Ep. 554 – Monthly Roundup – Season’s End, Duck Science, Snakes in the Pit, and Upcoming Projects

Chris Jennings: Everybody, welcome back to the Ducks on the podcast. I'm your host, Chris Jennings. Joining me today is Katie Burke, another host. How are you? Hi, Chris. Also joining me today for this mid-month kind of roundup is Dr. Mike Brasher. Mike, how are you? I'm doing well, Chris. Good. We just wanted to get a little wrap-up, kind of a, not even really a wrap-up, it's kind of a round-up, should probably be a better term for it.
Mike Brasher: Yeah, we started doing these like mid-month, which isn't really good for a round-up, I think.

Chris Jennings: Not a wrap-up, but maybe a round-up on just what's going on, you know, what Mike's been up to, what Katie's been up to. What Chris has been up to. different things that we're doing throughout the organization that you should be aware of. And so, Mike, do you want to go ahead and kick us off with, you know, you went to the North American Duck Symposium just last week.

Mike Brasher: We did that. Is it okay if I, if I say let's go back to mid-January? Yeah, go ahead.

Katie Burke: This is very informal and should go that way.

Mike Brasher: So, when we did our January roundup, wrap up, we were actually in Mississippi. Katie, at your family's hunting camp there, and had a good hunt that day out in the rain. And that was, I think we mentioned right before we had some cold weather coming in, and that was right before the ridiculously cold freeze that hit all of the mid-continent. and locked everything up for a good week. I mean, it was like minus 7. What was the lowest temperature that you remember seeing? Like minus 7.

Katie Burke: Yeah, it was right there.

Chris Jennings: Yeah, I felt like we were like minus 3, minus 4 or something like that.

Mike Brasher: I woke up one morning and looked at my phone. It was like minus 5, minus 7. I was like, what in the world?

Chris Jennings: That's pretty cold for down here.

Mike Brasher: It sure is. And so, you know, you had reports of people, from people like five inches of ice and taking, yeah, it locked up a lot of habitat. And so everything I believe was, for the most part, pretty slow. Now, folks that had access to open water, I heard some folks did pretty good. Did y'all get any reports from that?

Katie Burke: No, so I stayed in Charleston because once I found out, I was like, well, school's not happening and work's not happening, so I just stayed with my parents so I'd have extra help with kids. We hunted the next day right before it came in and it was awful. It was pretty like nothing to it. And then dad went in every day and he would call me and it was all frozen. He had one little spot, but not big enough to really hold any ducks.

Mike Brasher: Chris, you have a spot over in Arkansas that you go to on occasion. I'm sure it froze.

Chris Jennings: Yeah, we had no open water. We're hunting rice fields that have three to five inches of water. Those things turn into parking lots pretty quick. I mean, you could drive a Ranger out across those fields on the ice if you wanted to. But yeah, I mean, we probably had, I'd say, almost seven straight days with everything closed.

Katie Burke: Yeah, I was gonna say, it locked up through the next weekend.

Chris Jennings: And it locked up even further south. And so, I mean, talked to my buddies up in Indiana. They had ducks everywhere. Unfortunately, their duck season was out. You know, so that was kind of a bad timing for them. I think that whole mid-latitude area, Indiana, Illinois, they kind of took the brunt of The season, just in the fact that they did not get really cold weather until late in January, kind of too late for them. I know the guys up there who were hunting Canada geese doing really well, that was still in. They were all over them. Those geese finally pushed like south of that Milwaukee, Chicago area. Um, and moved into Illinois and Indiana, Ohio, you know, where guys could really get after him. Um, but yeah, I mean, it was a game changer for everyone across the board. I know guys here locally who were bad.

Mike Brasher: Yeah.

Chris Jennings: Good and bad. I mean, I know guys here who were hunting locally, um, sitting on massive numbers of mallards that they had not seen all season on the rivers. Uh, the cash, the white, you know, they got pretty busy. There's a lot of people down there. Um, And all over, I mean, got new guys who were on the Arkansas river, um, doing really, really well. And so it was just a matter of if you could get access to them, you could get on them.

