Bumper crop of food attracts swarms of ducks
By: By JOHN BRANNON Messenger Staff Reporter
Randy Cook applies an old adage — “It’s an ill wind that blows no good” — to a happy hunting situation at Lake Isom.
“We had such a dry summer, Lake Isom dried up,” he said.
But the drought, or ill wind, so to speak, resulted in a windfall profit.
“As the water went down, we got a (bumper crop) of natural waterfowl foods. And now, it’s covered up with waterfowl,” Cook said.
Cook is manager of Reefoot National Wildlife Refuge, comprised of about 10,000 acres, and Lake Isom NWR, comprised of 1,850 acres.
Lake Isom NWR is located five miles south of Reelfoot Lake. About 350 acres of the refuge comprises the lake.
The small lake has rebounded from the drought and is a current hotspot for ducks and geese driven south from the upper Midwest by extreme winter weather of late.
“There’s more birds on Lake Isom this year than we’ve had in many, many years,” Cook said. “Hunters around the lake are happy. Birds have been flying everywhere down there. It’s been a good waterfowl year for us and the hunters who reap the benefit of being adjacent to the refuges.
“We’ve seen over 10,000 birds on Reelfoot (refuge) and way over 50,000 on Lake Isom.”
Jeff Martin, Tennessee Wildlife Resources Agency (TWRA) manager of Reelfoot Lake Wildlife Management Area (WMA), where hunting is allowed, reports a similar phenomenon.
“A lot of new ducks came in on New Year’s Day,” Martin said. “That was the big push. They came in right before this cold spell hit, on that hard north wind. It was so many, it looked like swarms of gnats forming.”
Martin estimates about 50,000 ducks and 30,000 snow geese on Black Bayou refuge. “And there’s a lot of Canada geese. We’re seeing more this year than we have in five or six years,” he said.
Duck season opened the first Saturday in December and continues through the last Sunday in January.
Martin said TWRA will do a midwinter count of waterfowl on Wednesday.
“Next week is our annual midwinter waterfowl count, too,” Cook said. “That’s when there’s an official count across the whole nation as everybody tries to come up with how many birds there are on federal, state and private lands.”
Mike Hayes, owner of Blue Bank Marina at Reelfoot Lake and member of the Tennessee Wildlife Resources Commission, has an unofficial count.
“I am not sure what the state’s got as far as a count, but here’s mine. I’d say that in West Tennessee, we have close to 650,000 to 700,000,” he said. “There’s a lot of ducks on private areas that don’t get included in state and federal surveys. But I’ve talked to a lot of landowners and I can tell you there’s a big bunch of ducks down here right now.”
Hayes said the 30 rooms at the marina are all full and his guide service has all the business it can handle the rest of the waterfowl season. “It’s been a good duck season. The last couple of years have been good. We’re getting a lot of people down here,” he said. “In one of my blinds this week, there was a group of 12 hunters out of Ohio. They killed 65 or 70 ducks.”
Published in The Messenger 1.4.08