Duck Creek CA UpdatesMore posts

Bird's-Eye View

Oct 17, 2013

Have you ever wondered what it is like for a duck to migrate cross-country, viewing the landscape from several thousand feet? I’ll have to admit, from time to time I’ll pan the aerial images on Google and Bing looking for clues and signatures that these birds might be keying in on.

The Wetted North

Starting up in Saskatchewan, Canada, there is a matrix of forest and water known as the boreal forest region. The irregular amoeba shaped ponds and lakes dot the landscape and are the birth place for thousands of waterfowl. As you pan south you begin to lose the trees and cross over into the Midwest’s extensive grasslands region. Here too, many ducks are produced each and every year. Another feature that becomes more apparent is the geometric grid of county roads that begin to divide the blue speckled prairies.

The Farm Belt

As you get to North Dakota, you begin to see blue ribbons delineating the river bottoms between the expansive rolling hills that are still pot marked with the erratic pools. The Garrison Dam creates Lake Sakakawea out of the Missouri River drainage before the Big Muddy winds its way south through a series of four more engineered impoundments. As the big river flows southeast, the prairie potholes follow to the north, but the asymmetric features surrender to a more intensive crisscross set of patterns with roads, rectangular crop fields, and semi-circle shadows of center pivots.

Vanished Features

By the time you get to the state of Missouri, features from the air resembling northern wetlands have vanished. Even the serpentine sloughs which are a hallmark of flowing flatlands are reduced. In our state, the major rivers flow through efficiently with limited wiggle room. A few old oxbows exist, but they are hemmed in by roads and levees. Scattered about the developed floodplains are public places like Bob Brown, Grand Pass, Ted Shanks, and BK Leach which have the seasonal signatures of flooding and provide vital stop-over locations for thousands of birds.

Restored Relicts

As you continue to pan south and east and fall below the confluence of the two mighty rivers, you encounter southeast Missouri. Tucked up against the Ozark hills on the western side of the broadening floodplain is a surprisingly large block of wetland habitat. This is the Mingo basin and is where irregular features once again begin to show through the canopy and in between the laterally framed ditches. Serpentine sloughs and irregular mounds dot the sheltered wetland habitat. In recent years on Duck Creek, these features that were once reduced have been pulled back into the lime-light and enhanced.

Sinuous South

Similar hooks, curves, and depressions can be seen further south in Arkansas as the rivers demand more room and respect because of the sheer volume which cumulatively adds up as the core of the country drains to the Gulf. Along Louisiana’s delta, similar to the beginning of our aerial journey, water and trees create an interesting matrix of wetland habitats, which provide seasonal resources to a variety of fowl that have migrated south for the winter.

Wetlands are diverse, which is why they work. We probably will never know exactly what these birds key in on as they fly overhead each spring and fall, but by mimicking the natural variability, we will have a better chance of hitting the mark more times than not.

Over the summer and fall we’ve provided a few bird’s eye views of the renovated marsh. If you would like to day dream about what it would be like to be a duck soaring overhead prior to opening day or are just curious about the big picture, here are a few more aerial shots of the restored wetland habitat for your viewing pleasure. Other posts with aerial photos that were taken earlier this year include: "What to do, teal season is through", "June 2013 Update on Summer Activities", and "Summer Break, Not at Duck Creek".


Flooded habitat for early fall migrants
Flooded Habitat for Early Fall Migrants
Unit B was flooded for teal season this year and has provided habitat for early fall migrants.


Meandering slough with floating leaved plants
Meandering Slough with Floating Leaved Plants
Restored sloughs have retained water throughout the summer. Aquatic plants and animals have responded to the enhanced habitat diversity.


Disked Flats in Unit A
Disked Flats in Unit A
As water is added to the sloughs they spill out of the banks and into the flats where moist soil plants have grown all summer.


Trees, Grasses and Open Water
Trees, Grasses and Open Water
Willow bunches, standing grass, disked openings, and shallow sloughs provide complex habitat structure for migrating waterfowl.


Fall flooded wetlands
Fall Flooded Wetlands
As waterfowl season nears and fall migration progresses more habitat is flooded to meet the needs of migrating waterfowl and the ensuing public use.


6 or 7 seasons out of 10 the over all hunting would be better if we were in the south zone or at least waited till the 15th of November to open our zone. But I will enjoy it no matter when it opens and thanks for listening.

