“Catahoola Lake lies west of this place & communicates with the Red river during the time of the great annual inundation; it receives at the West or N.W. angle a Creek called little river, which preserves a channel with running water at all seasons, meandering along the bed of the lake; but all other parts of its superficies during the dry season from July to November & often latter, are completely drained & become clothed in the most luxuriant herbage: the bid of the Lake them becomes the residence of immense herds of Deer, of Turkeys, Geese, Ducks, Cranes &c&cc feeding on the grass and grain; the Duck species being generally found on or near the little river.”– William Dunbar, 1804[i]
William Dunbar described what modern wildlife managers call “moist soil management” for migrating waterfowl. He made his observations at Catahola Lake in northwestern Louisiana, north of the Red River, which is just as important for migrating waterfowl in the modern era as it was in 1804. And this year finding safe, oil-free resting and feeding areas for waterfowl is critical, because oil from the Deephorizon gusher has fouled their winter resting areas along the Louisiana coast.
Waterfowl, migrating from the Upper Mississippi basin, follow the Mississippi and the Tensas rivers south to the northwestern Louisiana wildlife refuges; those migrating from the Central Plains follow the Red River south to the refuges. Should those refuges freeze over during the winter, the birds move south to the Louisiana coastal marshes. If the coastal marshes are hot and dry, they retreat north to the northwestern refuges. My friend, Bayou Woman, complains that it has been so warm in the coastal areas the last few years, that the duck hunters are unhappy because the ducks are all up north. If that is the case this year, that’s good news for the ducks, bad news for the duck hunters, who will have to go north for their hunt.
For years Ducks Unlimited has been urging rice farmers to flood their fields after harvest and invited the ducks to stop, rest, and feed. This year the Natural Resources Conservation Service has started a program that encourages farmers and ranchers in states north of the Gulf coastal states to manage their lands this fall for migrating waterfowl.
In the spring rice farmers build mini-levees in their fields that follow the contours of their fields. The levees hold the water in the fields while the rice is growing. When their rice starts growing, farmers flood their fields, keeping the growing tips of the rice above the waterlevel. When they are ready to harvest the rice, they drain the fields and harvest the rice. Then they reflood the fields for the ducks.
Words and Photographs Copyright by Quinta Scott, 2010, All Rights Reserved
[i] Dunbar, William, “Journal of a Voyage”, Documents Relating to the Purchase and Exploration of Louisiana, Boston, New York,: Houghten Mifflin & Company, 1904, 19.