By Kyle Wintersteen, WF360 Atlantic Flyway Migration Editor
Brisk weather conditions during the month of January resulted in major movements of Atlantic Flyway waterfowl, and Florida waterfowlers are among the beneficiaries.
"We've had fairly consistent arrivals of migratory ducks throughout the season," says Andrew Fanning, a Florida
Wildlife Commission waterfowl biologist based in Tallahassee. "But we got an especially good boost from the big arctic front that set in during the second week of January. There's no question it brought in all kinds of ducks: gadwalls and American wigeon, in particular, but also northern shovelers, canvasbacks and a few scaup. A lot of hunters
were reporting limits of ducks during that time."
In part thanks to the cold, hunters on Lake Seminole are having success on canvasbacks and other prized big-water ducks. Fanning also notes that waterfowlers hunting such traditional scaup strongholds as the Banana, Indian and Iguana Rivers are reporting average to above-average success in recent weeks. And they aren't alone.
"The harvest has been pretty phenomenal at our most popular stormwater treatment areas in the central and southern regions of the state," Fanning adds. "Harvest data indicates upwards of 3.5 to 4.5 ducks per hunter per hunt, which is really high for a public waterfowl hunting area. Bags have consisted mostly of blue-winged teal
and ring-necked ducks
, which is pretty typical for Florida. Hunters have also shot a good bit of wigeon this year, mainly near the brackish coastal marshes."
Among the good news for Florida hunters
is the state's ample population of black-bellied whistling ducks, which biologists believe to be on the rise and expanding northward.
"They're really abundant right now and showing up more and more among hunters' bags," Fanning says. "We're seeing a lot of them on the stormwater treatment areas and coastal marshes. Recently we banded them as far north as Tallahassee, one of which was shot in central Florida. This suggests to us that the species does do a small migration."
The state of Florida does not collect mid-winter waterfowl survey information, but banding and hunter
check-station data indicates an average year with the potential for a strong finish—pending the weather's cooperation, of course.
"I don't think it's been one of those years where you can just go out and have a duck shoot, but there are certainly a good number of birds here," Fanning explains. "The cold has kept fresh birds arriving here in northwest Florida and kept them moving to the central and southern regions. For those folks willing to put in the time and effort, and maybe sit an extra hour or two, there's good opportunity for success through the remainder of the season."
Kyle Wintersteen is a freelance writer and passionate waterfowler who has hunted the Atlantic Flyway for two decades. Wintersteen will provide hunting and habitat reports for the Atlantic Flyway throughout the 2013-2014 waterfowl season.