LITTLE ROCK – Arkansas Game and Fish Commission biologists conducted the annual midwinter waterfowl survey Jan. 1-5, counting an estimated 1.1 million ducks, including about 750,000 mallards, in the state’s Delta region. The total duck and mallard counts represent a roughly 50 percent decline in numbers from the December aerial survey period.      The midwinter estimate for mallards is about 40 percent below the three-year average, while the total duck estimate is roughly 35 percent below the three-year average. But this year’s midwinter numbers were similar to counts from last year’s midwinter survey, when biologists counted about 1.2 million total ducks and just over 670,000 mallards.      “Prior to last month’s survey, short-term cold weather conditions in combination with increased habitat availability appear to have triggered migration to many parts of the state,” said AGFC waterfowl program coordinator Luke Naylor. “But mild temperatures have dominated in recent weeks, and despite continued good habitat conditions, it’s likely there was a reduction in migration events prior to this survey period.”      Much colder air is in the weather forecast for the next couple of days, with a brief period of very cold air predicted to take hold through the first part of the weekend. The Arctic air mass is forecast to hit the state tonight and tomorrow, bringing nighttime temperatures in the 20s and strong winds. Temperatures are expected to return to normal or above normal by next week.      The distribution of ducks across the Delta wasn’t uniform, and most birds were found north of the Arkansas River, and predominantly north of Interstate 40. Only two survey strata had more than 100,000 mallards; only three strata had more than 100,000 total ducks. In fact, biologists estimated more than 40 percent of mallards were in the Cache River strata alone.      Habitat conditions remained good across much of the state, but water levels are dropping in many locations, including wildlife management areas. The Cache River has dropped significantly, with the level on the Patterson gauge falling to just about a half-foot above flood stage. The White River at Clarendon is near flood stage and forecast to drop to about 1 ½ feet below flood stage by Saturday morning.      Abundant flooded fields still exist along waterways such as the Black, Cache, White, Bayou DeView and the L’ Anguille. As in December, many ducks still seem to be concentrated within flooded fields with limited public access, including publicly managed waterfowl rest areas as well as private lands apparently managed as private waterfowl rest areas.      Duck distribution maps highlight concentrations of ducks in the Delta along the Black and Cache river corridors. Biologists saw most mallards in rice and bean fields and moist-soil wetlands, with a higher percentage of observed mallards using rice fields during this survey than during the December survey.      “Widespread habitat continues to be available across much of the state, but weather conditions have not been favorable for sustained duck migration events over the past few weeks,” Naylor said. “This could partly explain the observed decrease in estimated duck numbers.”      Another possible explanation for the decline may be the location of ducks following dropping water levels in the river bottoms.      “During the December survey, biologists observed a higher percentage of ducks using habitats outside forested lands, particularly in Wetlands Reserve Program lands,” Naylor said. “Many of these areas are immediately adjacent to these remaining forest blocks and at slightly higher elevations. As water levels in major floodplains continue to fall, it’s likely many ducks, particularly mallards, have moved into the core forested portions of these habitat blocks. It’s possible this led to a low-biased population estimate this survey because of the known difficulties in seeing ducks in forested wetlands.”      The winter of 2011-2012 is shaping up to be one of the warmest in recent times, and a notable lack of snow cover in the northern U.S. will likely continue to impact Arkansas duck populations and hunting success.      While this waterfowl report seeks to provide information that is as timely as possible, hunters should keep in mind there’s often a lag of two or three days between the time field reports are received and this report is published. Thus, actual water levels and percentage of flooded habitat may differ from what’s reported here. The AGFC encourages hunters to check stream gauges (links are provided at the end of this report) and physically scout potential hunting areas to determine actual field conditions.