This spring’s heavy rains brought destruction throughout much of the Midwest. But, to employ a cliche, every cloud has a silver lining. While the rain was a bane to farmers on the plains, it was a boon to waterfowl, especially in Canada’s Prairie Pothole region.

And according to this year’s annual spring waterfowl survey, optimal spring breeding conditions should produce a bumper crop of waterfowl for the fall harvest.

Since 1955, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS) and the Canadian Wildlife Service (CWS) have conducted May surveys of over 2 million square miles that encompass the principal breeding areas of North America waterfowl in the four major flyways.

Biologists then use results — an assessment of breeding conditions and waterfowl numbers — to predict what the fall flights will be like, and to set appropriate season and bag limits.

This year’s news is better than it has been for a long time. FWS reported that the May pond count in the prairie potholes, which produce more than half our continent’s ducks, increased 22 percent, from 6.7 million ponds in 2010 to 8.1 million ponds this year.

The 2011 breeding population estimate for the 10 most common duck species was 45.6 million, up 11 percent from the previous year and the largest total estimate in the survey’s history.

According to Delta Waterfowl, a nonprofit waterfowl conservation organization, 12.5 million breeding ducks settled into the eastern half of the Dakotas, the most ever recorded on these surveys, and 172 percent above the long-term average. Delta also reported duck numbers were up 66 percent in Alberta, 41 percent in Manitoba and 56 percent in Saskatchewan.

Meanwhile, Ducks Unlimited (DU) reports that mallards — the bread-and-butter duck of most flyways — had a breeding population of 9.2 million birds, a nine percent increase from 2010 and the largest estimate since 2000. It also reported blue-winged teal, redheads and shovelers reached record highs this spring.

Populations of most other duck species in the survey area were statistically similar to last year, with only scaup and American wigeon below their long-term averages.

All this means Maine waterfowlers can be cautiously optimistic about the upcoming season.

Caution is the operative word here, for several reasons. Most of the birds that funnel south out of the prairie potholes and into the major flyways pass west and south of us, not reaching the coast until about the mid-Atlantic states.

Most of our birds come from Quebec, the Canadian Maritimes and northern Maine, where conditions were good, but not optimal. Ducks Unlimited reports populations of most duck species were statistically similar to last year’s estimates and the long-term averages.

One negative note was that numbers of black ducks — the mainstay of New England waterfowling, were 13 percent below the long-term average.

Cold, wet weather that persisted well into summer may have had an adverse effect on early-breeding waterfowl, according to Ducks Unlimited Canada biologist Adam Campbell.

In Ducks Unlimited’s annual waterfowl forecast, Campbell was quoted as saying, “Brood sizes initially appeared to be smaller than average. This may have been due to relentless rain and cold temperatures in June. While this may not have been a great recruitment year for early nesters, warmer summer temperatures likely benefited ducks that initiated breeding late.”

Fall weather also plays a role in hunting success. Except for the teal, one of the earliest migrants, most of the birds we see in October are residents, or fairly local birds.

The real migration won’t start until cold weather drives birds off their northern breeding and stopover grounds, which usually occurs during the closed portion of our southern zone’s split season. By the time the season re-opens, inland waters are often frozen, limiting late-season waterfowlers to coastal or larger inland waters.

In the final analysis, things shouldn’t be any worse, and could be a whole lot better this year than last for New England’s waterfowlers.

Bob Humphrey is a freelance writer and registered Maine Guide who lives in Pownal. He can be contacted at: [email protected]