By Michael R. Shea, Field & Stream's Atlantic Flyway Duck Reporter
Atlantic flyway duck hunters got what they wanted this holiday season: cold weather. On Christmas Eve temperatures started falling in the northeast, and they have stayed low through New Year. That, plus 4 to 24 inches of new snow in much of New England has ducks pushing south to mid-Atlantic and coastal regions in numbers like we haven't seen yet this season.
Up north on the Ontario breeding grounds, all the birds are gone, said Sarah Fleming, the Ducks Unlimited regional biologist for New York State, and in New England shallow water has locked up in most places and ag fields are white with snow, covering up food.
Still, there are huntable numbers of birds north of New York City, especially on the big-water lakes and reservoirs. New York's Western Zone season opened last week and there are many reports of diver and dabbler concentrations on the Finger Lakes. Geese are also in abundance, including some snows with the snow. Fleming spotted 150,000 snow geese in the southern Finger Lakes region over the holiday week. "They're probably on the move south, too,” she said.
All this New England snow and cold weather is really helping out the Mid-Atlantic States. "We didn't have any ducks at all until New York froze up and got that snow,” said Avery Pro Staffer Kevin Addy, who hunts Pennsylvania and Maryland. "We finally got a good push.” The usual suspects--mallards, blacks and mergansers--are chocking up available inland waters in PA; bluebills, gadwalls, mallards, blacks and few canvasbacks are on Maryland waters, he said. Goose hunting, especially on Maryland's eastern shore, has been A+.
"When it was warm ducks were walking out of loafing areas and eating grass around the pond. Now that its finally cold, they're looking for high protein, cut corn, some wheat, but pretty much corn since the weathers so cold. That makes birds patternable, you can get out and scout them and hunt them,” Addy said. "This is the time of year for the duck hunter.”
Laurence Mauck, an Avery Pro Staffer in central Virginia, said the same things: birds are now in their standard winter pattern of roosting, feeding, and loafing, which makes them huntable. "There's been no consistency this season, but the last week of cold weather has ducks starting to work that winter pattern.”
Further south, conditions are changing, but there hasn't been a big push yet.
"I'm keeping my fingers crossed, but no big changes in the last couple of weeks,” said Greg Balkcom, state waterfowl biologist, Georgia Department Natural Resources. There has been rain, though, in an otherwise dry winter, and impoundments have started to fill and hold water since Christmas. "Just now we have some good water on the ground,” Balkcom said. "Now we need more coolness and weather in the mid-Atlantic.”
With daytime temperatures expected to go up next week, it might be the end of the month before that happens.
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