By Michael R. Shea, WF360 Atlantic Flyway Migration Editor
Bitter cold days followed by prolonged warm spells have produced sporadic duck flights this season in North Carolina. And the trend is expected to continue. Low temperatures hit the mid-teens over the weekend but will climb back into the 50s and 60s later this week.
"It's been an up-and-down season," says Capt. Froggy Thornton, of Capt. Froggy's Hunting and Fishing Guide Service (duckhuntingnc.com). "With the weather, very good days have been followed by very slow days."
The first split in the Tar Heel State in October was slow by all accounts, then the second start in November was the best in years with four to five days of great shooting reported across the state. As birds became educated and the weather warmed, the hunting slowed. The action improved again following the next cold snap in early December, but by Christmas it was nearly 70 degrees in parts of the state.
"Right now we have a winter weather advisory in some coastal areas," reported Tommy Hughes, coastal ecoregion supervisor with the North Carolina Wildlife Resources Commission, on Monday. "It's been a funny year. We've had some great days, but overall there haven't been a lot of birds. This week, as things start to melt, some of the impoundments could fill up."
Inland impoundments, Hughes says, haven't performed well since November. Wood duck numbers in particular have been low this year. Yet, areas on the north end of Pamlico Sound have produced birds, thanks to healthy numbers of ring-necked ducks. Generally speaking, divers on the coast have been much more consistent, and several reports indicate that there are good rafts of scaup and canvasbacks on the big water.
Puddle duck hunters who are sticking closer to shore and in the impoundments are seeing wigeon, gadwalls, teal and pintails—albeit in low numbers for January. Last week, however, there was a fast and furious late green-winged teal migration through Pamlico, when thousands of these little birds blasted through the area on their way south. It just goes to show, anything can happen this time of year, with many birds still up north in neighboring states and inconsistent weather.
"I'm anxious to see what shows up this week," Hughes says. "This morning the low was in the low teens. It may get above freezing today, then we're in for a cold night and a warm up. The middle and end of this week could be very good, but right now it's too soon to tell."
Michael R. Shea is a New York–based freelance writer who hunts waterfowl throughout the Atlantic Flyway. Shea will be providing habitat and hunting reports for the Atlantic Flyway during the 2016–2017 waterfowl season.