Category Archives: Ducks, Geese, & Birds

Texas Dove Hunting Season: Lock & Load!

Dove hunting is a big deal in Texas. We’ve got a number of dove species found across the state, but the most widely known species by hunters are mourning and white-winged doves. I always look forward to dove hunting season, and not just because it is the first a long line of Texas hunting seasons. September 1 is always looked upon favorably, even if it’s just a fair opening day.

Texas is home to lots of doves. Lots! Wildlife officials estimate Texas has a resident mourning dove breeding population of about 50 million birds. That is significantly more than any other state and about 18 percent of the nation’s total mourning dove population of 275 million.

The numbers increase substantially once the millions of migrant mourning doves from northern states that pass through Texas each fall, and a rapidly expanding white-winged dove population that has exploded to well over 10 million over the last decade or so. All those birds make for good dove hunting, which makes for a large dove harvest.

Last hunting season was great one according to harvest figures from the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. In summary, 300,000 Texas dove hunters shot more than 5.5 million mourning doves and nearly 2 million white-winged doves during the 2014-15 season. Fire up the grill. That’s a lot of bacon and jalepenos.

The banner harvest, up significantly from 2013, came largely as the result of optimum nesting conditions that put big numbers of young birds in the field ahead of the 2014 season opener. Wildlife officials are saying the upcoming dove hunting season may be just as good as last year thanks to abundant spring and summer rainfall that created banner nesting conditions for doves and left behind optimum habitat ripe with good dove forage.

No matter which corner of Texas you dove hunt, expect birds to be in good numbers. If you have food for our winged friends in the form of shredded sunflowers or waste grain in harvested ag fields, then expect great dove hunting. Good luck!

Richland Creek WMA Hunting & Birding at Wetlands

Richland Creek Wildlife Management Area is known for producing large-antlered white-tailed deer, but it’s man-made wetlands also offer excellent duck hunting and birding opportunities. The north unit has had wetland impoundments for some time, but recent and additional wetland development has increased surface water, making the area even more attractive to wintering waterfowl and shorebirds.

Source: “The benefit of the a wetlands project such as this one is it actually accomplishes more than one goal,” Kramer said. “It is much more beneficial than other types of wastewater and water supply projects because it provides habitat for birds and other types of wildlife.”

While the bird counts vary throughout the year, Symmank said they have soared as high as 30,000. Last week, about 10,000 birds were hanging out, many getting ready to head northward for the spring migration. By April, most will be gone, having flown off for the Dakotas, Canada or even Alaska. Besides hunters, the wetlands are also becoming an increasingly popular place with birders.

During field trips over Feb. 27-28, the Texas Ornithological Society counted 84 species of birds on the wildlife management area’s two units. The 5,209-acre North Unit contains the wetlands while the 9,029-acre South Unit in Freestone County consists of bottom-land hardwood forest.

“The bird population down there — it’s just gone crazy, it’s just increased exponentially,” said D.D. Currie, the regional director for Piney Woods region of the Texas Ornithological Society who splits time between Arlington and a second home in Henderson County a few miles from the wetlands.

Currie, who has traveled all over Texas to see birds, said she can now find most of them at the wetlands. “Five years ago, you wouldn’t have seen a white-faced ibis there but now you can see as many as 30,” Currie said. “There so many bald eagles out there, they’re like gnats. Now there’s a dozen out there with a breeding pair on the South Unit.”

But this time of year, ducks are the predominant species. The northern pintail duck was the most prevalent last week, but there also were plenty of northern shovelers, gadwalls, green-winged teals, blue-winged teals and mallards. While the ducks showed a preference for the water, a juvenile bald eagle and a northern harrier hawk alternated between flying over the wetlands and perching atop nearby trees.

“A lot of pintails will be leaving soon, and we’ll see a flush of more blue wings coming through,” Symmank said. And this summer, they’ll be replaced by a new population of birds, including wood storks, roseate spoonbills, great egrets and great blue herons. Hunters are finding plenty of ducks in the wetlands public hunting areas.

During the duck season that ended on Jan. 24, almost 2,600 hunters came to Richland Creek and killed 7,833 birds, according to Parks & Wildlife statistics. While duck hunting has declined in popularity across some areas of the country, it is growing in Texas. The estimated number of duck hunters climbed from 54,675 in 2008-2009 to 99,514 in 2013-2014, according to Parks & Wildlife.

“I don’t know why,” Symmank said. “It’s just becoming more popular in Texas. The TV show “Duck Dynasty” is real popular. That may have something to do with it but I don’t know.” Many first-timers come to public lands to try out duck hunting and they often have questions. “It’s more complicated than some other forms of hunting,” Symmank said. “I end up walking people through on the phone about what permits they need.”

Because of the nasty weather — and with duck season being over — the birds were largely undisturbed last week. But hunters from as far away as Minnesota and Wisconsin were camping at the wetlands and searching for feral hogs. For birders, Currie said, it is important to be aware of the hunting seasons when visiting the property.

“It’s an active wildlife management area so there could be hunters there,” Currie said. “It’s pretty primitive so you need to take a lunch and take some water and be prepared to go the bathroom behind a tree. You’ll need to allot quite a bit of time to see it all out there.”

Texas Offers Public Hunting for Waterfowl and More

Hunting on Texas Public Land

For many Texas duck hunters, the Texas Parks and Wildlife Department’s (TPWD) Annual Public Hunting Permit (APH) Program allows economical access to quality hunting on the state’s wildlife management areas (WMA). With a $48 APH, available for purchase wherever hunting and fishing licenses are sold, hunters have regular access during the season to some of the state’s prime managed wetland habitat.

