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Northwest Tennessee waterfowl numbers on the rise

Northwest Tennessee waterfowl numbers on the rise

Posted: Wednesday, January 13, 2010 9:07 pm
By: John Brannon Messenger Staff Reporter

Northwest Tennessee waterfowl numbers on the rise | Northwest Tennessee waterfowl numbers on the rise
 By JOHN BRANNON Messenger Staff Reporter Come now the witty words of a state wildlife official who knows a thing or two about ducks and geese: “There’s quite a lot of waterfowl in West Tennessee. They just don’t seem to be out riding around much,” said Paul Brown of Tiptonville, Tennessee Wildlife Resources Agency manager of Reelfoot Lake. Simply stated, the birds are here but staying put. Staying put, as in “hunkering down” on state and federal wildlife refuges. And even if they were moving about, a hunter has to get from Point A, the shore, to Point B, the duck blind. Because of the big chill of late, that’s easier said than done. Mike Hayes knows. He’s a member of the Tennessee Wildlife Resources Commission and owner of Blue Bank Resort, located on the south shore of the 15,000-acre lake. “We’ve got a lot of ducks in here right now, but we’re just not able to hunt them in a lot of places,” Hayes said. “Probably 80 to 90 percent of the blinds on the lake, you can’t get to right now. We’ve got a lot of ducks but not a lot of people because of ice.” Ducks aplenty A ground and aerial survey by the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service Jan. 5-8 revealed a total of about 400,000 ducks on several wildlife refuges in northwest and West Tennessee. What about geese? “We don’t have hardly any geese on us (Reelfoot Lake) at all,” Brown said. Of the several species of ducks found at Reelfoot Lake, mallards are most numerous and most popular with hunters. Mallards counted in the USF&WS surveys include: • 89,320 at Reelfoot National Wildlife Refuge; • 85,785 at Lake Isom NWR; “These are good numbers of ducks. To have this many ducks on an 1,850-acre refuge is very good,” said Randy Cook, manager of Reelfoot NWR. • 54,580 at Black Bayou refuge; • 4,180 at Hatchie NWR; • 25,480 at Lower Hatchie NWR; • 128,915 at Chickasaw NWR. “White Lake’s got about 90,000 (ducks). Then there are smaller areas in the Bogota-Dyer County area where there are another 60,000 to 70,000,” Brown said. Big pocket Brown said much of the lake is covered with a layer of ice four to six inches thick. As of Monday, there were few “pockets” that escaped the big chill. “There’s a pocket open from Keystone Park almost to Sandy Beach, which would be almost a mile. It’s 300 yards wide in places,” he said. One would think that’s where the ducks would be. Not so. “That’s the weird part. It’s as if they’re staying on the (federal) refuge,” he said. “They’re getting out and flying some, but they are not going to Reelfoot, as you would think they would. It was so cold for a while, those birds were just on the ground. It was just almost treacherous. And they need a lot of food to sustain them. Dinner bell Randy Cook, the manager of Reelfoot NWR, uses the term “hot food” as a collective noun for the corn and milo planted on a total of 500 acres in the federal refuges in West Tennessee each year. Brown said the state plants about 135 acres of hot food for waterfowl. The purpose of this type “farming” is to provide waterfowl with food other than what nature provides. But with the extreme weather conditions of late, and with the high numbers of waterfowl, will the hot food last? “Normally, they would feed us out,” Cook said. “They would eat all of it. In a year when we have a greater influx of snow geese and weather is extreme with ice and snow, then we could run out of food. “But not right now. We still have food left. We have about 23,600 geese on the (federal) refuge. With the numbers of birds we have right now, we will probably run out soon.” Brown said waterfowl “have gone through (hot food) quickly this year.” “They are getting pretty close to eating their way out of what food we’ve got, and we usually have a lot of it,” he said. “The past few years, we’ve had food left over. This year, though, we’ve had such cold weather for such a long time, and everything being frozen, it changes things. They can’t get into shallow areas where there’s natural plants and other things they feed on. “But they can’t get to it, so they are having use to the corn on the refuges. That’s my point. “Hopefully, we have weather them through the storm. Hopefully, we’ve held them.” Published in The Messenger 1.13.10

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