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First time ever that waterfowl kept water open on Lake Darling entire winter

Open water all winter on Lake Darling

Kim Fundingsland/MDN Thousands of ducks and geese have spent the winter in open water on the lower end of Lake Darling. It may be the first time in the reservoir’s history for such an occurrence.

FOXHOLM – Thousands of waterfowl kept water open all winter long on the lower end of Lake Darling, perhaps for the first time since the reservoir was flooded in 1936.

“I’ve been here since 1996 and one winter we had a small portion of Lake Darling open up by the oil wells,” said Tom Pabian, Upper Souris National Wildlife Refuge manager. “But open water in the winter is very, very limited. Very rare. I don’t ever recall the lower end ever being open.”

A former Upper Souris employee who was on the staff for several years prior to Pabian’s arrival said he couldn’t remember a winter when waterfowl remained on the lower end of Lake Darling for an entire winter either.

The open water and the waterfowl that have utilized it all winter long have provided quite an unusual site for ice fishermen and others who have visited the refuge this winter. Each day about mid-morning a steady stream of Canada geese begins to lift off the water to feed nearby. Thousands of duck do too.

The sounds of geese in the air has echoed across the lower end of Lake Darling and the Upper Souris NWR throughout the winter, including several days of sub-zero weather when the section of open water became noticeably smaller. However, the ducks and geese remained and there activity kept the section of the lake from freezing.

“Two reasons the birds have stayed,” said Pabian in late February. “One, we have open water and two, we have open landscape out there. There’s no snow cover so they can fly out to the grain fields and feed. As long as they have that we’ll maintain birds.”

Several thousand ducks and geese were counted during the annual Christmas Bird Count held in December 2019 at Upper Souris. Recent estimates has placed the number of ducks that remain at Lake Darling at 3,000-5,000 and the same for the number of Canada geese. There’s some variety too.

While almost all the ducks are hearty and colorful mallards, the wintering flock includes at least one drake wood duck, a hen widgeon, a few pintails and some mergansers and golden eyes. And, barring a severe cold snap and heavy snowfall, it is very probable the waterfowl will remain at Lake Darling through the spring melt.

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