Mike Brasher: You know, it's interesting. I think as part of that conversation, Katie, we had, we were talking about what to expect with all that cold weather that was coming in. And I think, you know, given it was mid January, I made a mate might have remarked that. Some of these birds are definitely going to move. It's going to push some birds into more southerly latitudes, but I didn't think that people should expect every single mallard or every single duck that was north of Missouri to try to vacate the places where they were. And I saw some data from folks like Doug Osborne. I don't remember if I'd seen anything from… our folks at Tennessee Tech doing the Mallard study in West Tennessee on what they saw, but I'm pretty sure it was Doug that made a post. And I don't have the percentage, but what I can say is that not every bird that he was showing that he had marked moved substantial distances south. A portion of them did, 20, 30% if I had to guess, but a good chunk of them stuck it out, found some open water, get into January, February, and we worked with folks at Cornell a few years ago, evaluating waterfowl response, mallard response, and other species response to that cold outbreak we had in February from a few years ago. Some of them move, but not all of them. I mean, they will stick it out if they can, and that's kind of what I think we saw this year. We did see some new birds. I experienced that, certainly on the thawing side of things. But the other interesting aspect of any event like that is you see some weird, unusual things. When ducks and geese or any kind of bird gets stressed because of food shortages, a potential food shortage, just when everything is freezing and so forth. Ducks are going to do different things, whether you're talking about songbirds at your feeder in the backyard, or whether you're talking about like 16 juvenile snow geese that I came across in a frozen soybean field in North Mississippi, North Central Mississippi, that allowed me to walk within about 50 feet of them. They were done. They were done. They were, they were feeding until 15, 20 minutes after dark. Craziest thing I'd ever seen. One of the craziest. I've seen a lot of crazy things. I mean, I work with y'all, right? So, um, but it's, I was out there deer hunting and it just, largely dry soybean field. They were out there all day, all afternoon, 20 minutes after dark, and just trying to get every last bit of food they could. Those are the type of things that you see when we get these dramatic cold outbreaks. And that's still one of the things that as a science community, don't fully understand. I think there's just a lot of individual variation in the decisions that ducks and yeast will make, you know, dependent upon their physiological condition. It's like they can't look at the seven-day forecast, right, and say, it's going to be okay. I'm going to make a decision to stick it out. But why some will try to stick it out, why others don't, and then what the physiological or potential survival consequences of those decisions are, I think is something that we're still figuring out, and I think a lot of the work that these individual tracking devices is doing. starting to help us understand. So, anyway, those types of events are really cool because of the way it affects the birds and what we as hunters and others see.

Katie Burke: I wonder if the age of the bird has anything to do with the decision.

Mike Brasher: Oh, I'm sure it does. Yeah, like those nearly, I think there was only one adult in that flock of geese that I was talking about. The rest of them were juveniles and they were like, they were lost. They were lost.

Katie Burke: They're like, we lost our chaperone and now I don't know where to go.

Chris Jennings: I mean, I know several guys in Arkansas during that freeze who ended up, or probably just after, who shot Canada Geese in Arkansas. Now, granted, those birds could have just gotten froze off of the local golf course and drifted into, you know, there's a possibility of that, but multiple people here around the building. Still, places where they wouldn't have expected to shoot.

Mike Brasher: Exactly.

Chris Jennings: And a lot of them were singles or pairs or something. It wasn't like big groups, wasn't like a big migrating flock or anything, but, you know, shooting Canada's in the Arkansas rice field is quite the anomaly. Yeah. And, you know, several people did it. So, that's pretty cool. But yeah, I mean, I think after everything started defrosting, got some rain.

Mike Brasher: Got a lot of rain. That was the awesome thing, is we had a thaw with a bunch of rain. Yeah.

Chris Jennings: And I was actually in Vegas at the SHOT Show. During the fall, of course, it always works out that way. Um, but even come returning back from that, I mean, it was still raining when I got back. Um, and I didn't get back over to Arkansas until that last weekend, the Saturday before it went out and, uh, pouring down rain, you know, water everywhere. Every ditch over there is full. Um, and that really, just spreads those birds out everywhere. So, our end of the season was probably not even as good, even with the fall and the ice and everything, like the end of our season was not as good as what the beginning was.

Katie Burke: No, there was like two to three days of awesome though. Yeah. Like right on the, well, you were at SHOT Show. Because I was doing the… I guess it was the conservation committee was meeting here.

Mike Brasher: The conservation programs committee.

Katie Burke: Yes. So I was giving them tours of the museum Thursday morning and I got a phone call in the between time from my dad saying, get here. You got birds. Yeah, get here. There are lots of birds. So I finished that and took off. And shot him that afternoon. Three of us limited out that afternoon.

