Despite high waters of the Illinois River, Joshua Osborn finds some hope in aerial waterfowl survey

While flying the Illinois Natural History Survey’s weekly aerial waterfowl survey, Joshua Osborn made obvious note of the high water on the Illinois River (make that flooding in some areas) ahead of the central-zone opener on Saturday, but he also found some hope in the numbers.

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In his report on the Illinois Natural History Survey’s weekly aerial waterfowl survey, Joshua Osborn observed, “ It isn’t ALL bad news. Northern pintails and mallards using a club refuge at the confluence of the Illinois and MS Rivers.” Credit: Joshua Osborn/Illinois Natural History Survey

In his report on the Illinois Natural History Survey’s weekly aerial waterfowl survey, Joshua Osborn observed, “ It isn’t ALL bad news. Northern pintails and mallards using a club refuge at the confluence of the Illinois and MS Rivers.”

Joshua Osborn/Illinois Natural History Survey

Hard to ignore much of the Illinois River being in or near flood ahead of Illinois’ central-zone opener for ducks and Canada geese on Saturday and Joshua Osborn doesn’t ignore that in his blog off flying the aerial waterfowl survey for the Illinois Natural History Survey on Tuesday. But he also found some hope in the numbers for the Illinois River:

We observed ~ 25% numbers bump from last week along the IRV (~165,000), but are 26% below the 10-yr average for this time of year. I expect those numbers will change along much of the Illinois River when hunting opens this weekend and birds are pushed into the refuges. The backwater lakes along the Upper IL were 90-100% inundated this week, and it appears much of the food that matured despite the late drawdown is overtopped.

Conditions look better on the Mississippi River:

In contrast, habitat along the MS River looks good so far. The MS river saw a 13% bump in duck numbers from last week and is right on par with the 10-yr average for this time of year.

Click herefor details on the aerial waterfowl inventories and the long history of them. Click here for the home site for the Forbes Biological Station; click here for the Facebook page of the station.

Here is the overview of the latest aerial waterfowl survey by Osborn, a waterfowl ecologist for the INHS-Forbes Biological Station:

October 26th, 2021 – Aerial Waterfowl Inventory Blog We flew the waterfowl survey on Tuesday, October 26, 2021. A high Illinois River and perhaps the youth season redistributed birds across much of the IRV, probably more the former than the latter. The youth season likely pushed some birds onto refuges this week, but otherwise I did not observe a significant change along either river system numbers-wise. We observed ~ 25% numbers bump from last week along the IRV (~165,000), but are 26% below the 10-yr average for this time of year. I expect those numbers will change along much of the Illinois River when hunting opens this weekend and birds are pushed into the refuges. The backwater lakes along the Upper IL were 90-100% inundated this week, and it appears much of the food that matured despite the late drawdown is overtopped. A few of the refuges from Big Lake running south have fared a little better so far, but it is inevitable that food will be overtopped in these areas soon given the most recent river prediction (18’ @ Havana). On the bright side, birds are finding newly-flooded food at Chautauqua NWR, North Globe, and Emiquon Preserve. Further south, birds are also exploiting new water on Cuba Island and Big Prairie. In contrast, habitat along the MS River looks good so far. The MS river saw a 13% bump in duck numbers from last week and is right on par with the 10-yr average for this time of year. Many of the clubs and refuges at the river confluence are gradually bringing on water and they’re starting to be rewarded for it with ducks. We’re still pintail- and teal-heavy across both rivers, which has me optimistic for the central-zone opener this weekend. Waterfowl hunters along in the IRV are a resilient bunch; we have to be. Fifty-one weeks ago Aaron was writing about the drought we were in. ……. we can’t ‘buy’ a drop of water up here. The drought naturally dewatered many seasonal wetlands this summer and made abundant food resources for ducks. However, many refuges are struggling to get water back on the duck food. And those areas without water control and pumps are high and dry. Two years ago he was describing exactly what we are seeing right now, decent habitat along the river in early October swamped by a mid-late October flood event. Looking back over the last decade of river data, it certainly appears that is our new normal for the IRV. A changing climate combined with a severely altered river system is leading to more extreme cases of weather and river stages as opposed to an in-between, happy medium. But hunters persist. It is either a testament to the passion we have for the outdoors, or to how stubborn and bull-headed we truly are. I’m not sure if either (or both) is accurate. Many times we find ourselves looking on the bright side. For instance, habitat and duck numbers along the central MS River are looking good right now! If you’re heading out to the duck blind this weekend, I wish you the best of luck! You can find more information about the waterfowl survey along with recent numbers at our webpage www.bellrose.org. See ya next week!

Here the PDFs of the survey numbers:

IL102621.pdf

MS102621.pdf

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