When The Cat’s Away, The Ducks Will…
By Steve Olson and Chris Cain
Another year, but the same story. Like last year, both our breeding waterfowl and habitat survey and banding program in Canada was canceled. At least we knew we could return to the South-central desert wetlands of Oregon for another season of mallard mayhem though! Once again, the Pacific Flyway crew was comprised of Joe Sands, Chris Cain, and myself (as crew lead). Our goal was 2,000 mallards (500 of which were to be adult males (AM)). We caught and banded 1,967 total ducks, of which 1,923 were mallards (1,439 adult males). We also recaptured 305 previously banded birds, and 227 of those were birds we had just banded last year.
We departed and arrived from our homes on July 31, but this year, Chris brought a surprise: four trail cameras for us to use in scouting and planning our trap site locations. Chris mounted each trail camera near the bait sites and traps for four different locations. When we figured out what we needed to know at a given location, he would move a camera to a new site. He adjusted cameras to work in the day and night, and to take high quality photos followed by a 15-second video upon being triggered by activity.
For almost two decades, I have relied solely on in-person, on-the-ground observations for site selection, timing of trap building, and making sense of daily catch fluctuations. Making these types of decisions on a daily basis can be a little overwhelming if you don’t have an adequate scouting report, or you only visit each site once a day. The trail cameras provided information on the prior 24 hours of activity around the trap and either verified our observations or shed new light onto something we could never have known. It also increased confidence in our decisions. Because a trail camera’s motion sensor only reaches so many feet in front of the camera it will never be able to capture every movement, but it did capture the most important movements next to the site. You can trap ducks without using trail cameras, but you can also be more successful with their use and at the end of our month, I can fully recommend their use as a tool in trapping ducks.