Mike Brasher: So, funny story or similar story. I was… The rain ended up cancelling the little field trip that we had for the CPC. We were going to go visit with some local researchers and do… Actually, it wasn't the rain. It was the ice from the previous, the preceding week. Because that had disrupted the banding efforts, capturing banding efforts of that crew. And that's what we were going to introduce the CPC to. And so we couldn't do that, and so that kind of freed me up to go to Mississippi and go hunting. So I went to North Mississippi Thursday afternoon. I was not successful that afternoon, but there was so much new water, and that's what I was hoping for in that area, because just two weeks prior, it was still cracked earth dry. Well, that fundamentally changed. There still wasn't a whole lot of birds there. Thursday afternoon, I didn't fire a shot. I did start to scout a little bit and learn a few of the areas. Well, I learned where the water was on that particular rain event, and then the next morning, I was able to get across the creek and get to a place where I wanted, and I shot four mallards, a wood duck, and a green wing in about an hour, hour and a half. Not a lot of birds, but it's that type of behavior that I know they're gonna do. They're gonna go to those places, those newly flooded fields, and it's exactly what happened. I mean, it's the same thing that I did last year to end the season. Had a pretty good hunt in that same area, same conditions. Those birds there are just predictable.

Katie Burke: Yeah, what I found to be interesting was the species that we got. We had all season, it was like wood ducks, a couple mallards, gadwall. And that Thursday, we killed a wigeon, specks, pintails were everywhere. I mean, of course, they don't ever want to come in the decoys, but I mean, the amount of species had really jumped that I hadn't seen all year, which was really interesting. So you know they had to be new.

Mike Brasher: I can't see them. And then the water fell out real quick on the field that I was hunting and that was it for that particular area. I did go hunting with Derek Christians and Campus Waterfowl and the crew from Mississippi State. I think we just recently released an episode about that. So that was fun. Ringneck shoot and that was the last… Yeah, that was the last… Actually, the last hunt, I went out with Kai Victor, our conservation intern here that we had for the past year. We shot a green wing, that was it. And then we went squirrel hunting that afternoon, and we killed five squirrels. Kai got his first squirrel ever, and that was it. Now, you know, squirrel-duck combo. That's a pretty good day. Yeah, it was. Blast and blast. Ended up losing my binoculars and, well, we lost them, had to search for them for about 45 minutes, found them, and then ended up, you know, I think by the end it was getting too dark and didn't shoot any more squirrels. So, I felt bad about that, having to waste about 45 minutes of looking for my binoculars, my fault. So, but we found them. Thank goodness. Thank goodness. Yeah, no kidding. So, that was the end of the duck season.

Chris Jennings: Yeah, my season ended on a sore note.

Mike Brasher: Yeah, I see what you did there.

Chris Jennings: Yeah, literally a sore note. So I was back from SHOT Show, hunted Sunday morning. We went out, we were hunting a pit that we didn't really have, but the farmer was like, hey, go ahead and use it, we're out of town. Well, he hadn't cleaned that pit out probably since the beginning of the season.

Mike Brasher: I hadn't heard this part of the story. I thought it was a pit that y'all had been using all year, which was a little bit odd to me.

Chris Jennings: Well, there's two pits that sit right next to each other, and the one on the left was pumped out because the farmer had used it. The one on the right probably had about knee-deep water in it, and just full of grass from all the brushing.

Mike Brasher: This was after the warm-up, after the thaw.

Chris Jennings: Yeah, this is after the thaw, lots of rain. It wasn't terribly warm. It was pretty cold. But that pit on the right side was full of snakes. So, we got this great idea that I was going to take a metal rake and rake that grass out and rake the snakes out, and then we'll just get in and hunt. It'll be fun. And the first couple times I put the rake in there, I pulled out like one or two snakes. Like, every time I put the rake in there, I pulled out a snake. Now, all these were red-bellied water snakes, and I can see them when they're coming up out of the water. Well, I'm handing the rake up to a guy standing on the levee, and he's taking it, knocking the grass and the snakes off, and then handing it back to me. I throw it in again. Well, I do this about the fifth time, and stuck in the rake is all this grass. But hanging out the back of the rake is about a, well, it looked like it was about a 40-foot snake. Uh, mainly because it was in my face, but it was about a five foot cotton mouth. Nice. And that was, head was caught in the grass and the rake. So its tail is flipping back and forth, but it's also about six inches from my waist as I'm handing the rake up. So the snake's tail is just whipping around my waist and my neck, basically. And so… I don't like this story. And it's all, this is an early morning too. You know, it's not, it's all by headlamp. So you're just seeing… I'm very nervous over here for you. You're just seeing snakes. And so I decided to abandon ship. I didn't want to be with that snake anymore. And so I tried to jump out of the pit, and when I did, my feet slid on the board that you're sitting on, and I only got about halfway out of the pit before I landed on this corner, the edge of the pit, with my ribs, and I'm pretty sure I cracked like three ribs. So… After that, I hunted one more afternoon. I couldn't even hunt the next morning. Hunted one more afternoon. I was supposed to stay till Wednesday. Um, I was off work. Wife was like, cool. Stay till Wednesday. Come back Thursday if you want to. I'm thinking, oh, I'm gonna wrap up duck season. By Monday afternoon, I went home. I was so sore. My ribs hurt. So, basically, ended my Season so this season I got bit by a spider and ended up in the emergency room got attacked by a snake and broke my ribs It was bad. I got I was hurting this season.

