Newspaper article The Florida Times Union

Duck and Coot Season Hard to Predict

Newspaper article The Florida Times Union

Duck and Coot Season Hard to Predict

Article excerpt

A record flight south of 105 million ducks is forecast this fall, but how many will stop over in Florida is anybody's guess.

Florida's duck and coot season opened yesterday and continues through Jan. 18. Hunters and waterfowl managers have learned through experience that favorable flight predictions don't necessarily translate into hot-barrel hunting --- at least not in Florida.

Ducks need water, food and a nudge from Mother Nature to make Florida's season a successful one.

"The problem is, everybody's doing things to attract birds, but we're at the end of the [Atlantic] flyway," said biologist Craig LeSchack of Guana River Wildlife Management Area in St. Johns County. "The birds will hold in areas where there's plenty of water and food.

"You need to have several days where it's below freezing and areas start to ice up, especially in places like the Carolinas."

That will drive the birds south, but even then the national flight forecasts don't fully apply to Florida. Most of the surveys are conducted in the prairie pothole regions of the Upper Midwest, and many of those birds wind up in areas along the Mississippi Flyway.

"Many of our birds come from the Eastern portion of Canada and Northern states," LeSchack said.

Surveys in Eastern Canada indicate a 22 percent population increase over last year.

While populations of most species of ducks appear healthy, some are still recovering. Scaup, traditionally one of the top five birds harvested in Florida, are making a comeback but the numbers are still 18 percent below the long-term average.

Here's a look at several popular areas in the state for hunting ducks.

Guana River WMA -- "I've seen a few groups of ducks on the lakes but not a whole lot," LeSchack said. "The habitat's there, it's just a matter of getting the birds down." Guana is open Wednesdays and Saturdays. …

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