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Waterfowl Habitat Workshop at The Catfish Farm

The timing for the waterfowl habitat workshop could not have been better considering that duck hunting season just ended. Waterfowl managers could now visit duck ponds still holding migratory waterfowl without worry of disturbing the ducks. The Catfish Farm is located in the Pee Dee region and does not have any tidal influence on its waterfowl habitat, which includes flooded agricultural impoundments and a green tree reservoir complex.

            The Director of the Kennedy Waterfowl and Wetlands Center based at the Baruch Institute in Georgetown is Dr. Rick Kaminski. “We should be mindful that this is the 100th Anniversary of the Migratory Bird Treaty Act signed in 1918,” said Kaminski. “That’s a long time to be managing migratory waterfowl, and the North American Waterfowl Plan is the greatest continental ecosystem management plan worldwide.” Kaminski also shares that while duck numbers are trending upward in modern times, duck hunter recruitment numbers are decreasing.

            Ben Powell is the Clemson Cooperative Extension member tasked with planning the Pee Dee Waterfowl workshop. Winyah Land and Timber, SCDNR, Ducks Unlimited and the Nemours Wildlife Foundation provided meeting materials or on site expertise to help convey the message of wetland conservation. The Catfish Farm is owned by Richardson Construction Company, and longtime manager Lynn Collins was happy to answer any questions about how they attract migratory ducks and honor waterfowling traditions.

            Bob Perry is a wildlife biologist with Palmetto Natural Resources Management consulting firm, after retiring in June 2017 after 39-years with SCDNR. “I first came to The Catfish Farm in 1999, when aquaculture practices raising commercial catfish were still underway,” said Perry. “Since the initial waterfowl management plan we crafted here, I can document the history of waterfowl using the property.” The Catfish Pond is located near Marion, and occupies 1100-acres once known as Cypress Creek Bay, and lies in between the Little Pee Dee and Great Pee Dee Rivers.

             The actual catfish pond basins remain intact, but other impoundments have been created around these ponds and some are planted in rice and corn, while other areas are managed moist-soil habitat wetlands covered by grasses, sedges and native vegetation. “Disking or rotovating soils is an effective way to stimulate moist-soil plants in the seed bank,” said Perry. “Early successional smartweeds are prolific seed producers. Biologists watch for indicator species of plants to tell if an area is too wet or too dry during the growing season.”

            Perry is also a duck hunter who is glad to share advice. “Six-inches of water depth is the magic number when it comes to attracting ducks to your pond,” said Perry. “Keeping water levels constant helps to promote site fidelity and foraging. When it comes to hunting ducks remember to limit all disturbance in the area during the entire season, limit the number of shells allowed, limit the actual hunting hours, use smaller gauge shotguns when able, and be adaptive to schedule duck hunts to coincide with ducky weather conditions.”

            SCDNR Game Warden Captain Billy Downer addressed the current baiting regulations regarding waterfowl. This is a tricky subject, but in general managers may not manipulate any crop grown where waterfowl hunting occurs in the year of planting. One exception is the fact that the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service allows for mowing the grassy tops of chufa before flooding to attract ducks. Some good news gleaned from Capt. Downer is that a second year or volunteer crop of browntop or Japanese millet can be manipulated like natural vegetation and still be legal to hunt over.

            Alicia Farrell is new to SCDNR as the manager of coastal WMA lands. She spoke about duck pond infrastructure such as levees, dams and water control structures. Farrell was once a student of Dr. Kaminski and they both bring knowledge from their time spent in the Mississippi Flyway. Aerial duck surveys, Lydar mapping, ratoon rice crops and creation of hemi-marsh habitat are just some of the exciting practices underway today in South Carolina wetlands.

            Marion Barnes with the Colleton County Clemson Extension shared his knowledge on cropland practices for waterfowl. “Due to loss of natural food sources, abundant agriculture has shifted duck patterns of migration,” said Barnes. “Grassy corn stands provide both food and cover for ducks so remember to reduce seedling rates and widen row spacing.” When planting grain sorghum, Barnes stresses that sugar cane aphid control is warranted.

            Finally, if you produce quality wildlife habitat you undoubtedly will attract nuisance wildlife. Ben Powell outlined how exclusion fencing is effective on white-tailed deer, but feral hog control entails a more vigorous defense. Beaver and muskrat can be trapped, while unwanted blackbirds can be harassed using propane air cannons. Striking a balance between these undesirable critters and your management goals will test the resolve of any waterfowler.

 

Jeff Dennis is a Lowcountry native. Read his blog at LowcountryOutdoors.com

Jeff Dennis, Contributor (345 Posts)

Jeff Dennis is a Lowcountry native. Read his blog at www.LowcountryOutdoors.com