Coot Burgers and Mallãrd Filléts

Dinner On Ice

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Ducks On A Pond

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Published on: Dec. 13, 2013

Who doesn’t like a cheap and easy meal? I guess that is a rhetorical question since microwaves, TV dinners, and fast food drive-throughs are commonplace today. No doubt about it, a cheap and easy meal is a way of life for many folks. While some would argue that this reflects an unhealthy societal trend, I’m not going there today, as I sip on my fountain drink and crumple up a candy bar wrapper.

Ordering In or Going Out

Actually, most critters have adapted to take advantage of food that is easy to find one way or another. Non-mobile animals may use a gimmick to attract food towards them. For example, alligator snapping turtles use their tongue to lure in fish, just to turn the tables on the unsuspecting hungry finned friend. On the other end of the spectrum, waterfowl are highly mobile and migrate cross country to take advantage of food that seasonally becomes abundant on the other side of the continent. In the last week, we’ve seen what happens when those once abundant food resources suddenly become no longer available. The ducks move on for the next easy meal because breaking their bill on ice or digging through the snow is just not worth it.

Focusing on a National Icon

The ducks that have stayed have become consolidated and another critter’s dining strategy has come into focus. Bald eagles can be seen following the annual waterfowl migration and their numbers increase in Missouri as our duck numbers soar. Essentially, as lakes and other wetlands up north lock up with ice, the eagle’s kitchen also closes up shop. Fish, which can be their primary diet, are no longer available and their secondary option, waterfowl, start to diminish. Consequently, they go with the flow or the next front and are often seen as unwelcome sentinels watching over the uneasy dabbling ducks concentrated in our mid-latitude wetlands.

Ducks on a Pond, Literally

As temperatures dip below freezing here and ice begins to close in across the marsh so do the eagles. With the options for open water reduced, ducks become concentrated. Their predators move in, conserve energy on their perches, and wait for the right moment. Occasionally, they taunt the feathered flocks by sweeping over the milling masses to stir them up and see if there are any stragglers or cripples ready for the taking. If you sit and watch, you can almost feel the anxiety on the rise as one of the large raptors sweeps low over the open water hole, temporarily spreading ducks flying to and fro. While it isn’t surprising, you may see the occasional coot being hauled off to be devoured on the ice nearby. However, it isn’t always the birds that are slower to launch into flight that end up on the sharp end of an eagle’s talons. Mallards, snow geese, and other fowl also suffer this same fate. At times the scene can become quite grisly as the edge of the ice turns from white to crimson.

Then again, that is what eagles do. They take advantage of an opportunity to fill their bellies, stay warm, and live another day. Who can blame them? This is what optimal foraging theory is all about. Just think next time you roll into Mickey D’s or zap-fry a pop tart; for an eagle it might be just as easy for them to grab that next coot burger or catch mallãrd filléts to go.

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On January 9th, 2014 at 2:02am Anonymous said:

I did too encounter many deep holes in 18 and also 21. But 21 had problems because of the day we had all that rain. Couldnt turn in our green cards that day because of the floodwaters. Almost got swept away leaving the Units graveled roads! All in all it is starting to look alot better out there after these past couple years. Duck Creek is one of my favorite places to shoot woodies early in the year. Not many places around to do that.

On January 8th, 2014 at 8:25pm Anonymous said:

Any plans to trench a small narrow boat lane from 21 parking lot in B Unit out into unit 18? Wow that would be great!

On January 8th, 2014 at 5:47pm frank said:

You are correct that there were several low spots and some other work that we didn't get to in 2013 because of the wet spring and summer conditions.  They remain on our list and we'll see what the weather in 2014 and logistics can afford us in the year to come.

On January 8th, 2014 at 5:40pm Anonymous said:

deep water in 16 was not addressed after last season- probably will not be addressed this year

On January 8th, 2014 at 1:46pm frank said:

Public safety is always critically important.  Duck Creek staff try to point folks in the right direction and avoid certain problem areas. Whenever you have flooded conditions there is the potential to get wet, which can be dangerous, especially when the mercury drops.  We know there are some issues in a couples spots, as there is on every wetland area. Some that can be addressed, others that can be minimized, and some we’ll just have to live with and be careful of.  I am sorry that you found a hole, but am glad you were able to get into some birds.  The weather has definitely made this out to be a different season.

On January 5th, 2014 at 8:05pm Anonymous said:

After breaking ice for 2 hours in unit 18 last day of the season I finally made it to the open water the ducks had kept open. It took about 90 minutes to fill my limit. I was trying to pick up my last duck on the ice when I discovered there was DEEP WATER in unit 18. Is there a plan in place to fill in the deep spots in units 16 15 and 18?

On January 2nd, 2014 at 11:31pm Jcoberley said:

HONEYED DUCK OR GOOSE 4 ducks or 1 lg. goose 1 tsp. basil 1 tsp. ginger 1 1/2 tsp. salt 1 c. honey 1 stick butter 1/2 c. orange juice 2 tsp. lemon juice 1/4 tsp. dry mustard Mix together basil, ginger and salt. Mix together in saucepan, honey, butter, juices and dry mustard; boil for 3 minutes. Put about 1 teaspoon of basil mixture inside of each duck and rub any left over on the outside. Stuff ducks with orange slices. Pour half the honey mixture over the ducks in roaster. Cover and roast at 400 degrees for a half hour. Reduce heat to 350 degrees, turn ducks breast down and roast, basting occasionally with the rest of the honey mixture until ducks are very tender, about 2 1/2 hours. You may wish to turn breast side up for the last half hour to brown. Serves 8.