Post-season harvest surveys are sent to 5,000 migratory bird permit holders in Missouri annually and ask them their preferences about when they like to hunt, as well as their satisfaction with season dates and zone boundaries.  Every five years more in-depth surveys are sent to 10,000 migratory bird permit holders in Missouri.  This coincides with when the USFWS offers states the opportunity to submit changes to season structure (zone boundaries and season splits) from a limited set of options.  Along with the survey information 16 public workshops are conducted.  Long-term information on migration timing, weather, and duck harvest are shared with attendees and get their input for consideration.  A detailed report regarding these results from the last iteration is posted at: In 2015, the cycle will roll around and we will go through this process again, ask for your input, and look at the options. So if you get a survey between now and then please fill it out.  After the 2014 waterfowl season, there will be another round of public meetings, so please come out.  Thanks for the questions and the discussion.

So when and how do waterfowl hunter’s provide input on their preferences of season dates and zones?

As you can see, with just one are there are pluses and minuses with season dates.  The process to set season dates and zones across the whole state is done to reach a compromise among duck hunters who hunt different regions, different habitats, and for different species.  As much as is possible, season dates and zones are set to overlap with hunter preferences and during times with the highest probability of experiencing peak duck numbers which includes early migrants and late migrants. 

Very true, the timing of the south zone would be more conducive to when the trees go dormant.  However, the surrounding private land, Otter Slough, and what we’ve enhanced in Units A &B are open, non-forested habitats.  These habitats lend themselves better to being in the Middle Zone as early migrants pass through, which can be seen right now or experienced in a couple days.  Most of our wood ducks are also harvested in the trees earlier in the season before they head south.  The challenge is that things don’t get really good in the timber until the mallards get here which are later migrants.  The repercussions of going later is the higher chances of freezing up. The timber is the last place to thaw so you may not gain any extra days. It is a conundrum and a challenge because the weather, birds, and habitats are variable, let alone everyone's own hunting preference.  Thanks for the questions though, it makes you think.

The answer to the flooded timber issue (not flooding it till half the season is over) is to set the season dates to match the habitat. Not the other way around. The flooded timber hunting at DC and Mingo is extremely unique and rare anymore. I know you guys have nothing to do with the season dates, so who do we need to convince? By the way, I love the circus tent!

Maybe if Duck Creek was in the south zone, you would be able to open the area up at the beginning of duck season instead of waiting a few weeks. Just a thought as I know you don't control the zones.

DD, we are waiting a little longer on Pool 3, we will look at flooding the lower portion of the unit (with the tree species that are more tolerant of flooding) hopefully gaining some opportunity to hunt the 4 center blinds in another week or so. After that, we'll wait for the trees to go dormant before we flood it up fully (into the red oaks and more sensitive species of trees), but believe me we'll make it happen as soon as we deem it biologically ready! Looking forward to a great duck season.

Pool 2 is looking good!!! Any time table on water in pool 3. I know the trees are the deciding factor, just wondering if we had any idea. Thank you guys for your hard work this year, looking foward to Sat morning!!!!

Roy, the Dark Cypress Units will be on a set schedule as they have been in the past.  In Units A and B we will rest fields as necessary depending upon the bird use as the season progresses. We didn’t do that last year because that was the only game in town. Since Pools 2 and 3 blinds will have water this year we will have a little bit of flexibility to benefit the hunting quality by setting a spot to the side now and then. 

Frank, do you guys plan on rotating any Unit B fields like in the past? Or hunting all fields everyday.

A count will be done tomorrow and will be updated on the Waterfowl and Habitat webpage with all of the other areas. No further word on Mingo at this point. We are still shooting for 30 spots for opening day.

Can you tell us how many ducks are currently using Duck Creek? Any word on the use of any additional Mingo Hunting Spots? Any updates on the number of positions ready for opening day?

Great question! The short answer is, “yes”. Cooler temperatures definitely help the trees start to shut down for the winter. However, it isn’t just the ambient air temperature that affects the trees. The lowering of soil temperature is critical in shutting down the tree roots for the winter. Similar to temperature, it isn’t just a broad generalization of tree dormancy that we concerned about.  Our concern with early flooding deals primarily with the survival of the small red oak saplings, the next generation of forest.  We don’t want to short change their chances because of the long-term consequences to forest composition.  I looked at the soil temperatures over the last week and it has dropped 10 degrees so we are heading in the right direction. Thanks for the question.

Will this cold snap have an effect on when the trees go dormant and possibly allow pool 8 to be flooded earlier than anticipated?

