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Harsens Island at St. Clair Flats State Wildlife Area
Open at no charge to the public.
This hunting location conducts daily drawings for free hunting zone permits throughout the open waterfowl season.
Description of the area
A short car ferry ride is required to reach Saint Clair Flats State Wildlife Area's Harsens Island, located on the historic waterfowling shores of the St. Clair Flats. This 3,355 acres of strictly managed waterfowl habitat is part of the largest freshwater delta in the United States. Mallards are the most prevalent species harvested on the managed area, but black ducks, pintail, wood ducks and Canada geese are several other species that are taken each year. It offers many different hunting opportunities for the waterfowl hunter; flooded agriculture, marsh areas, and open water to name a few. Along with the waterfowling opportunities, Harsens Island has scenic views along with many recreational activities that make it a unique area to visit.
- Morning hunts: Daily 5:30 a.m. (Reserved hunt first and second weekend of duck season)
- Afternoon hunts: Daily 11:30 a.m. (Reserved hunt first and second weekend of duck season)
- Wildlife viewing
- Nature trail hiking
- Canoeing and kayaking
Week in review
Mild temperatures and little wind for most of the week. Very little ice formation.
Duck numbers stayed steady through the last two weeks of the season, hovering between 10,000 and 12,000 ducks. Mallards made up 90% of the count, with black ducks and green wing teal accounting for almost all the remainder. There were a few shovelers and pintail still hanging around.
We are now lowering water levels in all fields. We anticipate mostly dry fields for the late split.
In the final week of the season, we had 632 hunter trips. We averaged 22 parties per draw on weekdays and 30 parties per draw for the 4 weekend draws. Our high for the week was 48 parties on Friday afternoon, with a low of 6 parties on Tuesday morning.
This was a very slow week overall, with a total of only 345 ducks harvested. We averaged 0.55 ducks per trip for the week. Our best day was December 6th with 67 ducks taken. Our totals for the regular split are 10,286 ducks in 7,067 hunter trips, for an average of 1.46 ducks/trip on the season, as well as 142 geese. An excellent year so far and if the late split does any good at all it could end up as our best or second best year since 2005.
What to expect this week
Water levels will continue to come down. There is a lot of cold weather forecast for the end of next week. We are likely to start freezing more solidly soon.
We will be holding draws at the normal times of 5:30 and 11:30 am both days of the late split, December 31 and January 1, regardless of ice or snow conditions.
Weekly waterfowl count dashboards
Weekly waterfowl counts are conducted annually, September through January. Use these interactive dashboards to view waterfowl counts across the Wetland Wonders for current and previous years. When the dashboard loads, you will have a total count of the Michigan DNR's Managed Waterfowl Hunt Areas (MWHA) for which counts are provided. The pie charts will show distribution across the areas during the currently selected week (week ending date can be changed using the date selector). Select a specific managed area at the top by clicking/tapping on it to see the numbers for that area. Use the navigation at the bottom of the dashboard to view further breakdowns of area waterfowl numbers.
Table of contents
2021 Annual Report
- General introduction
- Area goals and management emphasis
- Wildlife production and use estimates
- Significant habitat management
- Land acquisition
- Area maintenance
- Special projects
- Recreational and educational activities
- Waterfowl banding and surveys
Hunting season report: 10/02/2021 through 11/28/2021
2021 annual report
The St. Clair Flats State Wildlife Area (SCFWA) is located at the southern tip of St. Clair County. The SCFWA contains the Harsens Island unit (including bottomlands and marshes associated with this island complex), the St. Johns Marsh Unit, and Dickinson Island.
The marshlands and islands within SCFWA are a river delta formation resulting from St. Clair River flow into Lake St. Clair. Located between the St. Clair and Detroit Rivers, Lake St. Clair has a total area of 430 mi2 and is a significant portion of the connecting waters between Lakes Huron and Erie. Approximately two-thirds of Lake St. Clair lies within Canadian boundaries. Waters of the Lake St. Clair / St. Clair River system are an annual ancestral migration route for thousands of ducks, geese, swans and various shore and wading birds.