Mike Brasher: So I Just can't understand why more people don't want to be duck hunters.

Chris Jennings: Yeah. Yeah. Come on. Yeah be a duck hunter. It's fun Now, I had a good shoot that Monday afternoon. We had, you know, probably one of our better mallard shoots of the season. Um, and we typically don't hunt afternoons, but we did that day. I'm glad we did because that was the last time I hunted all season. But I had to shoot at 20 gauge because I was worried about my ribs. So, I mean, it was a disaster. Oh, I couldn't blow that call at all. I could barely, I didn't, luckily the guys was hunting with call, so I didn't have to get on the calls at all. So, uh, but yeah.

Katie Burke: Yeah, I didn't like that story. It made me nervous. I didn't know where that was going.

Chris Jennings: Yeah, that's how you end a duck season right there. But then we did the youth hunt the next weekend, so I actually had gotten a little bit better over the course of the week. I felt good. So Friday, ended up taking my girls over to our camp, hunted with them. They shot at some ducks, which was great. Did they kill anything? Technically no. I shot one because it's the veteran hunt as well. So my wife and I can both hunt.

Mike Brasher: Now did you shoot before they had a chance to or did you clean up?

Chris Jennings: I was cleaning up. And so I got one green wing. They didn't really, they weren't, they're not really comfortable enough shooting them out of the air. So, we were trying to get them to land in the decoys, which as any duck hunter would know, trying to get a duck to land 18 feet away from you in the decoys so that an eight-year-old can shoot at them with a 410 single shot. That's pretty tough.

Mike Brasher: In early February, when the ones that are, the only ones that are left are the ones that have been through the gauntlet.

Chris Jennings: That's right. I say that, however, we got multiple shots off at Green Wings that would land in the decoys. And my eight-year-old shot and missed one, I think she missed it by like an inch. It was so close that when her shot hit the water, it was like the size of a golf ball. Like it was, that's how, I mean, it was… three yards away. And she missed it, and then she was terribly upset that she missed it. So as it flew away, I shot a couple times. Might not be a bad thing. And I was like, oh, I missed it too. Oh, no. So it made her feel good about it. See, it happens to the best. That's right. I was like, oh, we both missed. Oh, look at you.

Mike Brasher: But that was fun. It was a good little uniform. She's not gonna listen to this podcast, is she?

Katie Burke: Nah, no. Kids don't… See, Mike, you don't know this because you don't have kids, but kids don't care about what their parents do at all. I know.

Chris Jennings: I'm sure that is the case. Yeah, that is true. But yeah, so that was my duck season wrap. We had a really good season. My little group of guys that I hunt with probably had the best season we've had in seven or eight years, which is surprising. Oh, wow.

Katie Burke: Yeah, I would say it's probably the worst season of my life.

Chris Jennings: Yeah, everybody I talked to was like, no way, you had a good season.

Mike Brasher: I bet you, if you looked at the distribution of like, how successful this year was for, it would be, as we would say, bimodal. Folks on one end did really well, folks on the other end, a lot of folks on the other end, probably the hump on the left end is going to be bigger than the hump on the right end. did really poorly because they just didn't have water, just didn't have birds. But then the people that did, small number of people that did, probably did pretty good in a lot of places.

Chris Jennings: Yeah. I've heard, you know, majority of people did not have good seasons, but the ones who did, did really well. Yeah. But they're pretty few and far between.

Katie Burke: Yeah. I think we had 35 ducks by Christmas.

Mike Brasher: Yeah. Yeah. I can't complain personally. I had some opportunities to go on a few hunts and took advantage of those.

Chris Jennings: Did we shoot anything in Europe? My place? Yeah, we killed like six or eight. I think we did. Yeah, we did.