The hunting is typically good, but as TPWD biologists are quick to point out, there are no guarantees when it comes to migrating ducks. However, things are looking really good right now. TPWD says Texas duck hunters should see more action during the upcoming early teal season, Sept. 13-28, thanks to near record numbers of birds and an anticipated typical migration pattern.

Teal Hunting Looks Good

Prospects for early teal season are looking very good, especially compared to the last few years, according to Texas Parks and Wildlife Department Waterfowl Program Leader Kevin Kraai. “First, blue-winged teal populations are near record high and production reports are excellent. Additionally, unlike last year’s very late spring, nesting efforts were more on time this year and thus should result in a timely migration that will overlap better with our teal season dates.”

Texas hunters can take up to six teal daily during the 16-day season. The possession limit is three times the daily limit, which cannot be applied before the third day of the season. Information about these areas and TPWD’s public hunting program are available online at their website.

Duck Hunting by Region

Biologists say habitat conditions across most of Texas are much improved from previous years. The coastal marshes and prairies were rapidly drying out late this summer before some very welcomed rainfall the end of August put more shallow fresh water on the landscape and freshened up salty marshes and that means teal and other ducks will be using them in higher numbers. There are several public hunting areas for waterfowl along the upper and middle Texas coast.

The ponds, lakes, and reservoirs of central and eastern Texas could use some additional water, biologists suggest, but hunters that seek out the shallow waters of many of the water bodies that remain will likely encounter many of the migrating teal leaving the breeding grounds moving though the area daily. These areas should offer good waterfowl hunting during the early season and late season.

Playa wetlands of the Texas panhandle also received good rainfall early in the summer and some are still holding water that will attract early migrating ducks. These wetlands are very dynamic and many are rapidly drying with recent warm windy days and could use some additional rainfall to assure their presence on the landscape into the fall. Expect cold weather to push birds into the region during mid-hunting season.

Duck Habitat Dry, Texas Teal Hunting Season in Air

“It’s just one of the things that ducks really like… water. If you don’t have it then the ducks keep going,” said East Texas duck hunter Chad Robbins. “Then your up a creek without a paddle, only you don’t need a paddle because it’s bone dry.” And it’s true. Blue-winged teal, like other ducks, need surface water to make a living. And although stock tanks can hold birds, many teal will look for large expanses of water to rest on their trip south.

There is only so much shallow water management impoundments can do. If you have your water control boards in and it doesn’t rain, then your duck hunting habitat is a no show, just like the ducks. Though many teal will make a bee-line for the coast, East Texas can hold a few birds, too. Continue reading

Golden-Cheeked Warbler Population, Management in Texas

The little bird named the golden-cheeked warbler is well known in Central Texas. This endangered bird is the most famous of all the endangered species to call the Texas Hill Country home. Surveys conducted years ago estimated the golden-checked warbler population in Texas at 9,000 to 54,000 birds. This startling number increased habitat management activities for this depressed population, but now it seems there may be more than previously believed. Researchers from Texas A&M University say there could be many, many more than initially thought.

Source: “The researchers calculate the rangewide population of male warblers in Texas at a shade over 263,000. Previous surveys counted roughly 9,000 to 54,000 birds. The work will be published in the Journal of Wildlife Management; it was posted on the journal’s website earlier this year. Continue reading

Bald Eagles in Llano, Texas

Most folks don’t even know we have bald eagles in Texas, but they are found here. In fact, they even nest and raise their young here. If you have ever driven eight miles east of Llano, Texas, on State Highway 29, you might have noticed cars parked on the side of the road, pedestrians with binoculars and cameras, and everyone looking up. That just happens to be the best spot in Texas to see, up close, a pair of nesting bald eagles in Texas. The eagle nest is located right on the Llano River. The Llano provides good sources of water, food and suitable trees for nesting eagles.

Historically, a bald eagle pair has had four active nest sites along this one-half-mile stretch of the river real estate in eastern Llano County since the late 1980’s. Two of the nest sites have been destroyed by natural causes and the third was abandoned for unknown reasons. The current nest site, which was established in 2010, is located on private ranch about 100 yards from State Highway 29, and has been a major tourist attraction for Llano County. Continue reading

Whooping Cranes at Granger Lake

Granger Lake is well known by anglers looking for catfish and crappie, and duck and deer hunters know the Granger Wildlife Management Area offers great hunting, but the place has definitely gone to the birds as of late! Yes, there are whooping cranes at Granger Lake. At least six of these endangered birds have taken up residence at the lake since early December 2011. These birds normally make the 2,500 mile trek from northwest Canada to winter at Aransas National Wildlife Refuge, but not this year.

The six whooping cranes at Granger Lake are actually two families of cranes. The fact that these birds are hanging out around the lake this year are stirring up the curiosity of bird watchers across the state. About two months ago, reports started coming in to Granger Lake Manager, James Chambers, that a family of three whooping cranes, two adults and a juvenille, had been spotted nearby. Shortly after the initial whooping crane reports, another family of cranes found out about Granger Lake.

Texas Parks and Wildlife has a particular interest in the birds because they typically winter near Aransas, Texas. Why are these birds here? Biologist believe these birds have found what they are looking for, food. Whooping cranes eat clams, insects and even waste grain found in agricultural fields. The drought of 2010 has left Granger Lake at very low levels, exposing plenty of clams for the whoopers. In addition, many corn fields were simply mowed-over last year, leaving plenty of corn for the birds. Continue reading