THE BIG BUILDUP
The whole country is on the move. From Winnipeg in the east across the vast prairie wheatlands of Manitoba, Saskatchewan and Alberta, the skies are darkening with the sight of ducks. Their nesting over, mallard and pintail, baldpate and scaup, gadwall and teal and canvasback, too, are coming in off the shallow potholes where they have nested and are gathering in great concentrations on the permanent water of larger lakes. In every roadside ditch, marsh and slough there are ducks. In the air, arrowing as yet an aimless course, they flock from all directions to settle for a while with thousands more of their kind in one large dark mass of feeding, fattening fowl.
An abundance of water and food in the prairies for the past two years has produced duck crops bigger and richer than ever before. It was estimated in 1935 that there were only 50 million ducks traversing the flyways. By 1949 the figure soared to 200 million only to fluctuate up and down until it hit a new uncountable peak in 1952. Last year was hailed by all conservation agencies as "the best year ever." This year the official word is, "as good as last year." Nobody officially counts ducks any more—it's impossible. But to be in the prairies at this time is to believe that every duck and goose in creation is flying before your eyes.
This is only the start of the gradual buildup which will reach its climax around September 20 and culminate in the mass migrations of the ducks south—to waiting guns and, if lucky, a warm wintering home.
Right now the ducks are in every stage of development. Most juveniles are on the wing and adults are coming out of their two-week flightless molt. As usual the first to feel the migratory call are the pintail. Some have already gone. Teal are getting ready. The most ducks are in Saskatchewan, which has slightly more than Alberta, which has twice as many as Manitoba. Hottest spot on the duck map is the Coteau potholes in Saskatchewan. Here Ducks Unlimited biologists counted 150 nesting pairs per square mile, each with an average brood of six. Throughout the rest of the prairies, nesting numbers this year fluctuated between 25 and 60 pairs per square mile. Duck sign is everywhere. Not all of it good. Canadian farmers seeing the buildup reach last year's record-breaking proportions fear for crops and in every wayside store across the prairies crop damage insurance is outselling mosquito repellent.
Again this year food and cover are excellent. Slightly more teal are reported than last year, with a lot of mallard, cans and coot. The Glassell-Rice Lake is harboring a very heavy concentration, as are Pel Lake and Kandahar Lake in east central Saskatchewan.
Lesser scaup are doing well everywhere and the Ducks Unlimited Kansas State projects (Moat, Ross, Gull and Swan lakes) have all species congregating on them.
Tom Sterling, DU biologist, thinks this is the best year ever and predicts more ducks for Mississippi, Central and Pacific flyways.
Manitoba got a late start this spring and the first hatch of mallard and pintail is only now on the wing. The second hatch, while good, is spotty and below expectations. A broader representation of species is reported on Whitemouth Lake (southeast) and Killarney Lakes (southwest). Redhead are down, also bufflehead. Maryland Lakes production is exceptionally high with a tremendous number of canvas-back and teal evident.
Alberta has its heaviest concentration on Louisiana Lake No. 12; about 5,000 to 10,000 birds.
There is also a heavy duck population on the Ministik-Maeco Sanctuary east of Edmonton, and although the southeast corner of the province is down in population, increases in the east central parts have compensated.
Matching the bumper crop of ducks this year, Saskatchewan has again set its bag limit at a high 15 a day for 100 days. A million ducks will fall in this province alone before they start south. But the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service allows no increase this year (with minor exceptions) and seasons and limits remain: Atlantic (70 days, bag of four), Mississippi (70 days, bag of four), Central (75 days, bag of five) and Pacific (80 days and a bag of six).