Despite cold weather to the north and a later-than-usual survey date, the number of waterfowl observed during the 2005 Midwinter Waterfowl Survey was average, according to the S.C. Department of Natural Resources.
"Many waterfowlers believe that South Carolina's duck population reaches its peak in mid- to late-January," said Walt Rhodes, wildlife biologist with the S.C. Department of Natural Resources (DNR) stationed at Santee Coastal Reserve near McClellanville, "but this is simply not true. The majority of the ducks wintering in the state are here by December. It takes an extreme, prolonged cold period to the north before additional birds arrive."
Rhodes, together with U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service pilot-biologist, Carl Ferguson, has been conducting the aerial portion of the state's midwinter survey since 1994. The low-level survey, flown at an altitude of 150 feet, is not designed to count all of the ducks in the state. Rather, its objective is to determine the relative distribution of waterfowl species within the surveyed areas of the Atlantic Flyway and to detect trends in each state's wintering population.
"We got a late start this year because weather delays in North Carolina hampered completion of their survey," Rhodes said. "Overall, the number of ducks observed during our survey was similar to the average since 1999. Green-winged teal were the most numerous species observed, followed by ring-necked ducks, Northern pintails, gadwalls and American wigeon."
A total of 74,421 ducks were observed during the annual survey in 2005. This was a 24 percent decline from 2004 but similar to the 1999-2004 annual average of 73,058 ducks.
"Most species were near numbers seen in the state in recent years," Rhodes said. "Mallards, however, remain far below their average, and wigeon were down by nearly 50 percent, which resembles a continental trend with this species. One bright spot was pintails. This species has been in a severe decline continentally, but our numbers during the last three midwinter surveys have been up and fairly stable. I hope this is partly attributed to the more restrictive seasons on this particular species during the last three duck seasons."
In addition to the aerial portion of the midwinter survey, ground surveys are conducted on several state Wildlife Management Areas and federal refuges located around the state.