By Bill Monroe, WF360 Pacific Northwest Migration Editor
A strong push of ducks and geese surprised everyone across Washington well before waterfowl seasons opened last week, and this time there was plenty of water across the state to keep them around.
“It’s another interesting year,” says Kyle Spragens, waterfowl biologist for the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife (WDFW).
“An early arrival of cackling geese and snows in the Skagit Valley kind of surprised us,” Spragens says. “It’s usually a slower build. I’ve even heard of some snow geese in the Tri-Cities area (upper Columbia Basin).”
The Skagit Valley is currently holding about 30,000 geese, a number that will continue to climb. So will dabbling duck numbers, which tend to increase throughout fall.
WDFW biologists flew a survey last week and found approximately 70,000 ducks in Padilla and Samish Bays in north Puget Sound. American wigeon and green-winged teal were the most numerous species on Padilla, while northern pintails were the most abundant on Samish.
Hunting reports suggest that opening weekend was good along the Columbia River for both ducks and geese, especially in Willapa Bay.
“The birds have just arrived from Canada and Alaska,” Spragens says. “At least we had some water this time to hold them. Whether these early birds will bolt to California remains to be seen. Maybe some of the dabbling ducks will hang up for a little bit longer.”
Spragens has heard that large concentrations of ducks and geese remain on the prairies north of Calgary, Alberta, mainly due to the unseasonably warm weather.
Migrating waterfowl have also filtered into eastern Washington and Idaho. According to Chris Bonsignore, a DU biologist based in Spokane, wigeon, pintails and teal have arrived in northern Idaho and across Washington’s scablands to the Coeur d’Alene River.
“We haven’t seen a lot of mallards yet,” Bonsignore says. “And the local birds are grouped up a bit after opening weekend.”
And, on cue, some divers seem to be moving in with the shorter days rather than waiting for a freeze.
“I’ve seen some ringnecks and scaup,” Bonsignore says. “I’m optimistic. We’re on track for a good migration.”
Jeff Knetter, a waterfowl biologist with the Idaho Fish and Game Department, says opening week was good throughout the Treasure Valley wetlands from Boise to Mud Lake, and resident geese remain in good numbers along the Snake River.
“There are some spots that have ducks and others without birds,” Knetter adds. “Deer and elk seasons are open, and there aren’t a lot of waterfowl hunters out.”
Chris Colson, a DU biologist in Idaho, corroborates Knetter’s report. “Opening week was pretty good,” Colson says, “but by the second week, the birds got decoy-wise.”
The so-called “Yellowstone Flyway,” a high-elevation area in southeast Idaho, received nine inches of snow early in the season, Colson says, but it’s all melted now. That may have pushed a lot of birds out, although opening-week reports were good from Market and Mud lakes.
“The waterfowl nuts are out there, but the guys who try to hunt everything are still deep in the woods,” Colson says. “Those in the know will find decent hunting despite the fair weather.”
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 Northwest for the 2017-2018 waterfowl season.