SCFWA lands adjoining this river delta system provide habitat for numerous other terrestrial and aquatic species of wildlife. White-tailed deer, ring-necked pheasants, raptors, coyotes, red foxes, squirrels, rabbits, muskrats, various amphibians and reptiles, and neo-tropical migrant songbirds are some of the other wildlife species found within the SCFWA. The diverse habitat of this wetland delta system allows for suitable habitat for many different species. While SCFWA is widely known for its outstanding waterfowl hunting opportunities, other recreational opportunities exist such as upland hunting, trapping, boating, canoeing, kayaking, and wildlife viewing. SCFWA provides critical habitat for many rare, threatened, and unique species including sandhill cranes, black terns, osprey, bald eagles, king rails, eastern fox snakes, common loon, short-eared owl, snowy owl, yellow spotted turtle, and eastern bluebird. SCFWA provides an incredible amount of habitat value and recreational opportunities outside of its well-known waterfowl benefits.
Area goals and management emphasis
Management goals and directions of the St. Clair Flats are guided by several commitments and documents. These range from the statewide level down to our local master plan. These are:
- Department of Natural Resources (DNR) mission statement and goals
- Wildlife Division mission statement
- Wildlife Division Guiding Principles and Strategies (GPS) including ‘Commitments to Change’
- Southeast Region Operational Plan
- St. Clair Flats Wildlife Area Master Plan
Our local master plan details the direction of these documents as they relate to us and details what tasks and goals we will achieve to meet these directives. Additionally, it spells out the sections of the GPS that focus on our managed wetland areas.
Wildlife production and use estimates
Warm, dry conditions during May likely helped wildlife production on the area, especially for waterfowl. There were far more juvenile wood ducks observed around the wildlife area than in 2020 and late summer mallard numbers were far higher than recent years. Mallard numbers at inland banding sites rebounded from their dip in 2020 as well, with normal numbers of birds hitting bait sites at multiple locations. Goose production on Harsens was down significantly, a welcome relief for our effort to grow corn in some zones. This is possibly due to a large increase in late season goose hunting success during January and February 2021; many geese banded on Harsens Island were harvested here during the late hunt, possibly reducing the number of local breeding pairs for spring. Sandhill crane production was about normal compared to recent years with several successful pairs around the area. Pheasant numbers continue to dwindle, though one young brood was seen this year.
There was no aerial deer count conducted on the island in spring 2021 due to Covid-19 related work restrictions. Observations during the summer mirrored 2020, with fewer fawns seen than expected. Again this year, large numbers of does were seen during the fall with no fawns. Deer harvest was extremely low, and no fawns were confirmed to be harvested.
- Number of breeding ducks = approximately 250
- Number of young produced = approximately 700
- Number of breeding geese = approximately 120
- Number of young produced = approximately 450
- Size of September 1st deer herd, whole island = approximately 300
- Size of pheasant flock on September 1st = approximately 12
- Other game = Coyote numbers are stable. Number of red foxes on the island is increasing. Squirrel numbers in uplands increased.
Significant habitat management
Relatively high-water levels still prevented our normal spring food plots in our upland areas. However, by late summer several fields had dried enough to allow us to mow the cattails and other weeds that had filled the openings and disk a couple of fields to start preparing for spring 2022. One upland turnip mix was planted but was mostly flooded out by early fall rain events.
Both units were left open to fluctuate with lake level, same as in 2020. With the dropping lake levels, a lot of stress from water pressure was removed from the dikes. We had no dike failures this year (compared to two in 2020) and never had water overtop the dikes. We were able to conduct our normal muskrat hole repairs during the summer on each unit. Each unit started the season approximately 5” shallower than on opening day of waterfowl season 2020. There was noticeably less wild rice production in both marshes than in 2019 and 2020, but overall production was still good, especially in the east marsh. The declining water levels began to limit access into zone 95; by the late split, there was little surface water outside of the Krispin drain itself.
No lands were acquired or divested on the St. Clair Flats Wildlife Area this year.
All of our normal area maintenance goals including signage, dike maintenance, and water control structure maintenance were met this year. We had one issue with pump 4 that required contractor assistance to pull the pump and repair it early in waterfowl season. Several failing culverts around the area were replaced. No water control gates or valves were replaced this year.
