By Kyle Wintersteen
The sun's rays had yet to fully illuminate North Carolina's famed Currituck Sound, but the long, slender silhouettes buzzing the decoys were unmistakably pintails. They made one pass, banked back into the wind and danced gracefully into the blocks. Ducks Unlimited member Erinn Otterson of Virginia Beach, Va., picked out a bird, rose to shoot, and was soon admiring his first duck of the North Carolina season - a bull sprig. Not a bad start.
"We rounded out the [opening day of the second split on November 10] with eight pintails and a gadwall," Otterson reports. "We've seen a lot of the early migrating dabblers like pintails, gadwalls and greenwings, but it's a little strange how many scaup we're seeing already. On the first day we saw three groups and they all had between 50 and 100 ducks. We probably could've shot a few, but we weren't set up for bluebills, especially not in those numbers."
Otterson is not alone in this observation.
"We're receiving many reports of good diver numbers, especially in regards to scaup, which I would consider a little earlier than usual," says Joe Fuller, migratory game bird coordinator for the North Carolina Wildlife Resources Commission. "We don't do formal duck surveys until January, but we also believe we got a good early push of dabbler species, including strong numbers of green-winged teal. Good numbers of ducks in general are reported for the Currituck, Pamlico Sound, and various state impoundments along the coast. I've heard from a lot of hunters who are doing pretty well in those locations."
It's also shaping up to be a good year for the 5,000 lucky North Carolina hunters who drew tundra swan permits, which allow each hunter to bag one swan.
"I haven't shot my swan yet," says Otterson, "But they've arrived. We're seeing a lot of them staging near the Mackay Island National Wildlife Refuge."
Arriving waterfowl have been aided by ample natural wetlands, thanks to a fairly wet summer and recent rains.
"We have good water in a lot of our beaver ponds and natural wetland habitats, which is great for the birds," Fuller says. "The extra water also helped state and private waterfowl managers to flood impoundments for hunting and habitat. As far as diver habitat goes, we had a good production year for submerged aquatic vegetation. We don't know for sure how a few storms affected the vegetation, but I suspect the ducks will still find it in pretty good quantities."
Find hunting and migration reports in your area on the Ducks Unlimited Migration Map.