By Kyle Wintersteen, WF360 Atlantic Flyway Migration Editor
The job of waterfowl manager can be one of those "none of the credit, all of the blame" professions. Too often your efforts go unnoticed, except of course when waterfowl numbers and hunting success are poor. That hasn't been the case this year, at least in North Carolina.
"I certainly haven't heard the 'where's the ducks?' question that crops up sometimes from hunters," says Joe Fuller, migratory game bird coordinator for the North Carolina Wildlife Resources Commission. "Hunters seem to be faring pretty well. In our coastal areas, I'd say the migration is either typical for this time of year or a little ahead of schedule. Hunters in western and central regions tend to focus on wood ducks, which have been consistently plentiful, and mallards. I haven't heard many reports of mallards yet, so I have no reason to believe they're ahead of schedule."
Waterfowl hunting in North Carolina is especially popular along the coast, where major bodies of water such as famed Currituck Sound attract large numbers of wintering dabblers and divers. Bags can include anything from scoters to green-winged teal, but at this point in the season, early migrants are more prevalent.
"I've been hearing good reports of birds in the eastern part of the state for several weeks," Fuller says. "That's consistent with what we've observed on state wildlife management areas. We're seeing mostly earlier migrants right now, such as pintails, green-winged teal, wigeon and gadwalls. Sea ducks have also arrived in good numbers, and for us that means primarily surf scoters and black scoters."
Ducks Unlimited member Erinn Otterson harvested a nice mixed bag last week from his blind on Currituck. "We shot quite a few wigeon, two redheads and a couple mallards," Otterson reports. "Overall, we saw a lot of ducks, but few divers. There were some scaup flying, but not many."
Fuller has a similar assessment. "I haven't heard many reports of redheads or scaup," he says. "Some have been shot on our state management areas, but typically they arrive in better numbers later in the season. We do have good reports of ring-necked ducks filtering in, and we bagged some this past week on one of our hunts."
North Carolina also issues tundra swan permits to 5,000 lucky hunters—one of the country's largest allotments. "We don't do swan surveys until January, but I know that large numbers of swans began arriving during the last seven to 10 days," Fuller says. "Typically, a lot of the swan hunting takes place in December and January, when more birds arrive and switch to feeding in agriculture fields. When the swans first arrive, they tend to stay out on the water."
Waterfowl habitat conditions are also looking good in the Tar Heel State. Ample late summer and fall rains replenished natural wetlands, ponds and lakes.
"We flooded our state management areas on time, which is not always the case," Fuller explains. "Most of our private landowners with impoundments have also gotten their land flooded on time or even a little early. Right now we have a good amount of habitat and water out there compared to the previous few years. As long as the weather continues to cooperate, I'm pretty optimistic for our hunters."
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.