Spring geese? Lingering mallards, deep thoughts: Yetter’s season-ending blog

I am fascinated by the observations, photos and ruminations by Aaron Yetter in his final blog of the year off the Illinois Natural History Survey’s aerial waterfowl surveys.

There is real stuff to mull, particularly the stark differences of land use in Illinois and Missouri along the Mississippi River. But I also wonder about the meaning of lingering mallards and the possibility of spring geese because I watched flock after flock of cacklers heading north on the evening of Jan. 5.

Click here for much information about the aerial surveys and, more importantly, about the Stephen A. Forbes Biological Station, located along the Illinois River on Chautauqua National Wildlife Refuge near Havana. Established in 1894, “it is the oldest inland field station in North America and one of nine field stations of the Illinois Natural History Survey. The Frank C. Bellrose Waterfowl Research Center is housed at  the Forbes Biological Station.”

I have appreciated Yetter sending his blog and his willingness to offer thoughts from his perspective in the sky. On a specific note, I suspect there is a lot more ice by this morning than there was on Thursday.

Here is Yetter’s final blog of the season:

January 12, 2019 – Aerial Waterfowl Inventory Blog

We flew the final waterfowl survey for fall migration on Thursday, January 10th, 2019. Although we found ice at many refuges and wetlands, there was ample amount of open water for ducks and geese along both rivers. Normally, we should be nearly 100% frozen over in mid-January; however, the warm weather trend over the past weeks has allowed some mallards to hang around especially in the lower Mississippi River portion of the survey area. We estimated 126,425 ducks (52% above average) along the Illinois River and 339,835 ducks (131% above average) along the Mississippi River this week. We also observed good numbers of greater white-fronted geese and lesser snow geese along both rivers with the largest concentration of snows (97,000) in the Havana area of central Illinois. These geese have been here for a couple of weeks now, and I’m starting to wonder if they are actually spring migrants instead of stragglers from the fall migration. Now that our duck seasons are ending or over in the mid-latitudes, they should give the goose hunters something to chase as we enter the doldrums of January.

There has been quite a bit of bickering among waterfowlers this fall due to an overwhelmingly slow duck season. I heard one duck hunter say he didn’t harvest a duck this fall despite multiple attempts in the duck blind. Yet, others had pretty remarkable seasons if they were willing to adapt to the birds and change up their hunting strategies. My thoughts about the slow season are that the “big push” of ducks came around Veterans Day in mid-November and that we hunted those birds for the remainder of duck season. I had several days afield where the mallards would approach my blind or decoy spread but ultimately peel off at about 100 yards to go somewhere else. Other hunters found considerable success if they were willing to break out of the blind and freelance in different habitats where the birds wanted to be.

The last topic I wanted to touch on is the amount of waterfowl habitat that has been added to the landscape between Clarksville and St. Louis, Missouri in the last 10 years. This wetted habitat along with major renovations to Clarence Cannon NWR and Ted Shanks Conservation Area on the Missouri side of the Mississippi River floodplain has proven to substantially boost numbers of ducks along this portion of the river. There has been some development on the Illinois side of the river such as the federal Delair Refuge and a few private landowners in the Pleasant Hill area. Some new duck clubs are starting to show up in the drainage and levee districts of the Illinois River near Hardin, but for the most part, Illinois is not keeping up with Missouri in wetland restoration for duck hunting. Of course, some of these clubs and refuges are using flooded agriculture to attract ducks, but there are thousands and thousands of acres of natural and moist-soil wetlands being added to the landscape as well. This vast amount of waterbird habitat being restored or renovated by private landowners and duck hunters is greatly contributing to the number of ducks using this portion of the Mississippi River floodplain. Thanks to all of you for providing migration habitat, both spring and fall, for our migrating waterfowl!

Be safe and happy hunting!


The stark contrast on private land on the Illinois side of the Mississippi River.
Provided by Aaron Yetter/Illinois Natural History Survey


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