Mike Brasher: It wasn't bang up. No, we saw a ton of birds. That's what it was. We saw a ton, but they just weren't working. But I ended what I always enjoy, and I think I said this last year, whenever I go back to where I grew up, do the scouting, have birds in the area, even if it's not a whole lot, and I can find where they want to be, and I can get there and shoot. Last year, I think it was four birds. This year, I got six birds. But, I mean, that's a great way to end for me, because it just takes me back to the way I grew up. Now, we will, I think the plan is to try to do our season in review next week. Well, next week, for the people listening, this may not mean a whole lot, but we're going to try to do our formal season in review sometime soon. We're a little bit delayed in doing that. I've been traveling. I was at the Duck Symposium last week, so it ate up that entire week. But we are gonna try to do that more formal season in review where we look back on some of the major weather patterns. And I mean, we've talked about it a couple of times already. It was, on previous episodes, it was by many accounts the worst season that a significant portion of the hunters that I know have ever had. I heard it from east to west. It was a struggle. And we'll talk about some of the, Large-scale weather patterns that were responsible for that. El Nino, of course, is going to be a big part of that discussion. Drought will be a big part of that discussion. But we are still going to try to do that. That'll be the full season breakdown. That'll be the full season breakdown. It may be pretty simple, you know, because it was so uniformly bad for nearly every region, with some pockets of exceptions, is what you've noted, Chris. So that'll be forthcoming. Now, I guess to get back to the Duck Symposium, which is what you started off with, that's one of the things I was at. Full circle. That was one of the recent things that I participated in. It's the North American Duck Symposium. There have been nine of these now. First one was in 1996, I believe that's right. Down in Baton Rouge, they move around. They usually hold them every three years. It had been four, four and a half years since we had the most recent one. It was in, I think, August of 2019 in Winnipeg. And that was whenever I called in. I called in and we recorded a little podcast episode way back then. That was the first year, first fall that we started this. And this year, it was a fantastic conference. Kudos to Dr. Bruce Dugger, Dr. Mark Petrie, Dr. Lisa Webb. They were kind of the core planning team there. Mark and Bruce were the co-chairs. Dr. Lisa Webb had a big role on the science planning committee, had over 300 students and researchers from universities, states, federal agencies, Ducks Unlimited, Inc., DU Canada, Delta Waterfowl. CWA, I think, had some folks there. A whole host of other entities were represented. And it's sort of the pinnacle of conferences for anybody that's doing duck science or really waterfowl science. There's a North American Arctic goose conference every three years or so, sea duck conference every three, four years. It's a SWAN conference, but the North American Duct Symposium is the most well attended. There were tons of great presentations, lots of DU Canada, DU Inc staff, lots of students that we have supported, lots of our fellowship recipients were there delivering, some delivered plenaries. Some delivered a lot of… It's like one of the… So, every morning, this was a four-day conference. In the morning, we would have what's called a plenary. I don't know the formal definition, but it's one of the more notable series of presentations. The entire conference was attended. It's sort of like a keynote. It's a series of keynotes, you might say. Keynote, typically, I think of like one or two, but this was a series of plenaries. It's a session dedicated to certain topics and then there was a combination of academicians and graduate students and, well, people from really all different segments of the waterfowl community that participated in those plenaries. And it was a four-day conference, four full days of presentations, posters. It was, oh, yeah, in the afternoon we had, I think, four concurrent sessions. Yeah, four concurrent sessions going at all times. And it was, for those of us in that waterfowl science field, it was like a big family reunion and getting to meet a lot of new family members. I thought you were going to say it's like a county fair. No, not a county fair. I was just thinking how tired I would be. Mentally and physically, yes. It was non-stop. And plus, what made it worse for me is, and anyone I think traveling from the East, is that you got the time zone difference. So, first morning, we go to bed at 11.30 or something like that out there. I wake up at 3.15 because it's 5.15. My body thinks it's 5.15. And so I wake up. And so I get like four hours, four and a half hours sleep that first night. I think I might get five hours the next night, maybe five hours the next night. So it was just one of those deals, but I'm not complaining. I wouldn't trade it for anything. It's great to see all those people, all those students, folks that have been following the DU social media accounts would have seen those series of posts related to my visit to Alaska last year with those students from a variety of universities and their assistants. They were, everyone except, all of those people except one were there. And so it was kind of a neat opportunity to release those little chapters as we called them. Shout out to Mallory Murphy for all the hard work that she did on those, getting those out to folks. But to be able to showcase some of the work that those graduate students are doing was special to me and I think special to them. So I know it was special to their parents to be able to see them. But you know, I used to be a graduate student doing all that kind of work and you think it's fun and great and to see your name and hear about all that work. It's, you know, to know that your work is recognized and appreciated, I think, is pretty special for those folks. So, several of those people received awards, and I don't have a list of all the award recipients, so I'm not going to try to name folks because I'll leave some off, but they gave awards for posters, presentations. oral presentations. Our very own Ashley Tunstall and Kai Victor gave presentations as well as a ton of our other staff gave presentations. But we're all a little bit smarter now. Learned some new things. Learned some new things. Got to see a lot of young professionals take that next step and sharing the results from their research over the past few years. And it's just a wonderful time. And mentally, you're exhausted, but you're also recharged because there are so many discussions that you have with your colleagues about, well, We need to do this. What about this idea? Can we get together? That's one of the things leading up to it. It's like So many email exchanges and text message exchanges like well, let's talk about this next week. Let's pull together Let's find a time to meet over lunch. Let's find a time to meet for dinner and discuss some of this Pretty soon you run out of time for all of those meetings, uh, but it was non-stop for pretty much everyone there we united with the Duck DNA team from UTEP and Ducks Unlimited for the first time. We've all been together. We went out to dinner together, sort of celebrated and toasted to a successful first year with Duck DNA. And it's, as you can tell, it's an event that was exciting and can't wait for the next one. The next one will be in Denver in about three years, I think, 2027. Is that right? Maybe. I think that's right. I think that's the plan, but it'll be in Denver somewhere. Well, I don't know if it's Denver, but it's somewhere around there. So, folks with, I think, Colorado State and Colorado Parks and Wildlife, if that's the right name, we'll be hosting it. So, it was wonderful, man.

