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Migration Alert: Warm, Wet Weather Spreads Ducks Thin 

Dec. 11 - Atlantic Flyway
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  • photo by Michaelfurtman.com
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By Michael R. Shea, Field & Stream's Atlantic Flyway Duck Reporter

Record highs and wet weather across much of the East Coast has made for poor duck hunting north and south. With little cold weather in sight, it could be a challenging week for Atlantic flyway hunters.

The shooting wasn't all bad Monday morning near Block Island sound in Southern Connecticut. The weather was ducky: stiff winds blowing in from offshore gales, steady rain, but warm, with temps in the mid-50s. Black ducks in pairs and triples worked the decoys. Mallards in larger groups of fours, fives, and sixes were around but noncommittal, as were smaller numbers of mergansers and buffleheads. On the same water over the weekend, when the temperatures dipped into the 30s and the fog was thick, some hunters reported quick limits, but we didn't get close to that Monday.

Up the coast in Maine the shooting has been slow, too, said Kelsey Sullivan, migratory and upland game bird biologist with the Maine Department of Inland Fisheries and Wildlife. The northern part of the state is frozen solid, but inland water is still open central and south, dispersing the few ducks sticking around. "Inland, I think the birds overflew us," Sullivan said. "We expected movement a week and a half ago [when it frozen up north] but it never seemed to happen."

Sullivan hunted Friday in Cobs Cook Bay and said the saltwater hunting was much better. "We're seeing black ducks pile up on the coast and they'll stay there for the winter," he said. "Every cove I went into had a couple hundred birds." Eiders and scoters have mostly moved south, but Sullivan is hearing big reports of longtail ducks off Maine right now. Further south and west, in upstate New York, Avery Pro Staffer Arlis Reed has seen a drop off in duck numbers recently. Two weeks ago his group was whacking dabblers and geese in double digits, but last weekend that slowed down. Still, there have been birds to shoot, as evidenced by the drake mallards in the photo above.

With colder weather expected to move through the upper Northeast later this week, Reed is hoping the last three weeks of the season gets hot by getting cold. Heavy rains across the region have opened little potholes and flooded cornfields and ditches, which could draw and disperse birds. "But as long as it's down below freezing to tighten up the smaller stuff, we'll be good," Reed said. "Whenever I see temps forecasting into the 20s, I get excited." The rest of the flyway isn't so lucky, with temperatures expected to remain unseasonably warm. In the Chesapeake Bay area, so far this year, the waterfowling has been "not spectacular," said Jake McPherson, regional biologist for Ducks Unlimited covering Maryland, Delaware, and West Virginia.

"As far as the geese go, the last couple weeks there's been an increase, a lot of birds in the fields, some in the salt marsh, at least more than there have been," he said. "It's looking better this year than last year. But I would think this warm weather hasn't been great for them."

The third split of the duck season opens in Maryland on Tuesday, but numbers are thin. There's no ice, so ducks have lots of options when looking to evade hunters. "In weather like this, even if they're around you don't always see them," McPherson said. Diving ducks are in the area, but no real huge rafts. "At this point the best thing to do is keep your fingers crossed for some cold weather," he said.

In the Deep South, duck hunting this year started off with a bang, with Super Storm Sandy pushing good numbers of birds down, said Greg Balkcom, state waterfowl biologist at the Georgia Wildlife Resources Division. He saw pintails, widgeon, and gadwalls right after the early October hurricane – ducks that normally don't make it that far south until November. Since then, nothing.

"It's been very poor," Balkcom said. "Opening day hunts on Thanksgiving weekend on the coast that are normally excellent were very poor this year."

Last week at the Rum Creek Wildlife Management Area, near Macon, Balkcom counted two gadwalls and a "herd of wood ducks." The-25 acre area includes 10 acres of flooded corn, Egyptian wheat, and millet. "Normally you'll find some of everything this time of year, and there were almost no ducks," he said.

Balkcom is hoping that the rain and wind over Louisiana and Mississippi sweeping east will turn north and move birds south. "So far its been very dry and not a whole lot of ducks," he said. "It can only get better from here."

Warm, Wet Weather Spreads Ducks Thin

Find hunting and migration reports in your area on the Ducks Unlimited Migration Map.

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