By Michael R. Shea, Field & Stream's Atlantic Flyway Duck Reporter
I've spent the last few mornings off the Rhode Island coast chasing sea ducks. My uncle and main hunting partner Tim Rakovan and I managed to scratch out a few scoters and one drake long-tailed duck, which you can see in the video above, as I had Sony's new Action Cam on my head during much of the hunt.
Prime sea ducking usually starts just after Thanksgiving and runs through January in this part of the world. The Atlantic flyway off southern New England is the bottom end of the wintering grounds for eiders, and the are holds some scoters and long-tailed ducks, too.
Just this week, the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service took an airplane survey off the Massachusetts coast and estimated about 20,000 eider, 10,000 scoter, and a very small number of long-tailed ducks in the Cape Cod area. "That's comparable to last year," said Chris Dwyer, a wildlife biologist with the service. "It's not usual to see a large number of scoters further up the coast this time of year."
Eider numbers only go up the colder it gets.
"I use Thanksgiving as a benchmark," said Avery Pro Staffer Brian Rhodes, of The Swampers Waterfowl Hunting, who hunts out of Rhode Island. "Before Thanksgiving it's a lot of hens and juvenile birds. You can kill ducks, but you don't see a lot of big, mature drakes."
Scoters typically winter in good numbers further south in Chesapeake Bay, with smaller numbers working down farther to Pamlico Sound and the Outer Banks. "Right before the hurricane, we had a good push of surf scoters and black scoters. It's not uncommon to see 75 to 300 in a bunch," said Jeff Coats, Chesapeake guide, photographer, and decoy carver at Pitboss Waterfowl. "But I think the storm changed things up. We're not seeing the same numbers now. The big rafts have broken up."
Coats said November 7 is typically the magic day when long-tailed ducks show up in the Chesapeake, and they seem to be on schedule this year. "What I'm not seeing is other ducks. There are some buffleheads, but usually they come early in big numbers. I saw some brant, but really we haven't seen a nice big push of other ducks yet."
If you're planning on chasing sea ducks or divers this week, Coats recommends sleeping in. "It's best to go out on the late side so you don't run through the birds in the dark. Eight a.m. to 10 a.m. has always been my best shooting on sea ducks anyway."
If you're not on the coast and chasing sea ducks this holiday week, there isn't much to report in dabbler news. The mild days and cold nights flyway-wide has resulted in little duck movement. Water levels remain high nearly everywhere thanks to Sandy. Next week looks much the same. Odds are if the hunting was good in your area last week and the week before, it should continue that way. If not, there's always deer hunting.
Sea Duck Action is Taking Off
Find hunting and migration reports in your area on the Ducks Unlimited Migration Map.