Chris Jennings: So, you mentioned Duck DNA. Yes. I got lots of questions about this this year from people all over the place. Love to hear it. How'd the program go? What was the response? How is it? You know, when should people expect to see some of those results? Is that something that you guys are planning on publishing or is it something that they're gonna hold on to?

Mike Brasher: Yes, yes. Yes, yes, yes, no. Not holding on to any of this stuff.

Chris Jennings: No, we… I think the biggest thing is when are you gonna expand it so that more people can submit.

Mike Brasher: I think our ability to expand it is going to depend on a couple of things. Let me, let me… You hurt a lot of people's feelings by not selecting them. I know, I know. We heard a lot about it. So, Ashley Tunstall gave a presentation at the Duck Symposium about it. Ashley did a fantastic job, and that was sort of the initial opportunity to share some of the results with her. with our colleagues professionally. I can also report now that we have completed, as of today, February 13th, we have completed the first three rounds of analyses. So our partners at UTEP have been running these samples in batches. I think we've had over 680 tissue samples submitted. We initially had over, well, over the course of the winter, we had over 4,000 people apply to be part of this. You know, we only were able to select about 300. I think the number of people that have submitted tissue samples was somewhere in the maybe 180, 200 range. I think a lot of people, we'll work through some of this, I think some of our initial invitations made their way to like the junk mail. So, we got to kind of work through some of that. Some personal friends that I knew had applied and got selected, I shouldn't say personal friends, but the colleagues that got selected weren't aware that they were selected. And so, because I, you can, we can see when they go and activate their account. I was like, hey, you got selected. Did you not activate your account? They say, oh, I haven't seen the email. They go and look. And for some people, it wound up in their junk mail. And to get your kit, you had to activate it. To get your kit, you had to activate it, yes. And so, we ended up with, whatever the number was that I said, 200 or so people that actively submitted tissue samples. So, on average, you're probably looking at about three samples per person. I think a lot of people had difficulty filling their vials as part of it. I know that was the case for some folks. We have uploaded certificates for about 380 samples. And so what I mean by certificates, basically the results. That's what we're giving back to the participants, or certificates of pedigree for their individual ducks. It will tell what the genetically vetted species is. The hunter, it has the date of harvest, the genetically vetted species, genetically vetted sex of the bird. It will identify if it's a… Well, so the way this works, he puts a tissue sample in there and he pulls a DNA extraction, yada, yada, yada, all this magic that I don't understand. Then they will try to match that. the genetic material to all these different reference samples of duck species. And so what you're looking for is a percentage match for your sample to these reference samples. And so pure wild mallard would be one that's like has a 95% match to a pure wild reference sample, whatever he's got there. But for some of these, we're getting like it's an 80, let's just say 75% match with a wild mallard. 20% match to a game farm mallard. There's, if you do the math, there's 5% in there that's not accounted for. It's just because it didn't match up. It just, it's not perfect, uh, matching. So, so you're going to get a certificate.

