By Kyle Wintersteen
A few weeks ago, much of Pennsylvania
awoke to the year's first heavy frost, an event timed in conjunction with a full moon. So my friends and I had high hopes as we entered a public marsh last week, and the thin layer of ice crunching against our knees did little to dampen spirits. Wigeon
buzzed the decoys before first light and pintails
soon followed suit. They were the first migratory birds we'd seen this fall and a welcome sight indeed. Hours later our bag consisted of gadwalls
, and a few mallards
from flocks too large to be exclusively local.
In my excitement I declared that our state had surely gotten a major push of ducks, but according to Kevin Jacobs, a waterfowl biologist for the Pennsylvania Game Commission, the migration is still just getting under way.
"We're getting good reports of teal and wood ducks
," Jacobs says. "The calendar species such as gadwalls, wigeon and ring-necked ducks are present but not in above average numbers. They typically arrive in largest numbers through the month of November, and I expect many to arrive with the next cold front. Mallard numbers have been below average, but recent reports indicate they're on the increase. Mallards and American black ducks
don't usually peak until early to mid-December."
During a scouting run, I also saw my first scaup of the year, curiously a lone drake. Are we on the cusp of a push of divers
"The dabbler migration is approximately on time, but diver numbers are behind," Jacobs says. "Diving duck numbers on Lake Erie have remained low this week, but that should change as the frontal system moves in. We have reports of some scaup
arriving, but largest numbers should occur from early November through mid-December, assuming normal weather patterns."
According to Nick Biasini, Ducks Unlimited's regional biologist for Pennsylvania, far better wetland conditions exist for the birds than the dry habitats that greeted them last year. Ample water tends to spread the ducks out, but it also spreads out the hunting pressure, and unpressured birds with sufficient food and open water tend to stick around longer.
"I hope this will be an average to above-average year with good habitat conditions across much of the state," Biasini says. "I'm optimistic about the remainder of the waterfowl season."