The results of Maryland's Midwinter Waterfowl Survey found a total of 554,800 birds, down from 1995's 651,300, with fewer diving ducks and snow geese accounting for much of the difference.
Extensive snow and ice cover was present during this year's survey, which resulted in concentrated waterfowl and more southerly distributions for some species. In announcing the totals, Maryland Department of Natural Resources Secretary John R. Griffin noted, Because of the snow and ice cover, we will have to wait and see the results from the entire flyway before drawing any conclusions about this Year's waterfowl populations.
The aerial survey was conducted Jan. 5-21 by teams from the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and DNR's Wildlife Division. It is conducted simultaneously in all Atlantic Flyway states to measure the abundance and distribution of wintering waterfowl.
The total number of puddle ducks observed in 1996 was 60,200, down from 72,900 in 1995. Black ducks increased slightly, from 20,800 in 1995 to 22,300 in 1996.
Total diving ducks declined from 156,300 in 1995 to 120,800 in 1996. Diving ducks, especially canvasbacks and scaup, were concentrated on the Potomac River and along the Bay shore of Anne Arundel, Calvert and St. Mary's counties, where open water was available. The number of canvasbacks, 50,500, continues the rise in population from the early 1990's levels of 25,000-40,000.
The total number of geese observed in the survey declined from 385,100 in 1995 to 342,200 in 1996. Canada goose numbers, though, improved from 259,200 in 1995 to 295,000 in 1996. Interpreting that count is difficult because many resident Canada geese were forced south from northern Maryland's core population. Within Maryland, Canada goose numbers in southern areas of the Eastern Shore were higher than in years with normal weather, while northern areas had fewer geese. The Wildlife Division will conduct a trapping study to determine the juvenile to adult ratio -- a measure of reproductive rates for last summer.
Snow geese declined sharply from 124,800 in 1995 to 45,900 in 1996. They were largely absent from areas on the upper Eastern Shore, where they had been increasing in recent years. It is thought that extensive snow cover may have forced them to other areas.
Tundra swans, at 16,300, remained at levels of recent years.