Chris Jennings: So like you shot a part.

Mike Brasher: You got, you shot a hybrid duck. Yeah. And we did, we've done, we're also receiving some. Those hill country Mississippi mallards you've been shooting are coming back. I'm not, uh, so I haven't gotten my samples back yet. I just sent them off a few weeks ago or two weeks ago. We had some people, I'm not gonna name anyone, that sent us a picture of this bird that they thought was some trophy hybrid, some big massive mallard-pintail hybrid. Turns out it's a mallard-muscovy hybrid. I mean, it's still a hybrid, you know? But those are the type of things that we're gonna be able to do, which is, there's a cool factor to it, but there's also a real science factor to it. Yeah, if you participate in DuckDNA, go to your dashboard, duckdna.com forward slash app, log in, check and see if your certificates have been uploaded. If they have been, you should see a hyperlink out there where you can click on that and you have access to a JPEG of your results, basically, with a certificate. We had a couple of people, had one person tell me, during youth weekend, the only reason their nephew wanted to go hunting was so they could do the duck DNA thing, which I thought was really, really cool. I had another person that shot a bird during the youth weekend, and I saw it posted online. And it's actually a guy who works here at headquarters. His son shot his first ever duck. And so I sent this guy an email and I said, hey, I've got an extra vial because I was trying to save it for a mallard on that last weekend. I didn't get anything. And I said, if you want to use that vial, for a tissue sample for your son's bird, I'm happy to do that. You can kind of get the genetic analysis for your son's first bird." He said, yeah, man, let's do that. So, that's the other thing that we might do in the future is, you know, it's like get the genetics for your kid's first duck. And so, it provides that memento for the young hunter, but it provides an important data set or a data point for the scientist.

Chris Jennings: You totally should have put that squirrel's foot in there.

Mike Brasher: Should have, yeah. But the response has been so rewarding, so appreciated, and whether we expand it this year, I don't know. It's going to kind of depend on funding. We've got a lot of things that we're that we're thinking about, it will, assuming we get funding, we will continue it this next year. That is our full intention. We have a list of about 10 to 20 things that we want to improve. Everything from providing a place for the participants to add a comment about the samples that they submit, because if you go to your dashboard right now, it just says date, sex and age, and that's it. It's like, doesn't even have the sample ID number associated with it on your dashboard, which I think it should, but we did make it so that the hyperlink to the certificate shows what your sample ID is. We at least wanted them to make sure we could provide a record of what that ID is, that sample ID was. But anyway, we're going to have a little comment option there is what I want to do. and a whole host of other things that we'll improve upon. So, yeah, it's not… What you can do right now is go to DuckDNA.com and hit the Apply Today button, and that will put you on the list for email updates as we go through the next year so that you will be among the first to learn about any improvements or any changes to the program as we roll out next year.

Chris Jennings: Now, if you applied for the program this season, do you have to reapply for the program next year?

Mike Brasher: Yeah, reapply. We're not sophisticated enough to figure all that out. Well, we could, but it takes some time.

Katie Burke: I would think you would still need to reapply because even if you apply the year before, you might change your mind.

Mike Brasher: That's right. That's right. That's the other thing we're thinking about. We want people that are interested enough right now during the hunting season to go and apply. There's a way that you could do it otherwise, but we don't want to do that. We want to make sure we're engaging the people and asking the people to participate that want to be part of it right now. So it's been great. So if you are a participant, go check your dashboard. You should also be getting sent out an email. Our new conservation science assistant, Ray Moore, sent out an email earlier today that she and I worked on. And those of you that submitted samples and whose analyses are complete, should have those certificates uploaded to your dashboard as of today. There's about 380 of those, if I remember correctly. So, that's DuckDNA.

Chris Jennings: Yeah. I think the only thing I have is Light Goose Conservation Order. Check ducks.org. We're still doing those migration alerts for that. It is happening slash happened for some people already. The spring migration is a literal freight train going north with nothing to stop it. There's very little snow in the Dakotas. They're finding small pockets of open water where they can hang out up there. And so, you know, my guys in South Dakota, North Dakota are already talking about geese staging, getting ready to go to Canada. So, that's probably about as fast as I can remember it. I know there's several people quoted in the most recent migration alert that we sent today from South Dakota Game and Fish, who are also agreeing with that, that this is basically the fastest spring migration of light geese that they can remember. Now, I say all that, that's mid-continent population. It's different on the east and west coast. East coast, getting socked with a little bit of snow right now, so those graders are gonna be moving a little slower north than what we're dealing with in the mid-continent.

