By Bill Monroe, WF360 Pacific Flyway Migration Reporter
Ducks are filtering into Washington's upper Columbia Basin, says Chris Bonsignore, Ducks Unlimited's conservation program manager in the Spokane Valley.
"It can happen almost overnight," he says. "We had some cold weather last week and I'm a little surprised it's taken them this long, but actually, it happens just about every year around Thanksgiving."
More birds are in the upper Puget Sound as well and hunters statewide are gearing up for the year's first really cold (for the Northwest, anyway) weather forecast. By Sunday afternoon, it could be snowing across western Washington, after which a blast of Arctic air will chill not only the trip home from Thanksgiving, but may also freeze up most of the ponds and small lakes by the end of next week.
This is excellent news for waterfolwers patiently waiting for migratory flights.
"Without a lot of snow, it's all about big water and grain," says Bonsignore. "We'll have plenty of open water with the Snake, Yakima, Columbia, Spokane and other rivers. As long as it doesn't snow too much, they'll move to the water and return to feed."
Most of eastern Washington has experienced a hard freeze and new birds moved into the Tri-Cities area, Bonsignore explains. The influx of ducks and geese will improve hunters' odds along the Columbia and lower Snake rivers.
Meanwhile, Puget Sound hunters should get to the tidal marshes, where birds will be attracted by the open saltwater. Waterfowl should be roosting on the Sound and feeding in the marshes.
Sea duck hunters will find some good shooting along Admiralty and Juan de Fuca straits (look to Port Townsend Bay as well).
In the Skagit Flats, birds may head for open water, but will return with the tide up the Skagit and Samish rivers. Hunters have been waiting for a weather system like this one, and the public areas may end up crowded by this weekend.
Access to moving water, rivers and streams, will be the keys to success as freezing weather means hot hunting for jump shooters.
Along the lower Columbia, action should also pick up as birds increase their efforts to ward off the energy-demanding chilly weather. There are still lots of ducks relaxing along both Washington and Oregon coasts.
Further down the flyway, hunting picked up Tuesday at Oregon's Sauvie Island Wildlife Management Area (opposite Ridgefield National Wildlife Refuge across the Columbia).
California hunters shouldn't ignore what's going on north of their flatlands in the Sacramento and San Joaquin valleys. Increasing numbers of snow and Canada geese are filling the skies above the Sacramento and Delevan NWRs, and ducks in Washington and Oregon may not hold out against the bitter cold.
California, Utah and Arizona hunters should expect to see increased waterfowl numbers in the near future.
Bill Monroe is an Oregon-based freelance writer who has hunted the Pacific Flyway for three decades. Monroe will provide hunting and habitat reports throughout the Pacific Flyway for the 2013-2014 waterfowl season.