The mottled duck has always had a soft spot in my heart.
They are a native duck of the Gulf Coast and always symbolized the brackish-intermediate wetland I love so much.
Growing up on the Gulf Coast of Southeast Texas they were a common sight of my youth and then somewhere in my twenties they started to dwindle.
Now there are restrictive bag limits for hunters and much study of this beautiful but under appreciated waterfowl. The waterfowl conservation community has spent much time studying these species in the last 10 years. While I was looking over various studies one particular tidbit caught my attention.
The Anahuac National Wildlife Refuge began outfitting mottled ducks with transmitters to track their movements in the mid 2000s. And according to refuge officials there have been some surprising results.
“The results indicate that mottled ducks, which normally avoid open water, have begun spending extended time offshore in the Gulf of Mexico. Scientists suspect habitat loss and saltwater intrusion, both a result of coastal development, may be forcing the ducks out of their wetland habitats. Coastal research in other regions shows similar trends, indicating the problem may be more than just local.”
The idea of a puddle duck like the mottled duck in the open waters of the Gulf seems strange indeed, but the fact is we still have much to learn about this species. This study shows why it’s important to learn about wildlife habitat and movements.
The mottled duck is often overlooked because it looks like another species, the black duck. And in fact many hunters call it “black mallard.”
This info from our friends over at Ducks Unlimited should help clear that up:
“The mottled duck can be confused with American black ducks and hen mallards. While both drakes and hens have very similar plumages, the hen is a slightly lighter shade of brown. The mottled duck is a lighter color than the black duck and its blue to green iridescent wing patches (compared to a purple iridescence in black ducks) are rimmed with black (sometimes with a narrow band of white) rather than a distinct white edge as on the hen mallard.
“The mottled duck is a southern species found all along the entire Gulf Coast and the southern Atlantic Coast. The bill of the drake is solid yellow, while the hen has more of a yellow orangish tint with black spots. The legs and feet can be a dull to bright shade of orange for both sexes.”
This is an important species for Texas coastal marshes, and research such as that noted above is key to their survival. With the growing pressure on our wildlife resources, good management is more important than ever. Without such research, managing a species is impossible.
Biologists from the Texas Parks and Wildlife Department Inland Fisheries office in Wichita Falls recently completed fall electrofishing and spring gillnet surveys on Possum Kingdom Reservoir, finding striped bass populations to be at their highest in 14 years.
Biologists found the abundance of striped bass in the lake this year to be the highest they’ve observed since the golden alga fish kills of 2001 and 2003, with one year-class found to have naturally reproduced in the reservoir.
“We did not stock striped bass in 2016, so it was somewhat of a surprise to find quite a few striped bass belonging to that year-class in our survey work,” said fisheries biologist Robert Mauk. “We’ve seen evidence of natural reproduction in the past – not to the extent we’ve seen it in 2016 – but conditions were right for spawning to occur with a high, unimpeded flowing Brazos River.”
Among the striped bass caught in the sampling, biologists found the fish to be in good body condition with lengths ranging from 8 to 30 inches and many of legal length 18-inches and above.
The largemouth bass abundance was also up compared to both 2012 and 2014 survey results, and biologists found the body condition to be good for those legal-length 16-inch and greater sized bass.
“There are plenty of bass just under the legal length that will grow into keepers in the near future, so things are looking up,” Mauk said.
The blue catfish catch rate was the second highest observed in the reservoir since sampling began, with many over the 12-inch minimum length. Biologists didn’t find any blue catfish over 30-inches as they have in years past, but Mauk said the high numbers of those caught under the legal length is a good indicator of future fishing success.
Several other species of sportfish were found to be at their average historical populations and good body weight, including bluegill, white bass and channel catfish. The channel catfish caught ranged from 6 to 23 inches, with those over 20 inches found to be “quite chunky,” Mauk said.
Populations of prey fish gizzard shad were found to be near historical averages, with threadfin shad also found in “decent numbers,” according to Mauk. But the gizzard shad overall sizes were smaller than in the past, which should result in bigger predator fish like bass and catfish in coming years since higher numbers of shad are vulnerable to them in the reservoir.
For more information about fishing Possum Kingdom Reservoir or to find GPS coordinates for artificial structures, visit http://tpwd.texas.gov/fishboat/fish/recreational/lakes/possum_kingdom/.
—from TF&G STAFF