By Kyle Wintersteen
The temptation when writing these reports is to be overly optimistic. To encourage readers with news of ducks on the move and tell them, "It's going to be the best weekend ever!" But there's no way to spin the current conditions.
A second straight year of unseasonable warmth has plagued the Atlantic Flyway. As I write this, a quick look at the Ducks Unlimited Waterfowl Migration Map reveals temperatures ranging from 43 F in Toronto to 58 F in New York City and 66 F in southern Virginia. There's still plenty of open water at northern latitudes, which has delayed the arrival of birds across the flyway including two iconic locations: the Chesapeake Bay and Maryland's Eastern Shore.
"We've seen a few sporadic, big groups of ducks passing through," says Ducks Unlimited Regional Biologist Jake McPherson, "But the general consensus among biologists is that most birds haven't shown up due to the mild weather. Shortly after Hurricane Sandy we had good reports of teal, pintails and other dabbling ducks, especially in and around the Blackwater National Wildlife Refuge, but most have moved on. We're also not seeing the large rafts of divers on the bay you'd hope to see by now. There's just been no real reason for ducks to move south in significant numbers, and I suspect even northern New York is still holding a lot of birds."
Fortunately the goose migration appears to be more on schedule.
"Within the last three weeks, we've seen quite a few more geese than I expected given the weather," McPherson reports. "The numbers are pretty good, especially compared to last year. I've seen a lot of birds on the Eastern Shore ranging from Chestertown, Maryland, all the way down to Dorchester County. All we need is one good cold front to push some birds and the hunting could really heat up."
So, let's not hit the panic button just yet. Extreme cold is sweeping the Midwest, and freezing temperatures and light snowfall are expected to hit Pennsylvania and New York in the coming days. Are ducks moving ahead of the front? If my own scouting is any indication, yes, they certainly are. Just this morning I noted a substantial number of fresh birds in central Pennsylvania a few miles south of Interstate 80. One sanctuary area held dozens, perhaps a hundred more mallards and black ducks than just a few days ago.
Let's stay positive. There are plenty of ducks just waiting to ride the winds our way. The mercury will dip any day now. And best of all there's still a month of hunting left. Make the most of it.
Find hunting and migration reports in your area on the Ducks Unlimited Migration Map.