Wave after wave of redheads boiled off the water ahead of the boat as we raced across the glassy surface of the Laguna Madre just off the south Texas coast. Driven from their feeding grounds, thousands of the birds Redhead online hunting catalog into the air in great, milling swarms, only to settle once again on the surrounding flats. Watching the spectacle in awe, we were privileged to be witnessing one of the world's greatest concentrations of wintering redheads, especially in an area open to public waterfowling.
Our host, research scientist Bart Ballard of the Caesar Kleberg Wildlife Research Institute, cut the throttle and reversed the engine as we approached a palmetto-brushed blind, staked in the shallows at the edge of a small island dotted with scrub oaks.
Formed by rising sea levels roughly 3, years Redhead online hunting catalog, the Laguna Madre of Texas has an average depth of less than three feet, and many areas hold barely enough water to float decoys, making shallow-draft boats a necessity to access much of the estuary.
Its clear, shallow waters provide ideal growing conditions for shoalgrass, a submersed aquatic plant that is a staple food source for wintering redheads and other waterfowl.
My hunting partners, Dr. Steve Adair, DU's national director of conservation programs, and I hopped from the boat into the knee-deep water and began unloading our hunting gear. When we had safely secured everything in the blind, Ballard departed to hide the boat on the far side of the island. The first pale light of dawn broke over the flats as we pitched out the decoys amid a classic waterfowling setting that could have come straight from the canvas of Eldridge Hardie or Herb Booth.
Ballard came striding down the shoreline just as we finished arranging our mixed spread of Redhead online hunting catalog and puddle duck blocks in separate groups on either side of the blind. An Iowa native, Ballard grew up hunting waterfowl in his home state and moved to south Texas to pursue a career in waterfowl research.
His enthusiasm for waterfowling is stronger than ever, despite the countless hours he has spent doing the often tedious work of collecting data for waterfowl research projects.
In the distance, great rafts of redheads covered the surrounding flats like feathered oil slicks, and the strange, cat-like calls of countless drakes drifted across the water through the humid air. Despite the staggering numbers of redheads nearby, the first ducks to approach our decoys were a trio of pintails that sailed down from high over the estuary.
The Laguna Madre also is an important wintering area for these highly prized ducks, particularly during dry winters such aswhen water was in short supply on the rice prairies to the north. The small flock warily circled our spread for several minutes, while we kept our heads down and coaxed them with a chorus of sprig whistles.
Exhibiting typical pintail behavior, the birds never fully committed to the decoys, but made a slow Redhead online hunting catalog pass over the outside of the spread, offering crossing shots to Petrie and Adair, seated on the far side of the blind. Experienced waterfowlers, the biologists smoothly shouldered their bores, and each folded a drake with one shot.
As the sun climbed higher above the estuary, a cool breeze began to blow off the Gulf, putting a light chop on the water.
The waves rousted the great rafts of redheads feeding around us, and several flocks began trading across the flats in our direction. It was only a matter of time before a knot of redheads spotted our decoys and came roaring into the rig.
As Ballard called the shot, I rose from behind the screen of palmettos and tumbled a fully plumed drake from the leading edge of the flock, while Petrie and Adair sent two more skipping across the water through the decoys. We waded to retrieve the birds through the gin-clear shallows covered with mats of shoalgrass uprooted by redheads while feeding on the fleshy rhizomes roots of the plants. Lifting the heavy drakes by their necks, we could see beads of saltwater glistening on their warm feathers as we admired their rich russet brown heads, broad black chests, and slate gray bellies.
Weighing from two and one-half to three pounds, redheads are the second largest members of the pochard family of diving ducks, exceeded in size only by canvasbacks. During the Redhead online hunting catalog hunting era, redheads were almost as highly prized among East Coast epicures as their Redhead online hunting catalog cousins.
During the next hour, several more flights of redheads piled into our rig, enabling us to easily collect our two-bird limits with all drakes. The second bird taken by Adair was wearing a U. Fish and Wildlife Service leg band, stained a dull bronze color by the hypersaline waters of the estuary.
We would later learn that the drake was banded as an adult on a prairie marsh in southern Saskatchewan two years earlier. Inalmost 90 percent of all breeding redheads were surveyed in the Prairie Pothole Region of the north central U. Smaller numbers of redheads nest on valley marshes in the western U. Although redheads breed across the vast prairies of the continent, almost the entire continental population winters in only a handful of limited areas. Favoring an almost exclusively vegetarian diet, redheads historically have wintered on coastal bays and estuaries rich in submersed aquatic vegetation, especially shoalgrass.
As the abundance of these plants has declined along the Atlantic Coast in recent decades, the majority of the continent's redheads are now confined to wintering areas on the Gulf of Mexico. The largest remaining strongholds of shoalgrass Redhead online hunting catalog, consequently, the most Redhead online hunting catalog wintering areas for redheads, are the Laguna Madre estuaries of south Texas and northeastern Mexico.
Unfortunately, the vast beds of shoalgrass that once covered these coastal waters are also declining, foreboding serious consequences for redhead populations. With limited freshwater inflow from the mainland, and among the highest evaporation rates in the U. Few Redhead online hunting catalog of vegetation can withstand such conditions, except for the highly salt tolerant shoalgrass, which flourishes in the clear, shallow waters.