By Joseph Albanese, WF360 North Atlantic Flyway Migration Editor
Hunters in western New York are hoping for cold weather to help concentrate puddle ducks on the bigger lakes and perhaps push down a few new ducks from the north.
Garret Grilli calls New York’s Finger Lakes home. In years past, he’s been just about frozen out by now, but warmer than usual conditions have kept even the smaller creeks and ponds open. The usual roster of Finger Lakes divers—scaup, goldeneyes, and redheads—have been regular visitors to his spread, but the typical influx of dabblers hasn’t occurred yet.
“You can still find plenty of ducks in the shallow wetlands. The impoundments at Montezuma National Wildlife Refuge remain ice free, and they’re holding plenty of ducks,” Grilli says. He hopes Arctic air will freeze up the swamps and creeks and give hunters on the larger lakes the fantastic shooting that typically occurs right before the season closes.
Captain Tom Cornicelli is celebrating his 40th season putting hunters on geese, 25 of which have been spent on Long Island’s East End. The migration has been slow this year, although Cornicelli notes that he has seen an uptick in goose numbers during the last couple of weeks. “We’re starting to see some fresh birds move in,” Cornicelli states, adding that the new arrivals are hungry from their trip and have been hitting the fields hard.
Cornicelli has seen an incredible number of scaup on the bay behind his shop, more than he can remember seeing in quite some time. Black ducks are also plentiful, but the “other” dabblers such as gadwalls and wigeon haven’t made a big showing yet.
Chris Spies has spent the majority of this season on Long Island’s big water, taking sports out in pursuit of sea ducks with Elite Outfitters. Their bag has been dominated by eiders, which is unusual as scoters are typically around in greatest numbers. “We’ve seen a lot of eiders this year, with a bunch of juveniles mixed in, though there are plenty of prime birds around,” Spies says.
The local scoter population has been feeding heavily on the banner crop of sand eels that can be found from the surf line to well offshore. Long-tailed ducks are also present in great numbers. Moreover, Spies has been pleasantly surprised by the number of scaup that have been kicking around the South Shore. “We must have had 100,000 come over the layout one morning. It’s the most bluebills I’ve seen in a while.”
With a blast of cold weather in the forecast for the coming weeks, waterfowlers in the Empire State can look forward to taking advantage of the state’s late-season hunting opportunities and hopefully ending on a high note.
Joseph J. Albanese is a New York–based freelance writer with a lifelong love of salt marshes and Atlantic Brant. Joseph will be providing habitat and hunting reports for the Atlantic Flyway during the 2018−2019 waterfowl season.