No equipment purchases noted for 2021.
No special projects noted for 2021.
Recreational and educational activities
- Waterfowl hunting
- 7,437 user trips
- Deer hunting
- 336 user trips
- Small game hunting
- 0 user trips
- 8 permits
- Educational tours
Field trips and spring open houses were still cancelled this year. We were able to host a partner tour in August and our preseason open house in October entirely outside. Summer recreational use was down from the high of 2020, though still higher than in previous years. Large numbers of shore fishermen are always present around the perimeter of the area, but dog walkers, hikers, and kayakers continued to use the area regularly. As water levels have dropped, the boat launches at Snooks Highway and Decker’s Landing were reopened, reducing the amount of use our launches received during the summer.
Eight trapping permits were issued in 2021.
Waterfowl banding and surveys
With our offices able to hire seasonal employees again this summer, goose and duck banding effort were expanded again. We were able to band geese at Harsens Island and a couple of mainland locations using local staff with support from Waterloo, Holly, and Point Mouillee. Additionally, our staff assisted with goose banding efforts at Point Mouillee. The total number of geese was down on Harsens Island this year. What geese were here were in some challenging spots to access, leading to lower numbers banded than we wanted to target.
Duck banding was successful, especially for mallards. Over 100 mallards were banded on Harsens Island for the first time in decades. We had many adult mallards using the area for most of August and were able to target them effectively. Mallard banding continues to be effective at our mainland sites as well. Wood duck banding was down, likely due to warm August temperatures and few migrating wood ducks before we had to pull traps. Years with cooler Augusts have more wood ducks here sooner, especially adult drakes and this year we did not get those temperatures until after we had to start pulling traps due to baiting conflicts with the early goose season. Ducks were banded with air cannons, floating traps, dry confusion traps, and swim in traps this year.
|Year||Mallards||Wood Ducks||Others||Total Ducks||Geese||Total Birds|
|2019||247||34||1 Black, 1 Hyb||283||361||644|
|2020||276||283||1 Pin, 1 Wig||561||0||561|
Hunting season report
The 2021 season was the 51st year of managed hunting on Harsens Island. The waterfowl season was 60 days in length for the 25th consecutive year. There was a split season again, with two days of the general season taking place on January 1st and 2nd. The regular waterfowl season opened on October 9th and closed December 5th. The bag limit was a liberal six duck limit framework including no more than four mallards, of which up to two could be hens. The black duck daily limit remained two and pintails remained at one per day. The scaup daily limit continued with a midseason increase, with one allowed per day for the first 15 days, followed by two per day for the remainder of the season.
We returned to two draws per day, seven days a week for the regular season, but kept several changes from 2020. All draws were conducted outside out of a trailer the same as last year. Only the party leader needed to be present to register and could register up to 3 other people. All zones were kept open to 1-4 hunters. The draw was conducted and broadcast over the radio again. These procedural changes have been popular. New this year, parties were required to turn in the top sheet of their card prior to the draw as an extra protection against parties having multiple cards in the draw. The largest change this year was extended preregistered hunting to the second weekend of the season instead of just opening weekend as normal. There was mixed reaction to the extended preregistered hunting, but participation was high for each draw with few ‘no-show’ parties. We issued leftover permits through a second draw for each preregistered hunt, up to the 35-party limit. The only draw in which there were more leftover parties than leftover permits available was opening morning.
Regular duck season (58 days, October 9 - December 5)
The season started off extremely mild, with sunny days and little wind. Hunter success was very low, with the opening 9 days ending up as the worst ‘week’ of the season, recording only 964 ducks harvested and an average of just 0.8 ducks/trip. We had several draws with single digit parties in this week, the lowest party numbers (outside of freeze out) in several years. Weather conditions improved later in October and into November, increasing duck numbers in the refuge and hunter success. Our best week of the year was the second week of November, harvesting nearly 1,500 ducks and averaging 1.57 ducks/trip that week. We faced some sporadic ice at the end of November that resulted in a few days of single digit parties for AM draws, but never lost whole days to ice.
