The Great Outdoors: Water off a duck’s back

Special to the Parade

Great Outdoors (Ducks Redhead) pic-11-10-11My article last week was about the Federal Waterfowl Stamp and how it helps fund many of this country’s wetlands conservation efforts. I would surmise that wetlands should be wet – as in water.

However, this year there have been wide variations of wet and dry areas. This year there have been extremely wet conditions in the prairie pothole waterfowl breeding grounds in Canada and the Dakotas, which has increased production and created a near record number waterfowl flights headed south. As they say at the space center, “Houston we have a problem.”

The problem is the lack of water. That lack is because of the drought that has plagued Texas for all of 2011. This is not just the lack of water but the food plants that traveling waterfowl need to spend time in any given location. In the amount needed the food is just not there.

“Our soil moisture levels are very low, but we are growing green grass this fall instead of watching grass turn brown as we did in the hot summer. Coastal marsh habitat conditions are dismal, either we have dry marshes, or marshes with very high salinity waters which produce little wildlife benefit, kill plants and deteriorate organic wetland soils,” said Jim Sutherlin, TPW Upper Coast Wetlands Leader, who went on to say that the upper coast is fairing a little better, but not much.

Great Outdoors (Mallard Greenhead) pic-11-10-11Wetland habitat conditions throughout waterfowl wintering grounds in Texas have suffered greatly under the drought, and what precious little groceries that remain aren’t expected to hold birds for long. And, with millions of birds to our north there is nowhere at the present for them to winter successfully. That means they either won’t come or will keep moving south into Mexico where there is little or no protection for the birds. Outfitters rule and the limits are a moot point.

In past years, Texas had provided a winter home for 90 percent of the Central Flyway’s ducks, roughly 10 million birds in an average year. Even the expansive J.D. Murphree WMA, the situation remains grim. The top area there is the Wetland Compartment 5, where Ducks Unlimited installed a new pump this past year.

Here on the coast the bays all have water, but they are as salty as anyone can remember. Still, the bay hunting should be good for at least the first half of the season.

A couple of suggestions would be to buy one of the many varieties of “lay-out” blinds on the market. These range from the very expensive to very affordable – depending on how many bells and whistles you want included. Practice with this until you have the sit up and shoot down pat.

For those that don’t like to shoot sitting down, there are now several companies making chair blinds – I use both and can’t seem to see a difference – except some chair blinds allow you to stand up to shoot.

Many of the better water holes around the state are low on water and the shoreline has moved one of these two suggestions would be good. I have added websites for two companies, so take a look and good hunting.

For the chair type blinds, visit

For the Lay Out Blinds, visit

Editor’s Note: To see more of Jim’s writing and photography, visit If you have comments or news for Jim Foster, email him at

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