Mottled Duck Trackers Update

By Dr. Scott Ford

September 3, 2022

This is an update on the research described in Tracking Mottled Ducks in South Texas.

We successfully deployed six transmittered ducks on August 22nd near Kingsville, Texas, and they are all functioning well as of today. Shortly after that deployment, we moved near Los Angeles, TX and the crew has been busy securing permission from ranchers to enter their properties to look for and potentially trap ducks. Ranch access is a big deal as 97% of Texas is privately owned. Although Texans are friendly, there’s a general distrust of outsiders entering their properties, oftentimes for good reason as the ranches are large, have many dangers, and there’s been a number of illegal activities perpetrated by outsiders on private land over the years (poaching and human trafficking to name a few). The weather has also been a big challenge as it has rained far more this summer than usual for the brush country of south Texas. We even had an alligator eat a group of ducks before they could be caught! It may be that in the future we switch over to capturing mottled ducks in this region in wintertime and capture those closer to the coast in summertime.

We have one more week to attempt captures and the crew is optimistic now that we have enough ranch access that we’ll be able to get some more ducks in the days ahead.

In the meantime, I’ve been enjoying Texas hospitality and seeing some new bird species for my life list. A local ranch hosted us last week and Henry, the ranch manager, was very helpful. He gave me a tour of the property and I played ranch hand for a day, helping to distribute deer feed. Contrary to what I had thought, many Texas ranches are not focused just on cattle or oil these days. Instead, they promote wildlife for purposes of guided hunting or wildlife and birding tourism. After a tour of the ranch and living out there for a week, I can see what a big commitment that is. At least in the case of this ranch, Henry is doing a great job promoting a diverse environment, not only of benefit for big game but also all the other wildlife that make up a healthy ecosystem.

Texas Tortoise crossing a road
Texas Tortoise (Gopherus berlandieri) crossing a dirt road on the ranch

Henry has also been a great educator, identifying plant species for me and telling me about their benefits for wildlife and how he manages them. Previously, I had the simple impression that this area of Texas would be tumbleweeds and cacti, cattle and oil wells, and little else. Instead, I’ve learned it’s a vast, ancient flood plain thick with tree-sized brush and interlocked thickets of thorny bushes and prickly pear cacti. It is teeming with colorful songbirds, insects, reptiles, and amphibians in addition to the more obvious rabbits, deer, roadrunners, and raptors. Texas rocks for wildlife diversity.

That’s it for now. I’ll give another update later next week!

Sweeping plain of tall brushland
South Texas Brush Country. This “Brush” is well over your head (3-4 meters high) and composed of many species.

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