Renovation to the Headquarters building is progressing slowly. It is starting to look like a new building as new siding is added on the outside and drywall repaired on the inside.  Completion is expected sometime after the first of the year.  Meanwhile the new tent has been erected and lights added to stand in as our draw room for this year.  Not the ideal situation by any means, but with ducks arriving daily on the wetlands, we are past worrying about it and willing to deal with it for the year!

I didn't mean to scare anyone with the aerial photos.  Actually, my intent was the exact opposite. I've had some great hunts outside the blinds in Unit A and on other areas by squatting in a thick patch of grass, laying in a boat, or covered up on a small "habitat mound" because that is where the birds wanted to be that day. The perspective from the air shows me that through recent management there are patches of open water along the sloughs and disked openings to show early water in the flats better.  I also see wide areas of grass, which I can pick my position to hide in or along the edge.  There are also clumps of thick vegetation within the disked areas forming islands of cover. In a couple spots, there are willows to hide in and in a few years, I'm sure there will be more scattered about.  From the air it looks like a natural marsh with plenty of the foods waterfowl are searching for, especially before the mallards want to head for timber.  When I see these photos I can't wait to get an opportunity to get a perspective from the ground.  I know we all have different perspectives, but I'm excited and hope others are too.

Any updates on headquarters renovations???

With the shortage of crops, what can hunters expect for cover to hind in? What options will be available for the hunters in the field units to use? Will there be things such as permanent blinds, cattails or grass patches available for them hide?

Yes, there are still plans for the C blind area, along with the Fishponds, Field 1 near Kinder, and Greenbrier. We just haven't quite gotten there yet.

I know it has been answered before, but are there still plans for the old C blind?

Now for part two.  You are also correct in that food plots are one of the tools that are in a wetland manager’s toolbox.  It allows us to provide food and hunting cover in the upcoming season, along with setting back succession for next year’s moist soil production.  The wet weather this year limited our ability to use this tool extensively.  Once it was dry enough to get out there, it was hard to think about disking down perfectly good natural food to make room for a crop that might not even make it, especially when you get 6 inches of rain like we did this August. Our decision paid off because instead of losing a lot of crops, we just irrigated the millet and other wetland plants and encouraged them to grow.  I don’t think we are in disagreement on what is important for waterfowl or hunters. Managers have to make decisions every year and every season without knowing exactly what will happen next and they do their best to promote good habitat so that we can experience quality hunting later in the season. Thanks for the questions, looking forward to November. 

Darin, I’ll answer your questions if you don’t mind. Yes, there will be locations along the sloughs that willows and other trees will be allowed to grow.  This spring we actually planted some cypress in certain locations along several of the sloughs.  There are a couple switchbacks or peninsulas, which may be hard to get equipment to reliably, but would lend itself to be a good spot to become a little woolly for ducks and hunters to cozy up beside and get out of the wind.  

Hi Matt, Should any of the willows start to grow along the meandering sloughs in A and B unit what is the plan? To remove them or let them grow in order to create cover and shelter? I hunt other managed wetland areas and there are many willows let to grow along burrow ditches and in sloughs and provide good shelter and protection for wildlife and not to mention hunting cover. I understand that they will take over if you let them, but to let them grow in strategic locations in the separate pools would be a great advantage for the wildlife not to mention hunting positions. Also, offering food plots adjacent to these areas would be a definite plus to the wildlife and hunters. Just a thought? Thanks for your response.

Willows were removed from the levee along the east side of Unit A for a couple of reasons.  First, it is not good for the infrastructure of a levee to allow trees to grow on or around it.  Second, the willows inhibit the flow of water through the high water spillway and they tend to catch debris as it comes in during flood events.  Unit A is intended as an open marsh setting so we will monitor willow invasion carefully, as we want some willows and shrubby cover for hunter concealment and protection for the ducks from the wind.  However, willows can explode into patches that are out of control very quickly.  Hope this helps, thanks for the question!

Is there a reason the willows along the road in A Unit between 10 parking lot and 8 parking lot were mowed down? I thought they were going to be allowed to grow and create a more realistic marshy wetland look(and partially hide the traffic along the road).

I realize some of you all might be just checking in for the first time.  If you are wondering about the Youth Weekend for the Middle Zone. There will be a draw, October 26 -27, at the Duck Creek HQ in the gravel parking area under the tent.  Draw time will be 4:45am.  Number of available positions should be 23: Unit-A (12); Unit-B (4); Fishponds and Kinder Pool (2) Dark Cypress Swamp (5).  Thanks for the interest.  Good luck this season.

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