With the return to two draws per day, seven days a week, our party numbers and harvest returned to normal levels after the decrease in 2020 due to reduced draws. When compared to the five-year period from 2015-2019, party numbers increased 1.4%, hunter trips were up 0.9%, and duck harvest was up 5% with 9,256 total ducks harvested. Our largest draw of the year was 85 parties on the afternoon of Black Friday, followed closely by 79 parties on the afternoon of the last day of the regular split. We had 8 more draws with 60 or more parties. We averaged just under 34 parties per draw for the season, which is just under half of our average from last season (69 parties/draw).
Mallard made up an even smaller percentage of the harvest in 2021 than they did in 2020, constituting 56.4% of the total harvest compared to 57.5% in 2020 and a historical average of 60-65%. The distribution of drake and hen harvest was basically unchanged from 2020, with drakes making up 61% of the mallard harvest compared to 62% in 2020. Green-winged teal rocketed back to the top of the ‘other ducks’, making up 9.4% of the total harvest with 869 harvested. Green-winged teal are almost always in the top five species harvested and it is good to see their numbers recover after 2020’s very low numbers harvested (3.3% of total harvest in 2020). Pintail, black duck, and ring-necked ducks rounded out the rest of the top five and were very close to each other with 6.8%, 6.4%, and 6.1% of the total harvest respectively. Ring-necked ducks were harvested at more than double their normal rate, totaling 564 harvested compared to a more normal average of 200-250. Gadwall and ruddy ducks had the largest declines in harvest from 2020, with each having less than half of the total number harvested in 2020 despite having more than twice the hunts each week. Redhead harvest was also down by almost half. The biggest story this year in terms of harvest was Canada goose harvest with a total of 218 geese harvested during the regular season shattering the previous high of 134 in 2019. As is normal, most of this harvest occurred during October and early November and tapered off as the season went on, though 7 were taken on the afternoon hunt of December 5th and 19 were shot during the late split.
Harvest trends by hunting zone shifted a little bit this year. Zones 8 and 12 were again eliminated; zone 12 due to lack of hunting cover and possible improvement in quality for neighboring zones and zone 8 due to single hunters being able to go to any zone, making the need for a single hunter zone redundant. Our best zone for the year in total harvest was surprisingly zone 17 at 619 ducks and a 2.11 duck/trip average. This is likely due to many more birds using the 1st refuge than in some recent years and the refuge marsh between the first refuge and the hunting zones being well flooded by the high lake levels and roosting a lot of birds. The best zone for ducks per hunter trip average was zone 24 at 2.13 ducks/trip with a total harvest of 561. Zones 23, 25, 26 and 29 were all very close to each other with harvests over 500 total ducks and averages over 1.8 ducks/trip. Zones 15 and 16 dropped from their usual high totals to below 500 total ducks harvested each.
Marsh zone success continues at near record levels, matching 2020 at 1.05 ducks/hunter trip and topping the 2020 total harvest with 2,028 ducks harvested putting the 2021 marsh harvest third all-time behind 2001 and 1999. While harvest was up in all zones, zone 74 stood out with 491 ducks and a 1.93 ducks/trip average putting it ninth in total harvest and third in ducks/hunter trip. This is thanks in large part to the massive increase in ring-necked duck harvest this year.
Migration and waterfowl numbers
A cold front at the end of September drove refuge counts up quickly. However, most of October was extremely mild and numbers stagnated instead of growing through the month. The onset of hunting pressure likely moved birds around the immediate region after the opener, partly explaining the drop in total ducks after the October 9th count. New birds trickled in from the end of October onwards, which almost always correlates with better hunting overall when compared to a big front and a big push of birds. Wood duck numbers were very high again early in the season, black ducks ended up much higher than normal at the end of the season, and green-winged teal were generally up. There were more ring-necked ducks on the area, but these aren’t usually seen in the farmed refuge as much as the marsh areas. Pintails were down significantly from 2020, as were gadwall. Because of mild temperatures and no meaningful ice development until the end of the month, refuge numbers grew slowly through November. New birds were arriving in small numbers daily, which kept the hunting good. Once we started to dewater and freeze hard in mid-December, numbers dropped quickly before leveling out around 5,000-6,000 prior to the late split. The hunting pressure from the split coincided with our next big freeze, pushing out remaining birds.
