Jeff McCreary, Ducks Unlimited biologist
With the biggest, wettest, and windiest storm of the season rolling through northern California last week, excitement was in the air for a few great days of duck hunting.
I hunt a rice blind east of the Sutter National Wildlife Refuge and I was anticipating a great hunt all week. I chose Saturday as my hunting day as it would be between two torrential rain storms, but still have good wind. Well, the forecast was wrong. We got wet sure enough, saw only high-flying specks and white geese, and didn't fire a shot. Not even at the one wigeon that snuck in and flew off before we saw it through the driving rain. My hunting partner didn't fare much better the day before, he and his son got absolutely soaked by three inches of rain and had only one bird to show for it.
Sitting in the blind that morning while feeling the rain creep in around my hood, I wondered what was going on with the birds. They should have been all over us. With all the excitement I had forgotten that it is fall and relatively early in the season.
Waterfowl surveys consistently show that bird numbers in the Central Valley do not peak until late December. So, while the “Pineapple Express” brought ample wind and drenching rain, it didn't bring the cold temperatures of winter storms that force the birds further south.
Waterfowl habitat overall is looking great in the Central Valley. Lots of water means an abundance of shallow flooded areas, even rice ground that was not intentionally flooded is now providing decent habitat. This availability is spreading the already low bird numbers out, causing mixed results for hunters. This usually happens much later in the season when the rains typically increase. So, having this happen this early is different than what we've seen in almost a decade, if not longer.
Nevertheless, the worst day in the blind is better than no day in the blind.
Jeff McCreary is the Ducks Unlimited Director of Conservation Programs in California's Central Valley. The Central Valley is a historical waterfowling region and is listed as a priority area for the organization's conservation efforts.
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