By Michael R. Shea, Field & Stream's Atlantic Flyway Duck Reporter
With Hurricane Sandy last week and a cold front this week, you'd expect good numbers of Atlantic flyway birds hauling for southern climes. But with a few exceptions, recent weather in the northeast has stalled duck migrations. Geese, on the other hand, are being reported in high numbers from Canada down through the Chesapeake.
"Throughout the Mississippi and Atlantic flyways reports suggest quite slow movement of dabbling ducks south throughout last week with no notable migrations," the nonprofit conservation group Long Point Waterfowl wrote in their weekly migration report. Long Point uses equations to predict waterfowl migration based on weather. Hunters up and down the Atlantic flyway have reported similar drops in duck activity since Sandy.
If the birds hunkered down and stayed local during the hurricane, you'd think this week's cold front would push them south. Not really, says Long Point scientist Michael Schummer.
"The cold front that came across the upper Midwest prairie isn't going to do much for us on the Atlantic coast," Schummer said. "Much of the ducks we derive on the east coast don't move west to east." For example, 84 percent of the mallards shot in New York State are hatched and reared in New York State, he said. The rest come from parts of eastern Canada and move west. Divers are an exception, and generally move with cold weather from the Mississippi toward the east coast, but they've yet to come down in significant numbers.
"Birds also move west-to-east through the Great Lakes, down the Finger Lakes and over to Chesapeake Bay, but the bulk of them are still on the Great Lakes," Schummer said. "This has been a tough year so far because there are so few major cold-weather events to really push birds."
According to Avery Pro Staffer Mike Bard in New York, "Ducks acted really goofy for two or three days after the hurricane. They were still here, they just didn't move. Their patterns were very unusual for 72 hours or so." In the week since the storm, Bard has seen a trickle of mallards and black ducks near his Syracuse hunting grounds. Geese are a different story.
"The skies have been black with geese," he said.
Reports from Connecticut, Rhode Island, and Pennsylvania echo those from New York: quite after the storm, followed by lots of geese and reduced duck activity. Things look a little better farther south.
"We had some ducks show up just after Sandy," said Doug Howell, waterfowl biologist with the North Carolina Wildlife Resources Commission. "It was our first decent push of the year. Generally early migrants: pintails, widgeon, green-wing teal and we're starting to see woodies from Virginia north moving into our area." The timing couldn't be better as North Carolina's season reopens this Saturday.
The Flight Forecasters
Long Point is a research-based nonprofit that has gained wide acclaim in the waterfowl community over the last few years. Their migration model is based on studies in Missouri that mapped duck abundance numbers to historic weather data going back to 1950. Schummer and company broke weather down to a series of variables that effect ducks: average daily temperature, number of consecutive days below freezing, how many inches of snow and the number of consecutive days with snow cover.
It all started out of graduate work at Mississippi State University.
"Hunters in Mississippi wanted to know if mallards were going to show up and when, so we tried to figure out exactly how ducks interpret weather," Schummer said. "Now we see what we do as an outreach program to the waterfowl community."
Find migration and hunting reports in your area on the Ducks Unlimited Migration Map.
Storm Stalls Ducks; Geese Blacken the Sky