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Migration Alert: Opportunities Remain for California Waterfowlers

Jan. 18, 2014 – Pacific Flyway
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  • photo by MIchaelFurtman.com
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By Bill Monroe, WF360 Pacific Flyway Migration Editor

California waterfowlers
are facing what has become the driest year on record, making habitat conditions less than ideal. Yet, waterfowl hunters throughout the state continue to be optimistic.

While the high-pressure area off the Pacific Coast is blocking all incoming weather fronts, much like the Sierra Nevada blocks rainfall across Nevada, this hasn't hindered migration into many traditional areas.

"The birds are here and the refuge and public-area hunters are doing pretty well," says Virginia Getz, DU's regional biologist for the state's central valleys.

This, with a completely unseasonal Santa Ana and wildfire in the south, brush fires on the Sacramento Delta, and balmy 70-plus weather outside her office in Rancho Cordova.

A few weeks ago, Getz reported that ducks and geese shifted from the west side of the central valley to the east. Well, the geese, especially white geese, have returned to the west side, Getz explains.

Instead, they've moved to public lands, refuges that have dependable water. "Even the private land hunters are moving onto public grounds," she says.

Butte Basin and Gray Lodge have been among the best, topping two birds per gun on both weekend days. In fact, the Butte Basin's Little Dry Creek Unit last week averaged four birds on Saturday and two on Sunday.

 "We can't wait until that February goose hunt," Getz says. "We've got tons of geese and when the seasons end, they'll have had two weeks off."

South of Getz's region, DU biologist Derek Mynear said hunting is hit-or-miss in the San Joaquin Valley's grasslands, with divers and teal in the mix, but totals down by about a quarter million birds. "We had a (census) flight last week and had about 750,000 birds," he says. "We should have close to one million."

Mynear reports that private lands have had a few good hunts, but the state's warm spell isn't helping.

Same for coastal areas.

Throughout the Pacific Flyway, late-season opportunities exist, but birds are wary and beginning to pair up – forcing hunters to use a handful of creative decoy and calling tactics.
 
Freezing prairies and plains limit hunting from Idaho south into northern Arizona and New Mexico.

Washington – There are still lots of birds rafted on big water in western Washington and the upper Columbia basin. Like California, much of the private land has dried out, so what few birds are moving are doing so on and off protected water sources (refuges, Puget Sound, tidal flats, etc.).

Oregon – Last weekend's major windstorm provided less-than-spectacular results statewide, with a few exceptions. Most birds seem to have been blown off the coast, but certainly haven't shown up inland. "We're just kind of scratching our heads," says Eric Strand of Strand Outdoors and S2 Calls. "It's tough all over."

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. 

WATERFOWL MIGRATION ALERTS!
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