily bag limit.

In past years, Maryland, West Virginia, Virginia have received guidelines for a 60-day season. Maryland's duck season has been divided into three segments - October, late November into early December and late December into January. It will probably be similar for 2007-2008 season.

The following are a sampling of the numbers, by species, from the report:

·Mallards - up 10 percent from last year and up 7 percent over 10-year average.

·Canvasback - up 25 percent over 2006 and up 53 percent over the 10-year average

·Pintails - down 2 percent from 2006 and down 19 percent over the 10-year average.

The pintail numbers are disappointing and may well translate to a reduced daily bag limit this fall.

After many seasons of declining numbers, the canvasback numbers are very encouraging. In the Chesapeake Bay region, the canvasback "cans" are considered by many to be the king of ducks.

Bill Anderson writes a weekly outdoors column for The Herald-Mail.

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