By Peter Ottesen, WF360 California Migration Editor
Duck hunters who frequent the 300,000-acre Grasslands Ecological Area in Merced County—the largest contiguous marsh west of the Great Salt Lake—are looking forward to an influx of new ducks from the north. Hunter averages are up, but the improvement is likely due to foggy weather rather than increased numbers of birds.
“As a snapshot of my experiences at Los Banos Wildlife Area, we’ve seen an influx of shovelers and snow geese,” says assistant refuge manager Sean Allen. “Our bird-per-hunter averages are creeping up after bottoming out two weeks ago. I think that bodes well for the final two months of the season.”
Allen explains that closed zones at Los Banos Wildlife Area are beginning to stack up with birds—mallards, gadwalls, and green-winged teal. In the northern Grasslands near Gustine, the first sighting of tundra swans occurred on Nov. 29. Ring-necked ducks have arrived en masse, and green-winged teal, shovelers and mallards are being taken in greater numbers.
The Sacramento-San Joaquin River Delta west of Stockton received an influx of northern pintails and American wigeon on Wednesday.
“It looks like the Delta has got some new birds,” reports avid waterfowler Steven Klein. “My partner and I could have put a lot of pintails on our strap, but with a one-bird limit, we just sat and watched them fly. They were really nice to see.”
Aleutian Canada geese are now abundant on Delta islands, and numbers of white-fronted and snow geese are increasing as well.
West of the Salton Sea, at San Jacinto Wildlife Area, wigeon are the primary species being taken by hunters. Some shovelers and mallards are also in the mix, but green-winged teal are sparse.
“This week we saw lots of high flights of migrating waterfowl over the valley, but they didn’t seem to drop down,” says Michael Marshall of the Mystic Lake Duck Club. “We’re getting some birds, but no big numbers yet. Pintails haven’t arrived like they normally do.
At the Ramona Duck Club, Joe Fass reports that it has been the slowest season in memory. “I suspect we’ll get more birds when the lakes in Utah freeze. I attribute the poor hunting to the weather. On Thanksgiving Day, it was 94 degrees at my blind,” Fass says.
Fass is taking the long view about the season and is confident that the action will improve. “It’s no big crisis, just mild weather,” he says. “I’ll be back at the marsh this week and will enjoy every minute of it.”
Peter Ottesen is an award-winning, California-based writer who has a passion for hunting, conservation, and farming. Ottesen will provide Migration Alerts for the Pacific Flyway during the 2017-2018 waterfowl season.