By John Pollmann, WF360 Central Flyway Migration Editor
Timely movements of migrating ducks and geese have kept Nebraska hunters busy during the 2013-2014 waterfowl season, and excellent water conditions should result in continued hunting success as more migrating birds shift south out of the Dakotas.
In terms of water levels, it is a tale of two seasons according to Mark Vrtiska, waterfowl program manager with the Nebraska Game and Parks Commission.
"The situation is much more favorable this year compared to last year's water conditions," Vrtiska says. "We were so dry in many areas last fall that it had a real impact on the hunting. The water this fall has helped stop a lot of birds, and I know that it has played a big role in hunter success across the state."
Vrtiska explains that healthy water levels have helped hunters in the Sandhills of western Nebraska, the Rainwater Basin in the south-central portion of the state, and along the Platte River.
"What has been nice this fall is that we haven't had one massive migration of birds; it's been a nice pulse of ducks and geese every five or six days," Vrtiska says. "Just about the time you think that things are going to slow down and the birds become stale, you pick up a fresh batch of birds. That's been particularly helpful down in the Rainwater Basin, where the hunting tends to get really tough without new ducks."
It is a pattern of waterfowl movement that professional photographer and Avery pro-staffer Doug Steinke has also observed this season.
"We've had several cold fronts sweep down from the north, and it seems that there are new birds on the leading edge of every one of them," Steinke says. "It has been nice and steady."
There are still a good variety of waterfowl in the state, Steinke says, as he recently witnessed flocks of green-winged teal and gadwalls while out shooting photographs.
A cold front last week brought the first big migration of mallards into eastern Nebraska, adds Steinke, and he has started to see massive feeding concentrations of mallards in dry fields near his hometown of Grand Island.
"Another sure sign that the migration is rolling is when the Canada geese start stacking up in town," Steinke says. "At peak numbers, we'll probably have around 15,000 geese or more in and around town, and I'd say right now we're inching toward half that number."
Steinke says that Nebraska hunters are eyeing another cold front this week that is set to bring snow and bitter cold to the Dakotas and, if the pattern holds true, another push of fresh ducks and geese.
"My guess is that Thanksgiving week is going to be a very good week for waterfowl hunters in Nebraska," Steinke says. "I'll be hunting the Platte River from now until the end of the season, and I think that things are only going to get better."
John Pollmann is a freelance writer from Dell Rapids, South Dakota who is an avid waterfowler and conservationist. Pollmann will provide hunting and habitat reports for the Central Flyway throughout the 2013-2014 waterfowl season.