Hunting season results
|Species||Total||% of Harvest||Species||Total||% of Harvest|
|Green-winged Teal||869||9.40%||Blue-winged Teal||40||0.40%|
|Black Duck||597||6.40%||Hooded Merg||31||0.30%|
Late split (2 days, January 1 and 2)
Due to how the Christmas holidays fell on the calendar, the late split was pushed later than it’s been in some time, taking place on the 1st and 2nd of January. We held normal draws at 5:30 and 11:30 am on January 1st. Our permit access restrictions and refuge status end on January 1st. This means the entire area was considered open on January 2nd and we did not hold a draw or require permits on that day. Planning on normal draws for the late split has been a good operational change for us as it eliminates uncertainty for both our staff and our hunters.
The early December cold snap thawed quickly, allowing us to get all our fields and refuges pumped down prior to the late split. Zones 28-30 were left at full pool to accommodate what ducks were staying in the area. Prior to the hunt we were holding 5,000-6,000 ducks in the area. Participation and success were both high, with 127 hunter trips and 148 ducks and 19 geese harvested on January 1st. There was a lot of scouting activity in the week leading up to the hunt and it paid off for several parties. We had 27 parties for the morning draw and 22 for the afternoon draw. No draw was conducted on the 2nd, but staff counted 24 cars around the area in the morning. The reports we received were typical for the second day of the split, with one zone doing most of the shooting and little activity outside of that. Some ice had formed the night of the 1st which may have limited activity in a lot of marsh areas.
Volunteers and partners
This year we were able to operate much closer to ‘normal’ and our partners remain a critical part of that. Without everyone pulling together, we would not be able to operate the way we do, and we are grateful for all of our local support. The following is a list of organizations and agencies that have aided in the past year to accomplish our management goals:
- Harsens Island Waterfowl Hunters Association - As our sharecropping partner, they provide equipment, equipment repairs and financial assistance for the cropping program.
- St. Clair Flats Waterfowlers, Inc. - Provides us with significant financial support, volunteer hours, and hosts both the November youth duck hunt and Veteran’s Day Hunt. They have committed funds to support the replacement or repair of pump 3 and have several other area projects in development.
- Michigan Duck Hunters Association, Blue Water Chapter - Provides financial and volunteer support.
- Ducks Unlimited - Continue to work with us on project planning for St. John’s Marsh as well as replacement and improvement of pump three at Harsens Island.
- MUCC District 8 - The Huron Point Conservation Club hosts the Saturday afternoon hunt during the early Federal September youth hunt. We were able to hold a draw for this hunt again this year and they held an offsite luncheon and educational day before the afternoon hunt.
- Pheasants Forever - Habitat projects at Port Huron State Game Area resumed this year and similar mowing and planting projects are planned for St. John’s Marsh in 2022.
- Audubon Great Lakes - The black tern monitoring program in partnership with Detroit Audubon continued this year and will continue in 2022. The east marsh mowing project will start in spring of 2022, with follow up treatments planned for 2023. AGL has committed grant match to support the replacement of pump 3.
The town of Algonac and the community on Harsens Island rely on tourism dollars to drive the local economy. Many businesses thrive on the business brought in during the summer by boating and fishing enthusiasts. Instead of the economic flow slowing after the normal summer boating months end, St. Clair Flats, St. Johns Marsh and the Harsens Island Managed Hunting Unit continue to draw in a regular stream of income to the local economy. Our managed operation on the island alone usually sees 6,500-8,000 hunter trips a year, apart from the thousands of trips made by hunters on the surrounding St. Clair Flats area. Increased hunter trips and especially increased daytime traffic certainly boosted this impact from the decreased activity in 2020.
- 10/12/2022 at 6:00 p.m.
- Get out and explore Michigan’s Wetland Wonders and Managed Waterfowl Hunting Areas this fall! Open houses will be occurring in early October. These open houses allow you to talk with local staff, tour the areas and see what each has to offer for the upcoming waterfowl hunting season.
- 11/11/2022 - Veterans preference drawing