By David Draper, Field and Stream's Central Flyway Duck Reporter
If Sandhill cranes were leading the charge south in the last couple of weeks, then specks and snows are hot on their tail in the eastern half of the Central Flyway. I've heard multiple reports of hunters seeing large flocks of geese push through South Dakota, Nebraska and into Kansas. A friend who runs a duck club in eastern Nebraska reported a "major push of whitefronts Sunday afternoon" and said he has been seeing some new ducks for the past few days, though movement is "minimal."
Though still not the good news we're all waiting for, this report is at the very least an improvement over the email he sent last Friday that detailed the tough hunting he'd be experiencing so far this season:
"I've hunted 12 of the last 13 days. One bunch of ducks a day has been about the extent of it. Two bunches is a bonus. The bluewings at Sand Lake left 10 days ago, and we did not see any. The pelicans and cormorants have never migrated either. Is EVERYTHING still north, or are birds going around us because of the drought?"
That's the question on area waterfowlers' lips, but it remains unanswered until we see a sustained weather event that will kickstart ducks on their way south. I'm trying to retain my optimistic attitude, which is hard to do if you pay attention to the daily water reports from the region at the U.S. Geological Survey Water Data website. A quick look puts the Platte River at Grand Island running at just 60 cubic feet per second, compared to almost three times that amount last week. (Unless you want to get really depressed, I don't suggest looking at the data from a year ago.)
Farther upstream, along the North Platte River, flows are a little more promising. I crossed the river at two different points in the Panhandle last week and it was running strong. Brian Hauptman confirmed this after doing some blind work near Broadwater prior to last weekend's High Plains Zone 3 opener. He reported deep water and strong currents forced him to pick his way across the river carefully, lest he end up riding the tide until the next sandbar.
Reinforcing the idea that some of the early migration skipped over Nebraska are reports coming out of Kansas. Chuck Jeffries emailed to say he's been seeing an increase of ducks as well as some light geese along the Missouri River, and in the central part of the state bird counts are definitely on the upswing. Officials at Cedar Bluff are reporting a mix of more than 3,000 birds, including shovelers, gadwall, widgeon, mallards, pintail, wood duck and ruddy ducks. Jamestown checked in with a similar number of puddle ducks, while Glen Elder is reporting more than 5,000 ducks are resting there, with a mix of 3,500 puddle ducks and 1,500 divers, a majority of which are redheads.
In South Dakota, Game, Fish and Parks Communications Manager Chris Hull got requisitioned to guide upland hunters during the pheasant opener there this past weekend, but reported some friends had a good shoot on wood ducks and found some cranes to hunt in the central part of the state. Prior to the weekend, Hull himself had been duck hunting in the north-central portions of South Dakota. "Some migratory birds, but the leading edge for sure," he reported via email. "Shot limits of mallards, pintails, widgeon and of course some Hollywood mallards (spoonbills) last week. The reports from northeastern South Dakota have been spotty...meaning all local ducks."
View this report on the F&S website
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