By John Pollmann, WF360 Central Flyway Migration Editor
There’s “cold” and then there’s the brand of Arctic air that swept into the Central Flyway last week, sending temperatures plummeting well below zero in many areas and forcing ducks and geese to move south in search of open water.
After this most recent stretch of winter weather, the hardiest of waterfowl left in North Dakota and South Dakota, where temperatures reached 30-below zero and the wind chill factor went lower yet, are found almost exclusively on the Missouri River. The South Dakota Department of Game, Fish and Parks’ current aerial survey shows a dramatic decrease in the number of both mallards and Canada geese. The week before Christmas, the survey indicated more than 150,000 Canada geese and more than 370,000 mallards. This week’s survey shows roughly 100,000 geese and 40,000 mallards remaining on the river.
It is likely that many of those birds moved out before cold and snow arrived in the Dakotas last week, as large numbers of migrating waterfowl were reported in eastern Nebraska.
“There were new ducks and geese pushing in the days before Christmas,” reports Avery pro-staffer Andrew Schlueter from the Omaha area. “We even had some snows come through. To see them in late December is really unusual, but it has been a weird year.”
However, a mass migration of waterfowl never arrived in western Nebraska as expected, according to avid hunter and photographer Doug Steinke.
“I was out almost every day last week and would only see a few groups of new, migrating birds each day from the north. What the cold did do was consolidate those birds that were remaining in the area,” Steinke says.
Hunters along the central stretch of the Platte River in Nebraska are reporting a difficult year, Steinke says, while other river systems in the state have produced better success.
“There’s still some time left to rack up some numbers with the bounce-back migration we could see at the end of January, but the first two-thirds of the season have been really poor,” Steinke says.
In Kansas, the cold has locked up many of the state’s shallow waters, including those found on lands managed by the Kansas Department of Wildlife, Parks and Tourism. Jamestown, Cheyenne Bottoms, Marais des Cygnes and Neosho wildlife areas are all reporting thick ice and limited hunting opportunities.
So, while the cold has put a squeeze on the amount of open water in the northern and central portions of the Central Flyway, it has likely helped push waterfowl south toward hunters in Oklahoma and other traditional wintering areas.
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 and Mississippi Flyways throughout the 2017-2018 waterfowl season.