On December 31st, 2013 at 10:09pm frank said:

The place for that information is the Waterfowl and Habitat Survey on the Waterfowl Hunting page under Waterfowl Reports.  The information was just updated today.

On December 31st, 2013 at 12:56pm Anonymous said:

What are the Canada goose numbers at Duck Creek and Mingo?

On December 30th, 2013 at 7:34pm Anonymous said:

Don't bother putting blinds back in A and B units. Don't you love how people ask "when will construction begin on the blinds this year?". First they should ask "if" they are going to be put back in. I'm sorry but some people are spoiled and way too demanding. You guys have plenty enough to do without having to worry about maintaining and brushing blinds in A and B units, only to have all the work you do ripped off the blinds by ungrateful and unknowing hunters. I wish the people that act so demanding about the blinds being replaced would call Ten Mile Pond with the same attitude asking them when they are going to start constucting blinds this year. Thanks for the great job you guys do!

On December 29th, 2013 at 12:25am MattB said:

Habitat on the area for next year will depend on what the weather and impending drawdowns of the units give us this spring.  While planting corn in some portion of several units is part of the plan, if weather prevents us from getting corn in the ground by mid-June then we will likely reduce the amount or possibly abandon all plans to plant corn for that year.  The other factor that weighs into this is the quality of moist-soil vegetation growing in the units.  If we have good moist-soil and wet weather into the summer then making the choice of not planting corn is easier.  This was the case in the summer of 2013.  Overall, it's a complicated decision and one that we are not about to make in December, but we do have plans to put some corn in the ground if conditions are favorable this spring.  As for the blinds in Unit A and B, we will continue to look at options to place blinds in a few of the units but this may not happen for another year or two.

On December 29th, 2013 at 7:55am Anonymous said:

When will construction on the replacement blinds in Unit A and B begin this year?

On December 27th, 2013 at 5:59pm Anonymous said:

Any plans to plant some CORN next year on duck creek?

On December 22nd, 2013 at 10:50pm MattB said:

Thank you for the Christmas wishes, Merry Christmas to you and yours as well.  Depending on where you were exactly we received somewhere in the neighborhood of 5-6 inches of rain.  So yes flooding is abundant, and did cause us to close down a couple of units as we let water flow off the area across our low water spillways.  This problem should be fixed by Monday or Tuesday of this week as the flooding resides. 

On December 21st, 2013 at 5:40pm Anonymous said:

Merry Christmas to the wonderful staff at duck creek. Thank you all for everything you do for us!! How much rain did you receive? Is there a lot of flooding in the area?

On December 20th, 2013 at 10:25am frank said:

Thanks for the questions. I’ll answer them in reverse order. In terms of Pool 1, I don’t believe the problem has been that the ducks have been stuck on the refuge. We lost 80% of the birds because that’s what happens when the region freezes up for two weeks. As you noted, this warm spell has begun to thaw things out; especially in the last 24 hours and it will continue to do so as the rain works on the remaining ice. Ducks adjust their behavior as habitat conditions change.  Whether it is the stage of the moon, thawing fields on an off the area, and increased sheet water from the ensuing rains, I’m sure waterfowl use in the region has and will continue to shift over the weekend and into Christmas.  Unfortunately, I’m in the same boat as you and don’t know exactly what is going to happen next, other than things will be different from last week.  Probably not exactly what you wanted to hear, but unfortunately, that’s the best I got. Have a good weekend and Merry Christmas. 

On December 20th, 2013 at 9:37am Anonymous said:

How are the conditions out there now? I noticed that one day of warm weather has thawed out most of the wetlands down in SEMO. Have not been down to duck creek in a while so I was wondering if ice is a problem still. What is the duck compostition as of now and are the birds actually leaving pool 1?

On December 18th, 2013 at 4:42pm frank said:

I know it is frustrating out there. We typically don’t have conditions like this, especially not for this long.  Area regulations regarding refuge, whether it is temporal or spatial are set to benefit the quality of hunting throughout the entire season.  I know switching things up is real appealing when hunting is hard and it may not seem like a big deal. However, that can be a slippery slope. I know my answer isn’t what you want to here, but hang in there. I think… I hope… things will improve soon.

On December 18th, 2013 at 1:27pm Darin said:

Hi Frank, Due to the current weather conditions with the ice, what would be the possibility of opening A and B unit to all day hunting just like Pool 2 and 3 to create more opportunity?? I do not believe this will have that much of an impact on the birds considering there is not much food available out there right now. Thanks for your response!!

On December 18th, 2013 at 1:06pm frank said:

A week and a half of freezing temperatures will have that effect. We did a ground count the day before on the area and the numbers were comparable.  Numbers across the region are significantly down due to habitat being locked up.  Things will probably change as conditions thaw out.

On December 18th, 2013 at 12:08pm Anonymous said:

What happened to all of the ducks? Maybe a poorly timed aerial count?

On December 16th, 2013 at 11:42pm frank said:

The warmer daytime temperatures have helped not make the ice any thicker, but the nightly lows have still kept things pretty locked up. Looks like we may get a break towards the end of the week.

On December 14th, 2013 at 2:48pm Anonymous said:

Speaking of Ice. Has the ice softened any in A and B Unit? Looking forward to duck hunting on water again.
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