Mike Brasher: Yeah, it can happen quick and I knew it would. I was talking to somebody not too long ago and I said, yeah, do you get one strong south wind and those geese are gonna book it.

Chris Jennings: We lost all of our snows at our farm and we were holding a ton. Yeah. All season. I mean, they were there end of October through about right when that freeze, when that freeze hit, those geese moved on. And from wherever they went, they kept going. Like, they went north from there. They never came back to our farm, so. That was pretty eye-opening for the youth weekend. I was hoping my kids would get to see all these, you know, 100,000 snow geese flying over. It's cool for the kids. Um, and they were gone.

Mike Brasher: You did mention sort of snow on the prairies, lack of snow on the prairies. That's something we'll be, we'll soon be turning our attention to. Yep. And it's dry. It's certainly dry in the Canadian prairies. I think there's been a little bit of moisture in the Dakotas. Not a whole lot. Um, but. Yeah. Everybody out there cares about waterfowl. It's another year where you need to do your snow dance, do your rain dance. That's right. Hope for a lot of moisture to hit the prairies. Otherwise, it's going to be dry as it is right now.

Chris Jennings: Yeah. We won't speculate on that, but that's not good.

Mike Brasher: Well, we don't have to speculate to know this. If it's dry, it's not good. Yeah.

Katie Burke: We just know that.

Chris Jennings: Science. Yeah. Science. Cool. Katie, you had a quick update for the museum?

Katie Burke: Yeah, not much. Just this is more podcast stuff. I have a series that I'll start recording actually next week that's for the North American Decoy Collectors Association for their big show in Chicago, which is in April. So I'm gonna do a series of shows of collectors and carvers and stuff that are related to promote that show.

Chris Jennings: Awesome. Awesome. This is great. Great little roundup. We can no longer call it a wrap up. It's now a roundup. Take note of that.

Mike Brasher: Let me tease a couple of other episodes that I got coming up. So, did I mention Tennessee? No, I mentioned their work. The group from Tennessee Tech, Brad Cohen and his lab. We have been trying to get them here in studio for, I think, about a year. And it has fallen through a couple of times. The freeze in mid-January. put the kibosh to our most recent attempt, but we're going to try to reconnect with them in early March. They have conducted a multi-year, just tremendously impactful study of individually marked mallards all throughout some of the river drainages here in western Tennessee and have learned a ton about sanctuary movements during winter, fidelity to wintering sites, effects of hunting pressure on bird movements, effects of experimental disturbance of sanctuary on bird movements. We're trying to get that group, including Jamie Fedderson, Tennessee Wildlife Research Agency. They've been a big funder of that research here in studio in early March. to have a, what will I suspect, be a two-hour conversation or longer about all the things that they have uncovered and are going to continue to study. So, stay tuned for that. It probably would be late March before that comes out. More recently, actually earlier today, I had a conversation with Dr. Sarah Gutowsky, who I have… Her nickname is Ornithological Badass. She works for Environment and Climate Change Canada. has been to far reaches of the planet, Antarctica, Midway Atoll, Falkland Islands, Southern Indian Oceans, studying seabirds, and she's recently done some work on sea ducks with DU Canada support. She's going to become a bit of a regular for us, and occasionally I would reach out to her for some input on some duck-related topics. She's a good science communicator, so people will be hearing from her. Stay tuned for that. And then, I don't know, a whole host of other things, um, as we go forward, but I wanted to plug those two. So stay tuned. I'm pretty excited about, uh, about both of those. Cool. Yeah. That's all I got.

Chris Jennings: That's all I got, Chris. All right. Well, Katie, Mike, this has been a great roundup. I appreciate it. I'd like to thank my co-hosts, Dr. Mike Brasher and Katie Burke for coming on this roundup and providing some information on what's coming up and what they've been doing and a little recap on their waterfowl season. I'd like to thank Chris Isaac for putting the show together and getting it out to you. And I'd like to thank you, the listener, for joining us on DU Podcast and supporting wetlands conservation.

Creators and Guests

Chris Jennings
Ducks Unlimited Podcast Outdoor Host
Katie Burke
Ducks Unlimited Podcast Collectibles Host
Mike Brasher
Ducks Unlimited Podcast Science Host
Ep. 554 – Monthly Roundup – Season’s End, Duck Science, Snakes in the Pit, and Upcoming Projects