For Missouri's waterfowl hunters, the sight of mallards fluttering into a spread of decoys is the essence of autumn. The Missouri Department of Conservation manages a number of wetland development areas across the state where waterfowlers can experience the thrill of world-class duck hunting. One such area is Nodaway Valley Conservation Area.
Located north of St. Joseph in Holt and Andrew counties, Nodaway Valley Conservation Area occupies about 3,800 acres of floodplain along the Nodaway River. The Missouri Department of Conservation purchased the area from 1991-93 to restore a portion of the wetlands that once defined the area. The Department's efforts there have created a wildlife oasis for both resident and migratory species, highlighting the importance of wetlands to Missouri's natural landscape.
Naturally, Nodaway Valley is home to a diverse assortment of shorebirds, wading birds and songbirds. Come autumn, it beckons impressive numbers of ducks and geese, making the area popular among the region's waterfowl hunters.
Craig Crisler, a wildlife management biologist for the Conservation Department at Nodaway Valley, said that in 2003, the peak of the waterfowl migration brought about 40,000 ducks to the area at one time. He said he expects that number to increase.
Crisler bases his optimism on the 2,000 acres of new wetlands that the Conservation Department restored in 2002-2003. These marshes straddle the Nodaway River and provide valuable resting and feeding habitat for migrating waterfowl.
To provide nutrition for waterfowl, Crisler said the Department manages about 60-70 percent of the wetland units for food production. The staff manages these units for moist soil foods, like millet and smartweed. It also plants a mixture of row crops. Other areas are planted with corn and milo. This combination provides high protein to help waterfowl maintain good physical condition, as well as high carbohydrates to fuel their migration.
To obtain water for the wetlands, the staff at Nodaway Valley Conservation Area pumps water into the wetlands from the Nodaway River. This ensures that some habitat is available every year.
"Last year, due to the severe drought, the river was really low," Crisler said. "We decided to limit pumping because we didn't want to put any additional stress on the river's aquatic wildlife and aquatic habitat."
Having water in only 60 percent of the wetlands still was enough to draw in thousands of mallards, as well as many other ducks and geese. With 100 percent of the wetland habitat