Duck hunting

Casey Stafford leads a duck hunt in south Colusa County on Friday, January 25, 2013.

A recent survey indicated waterfowl breeding populations declined 5 percent this year across the state, contrary to what experts with the California Department of Fish and Wildlife thought would happen, given the abundance of rain the state received this past winter.

But concern isn’t running very high.

While the survey only takes into account particular breeding habitats throughout the state, Dan Skalos, environmental scientist for the waterfowl program under CDFW, said the study provides a good indication of what is happening with waterfowl populations in California.

This year’s survey – conducted between April and May in the Central Valley and northeastern California – found that mallards were the most impacted this year, with a 25 percent decrease from the previous year. Even with the overall decline of waterfowl numbers, gadwalls, cinnamon teal and Canada geese all showed increases in breeding populations – up 23 percent, 12 percent and 25 percent, respectively.

Skalos said the surveys serve as good indicators over time, but they don’t focus much on the specific year’s numbers.

“What we saw in the Sacramento Valley, as well as other areas in the state, was that there was flooding at the time of the survey, which is not really the best habitat for breeding waterfowl.”

In addition to flooding conditions along waterways like deep channels and fast currents that are not ideal for breeding habitat, he said surveyors also found that many rice fields that are normally flooded during the time of the survey were dried up.

“Last year, I expected numbers to be lower, coming off the drought. It’s hard to imagine why numbers would go up, but we actually had habitat on the ground for waterfowl,” he said.

With so much rain this year, Skalos said he’d be surprised to hear that waterfowl hunting went well. He said there were a record number of closed days on refuges across the state due to flooding.

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