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Photo by Brian Hansel A mallard hen guides her ducklings across an Otter Tail County pond. The local reports on duck broods have been good this year.

Nest success

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There will be some extra quacking and honking on Minnesota ponds this summer as local waterfowl celebrate one of their best breeding seasons for a long time.

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The Fish and Wildlife Service will not release official data on their fall flight forecast until August but the cursory numbers look very promising.

"No. 1, we're in a wet year and water conditions are excellent," Fergus Falls Wetland District manager Kevin Brennan said. "We were wet early and we've got enough rainfall now where our temporary basins are still holding water in the middle of June. There is water everywhere. We are seeing lots of birds. We are seeing a lot of mallards and blue-winged teal. We are also seeing an exceptional number of shovelers so it looks like a good duck production year. My guess is that this is going to be definitely above average, from the standpoint at least the Dakotas and western Minnesota putting birds into the flyway."

Wadena's wetlands have more acid which do not productive of invertebrates and draw ducks. There is a pocket around New York Mills-Heinola that is pretty good.

Brennan saw three broods of canvasback on one pond in the Fergus Falls area which is something he has not seen in his 23, years in Minnesota.

"Its one thing to attract pairs and have them nest but it's another thing for them to actually raise their young and get them down to the water," Brennan said. "It looks like nest success is pretty good. I don't see a lot of adults without broods."

The Prairie Pothole Region of North America lies west of Wadena County. The PPR, which runs up into the Prairie provinces of Canada, produces the bulk of the continental waterfowl traffic, and Minnesota, which sits atop the Mississippi Flyway, is the recipient of some of the best fall hunting.

The rebound of waterfowl in Minnesota and the Dakotas comes at a good time for the state. Duck stamps sales failed to reach 100,000 for the first time in 20 years in 2008, finishing at 95,467. Duck hunter numbers have declined by 35,000 over the last eight years and there is concern that younger hunters will not be filling the void.

Added to the problem of a shrinking population of hunters has been some poor duck hunting conditions in the state. DNR Waterfowl Staff Specialist Steve Cordts rated the first days of Minnesota's 2008 season as fair but heard mainly negative reports in late October and November, when two major weather systems failed to push a large northern flight of mallards into the state. Scaup numbers were so low that Minnesota restricted hunters to a one or two-bird daily limit.

The rebound also helps the Duck Recovery Plan -- which is shooting for a breeding population of one million birds. The plan has been threatened by the loss of Conservation Reserve Program habitat and dry weather. Recovery planners at one time estimated it would require 2 million additional acres to meet their goal.

"We've lost some CRP habitat in recent years and we could lose more over the next few years, but we have been adding close to the amount that would be required to accomplish this on a 50-year period," Cordts said.

Cordts sees the Canada goose population remaining high -- but not growing. The state has been above its goal of 250,000-300,000 for the last eight years but hunters are keeping their numbers in check by taking some 200,000 birds a year -- half of those during the September season.

Minnesota's waterfowl opener is tentatively set for Saturday, Oct. 3. The September goose hunt has been set for Sept. 9-22.

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