By Chris Jennings
Waterfowl season is under way across Alberta, and with good wetland conditions this spring across much of the province’s prairie region, waterfowl production appears to have been good, which should result in another solid fall flight.
“We hunted the opener Saturday and saw good numbers of birds,” says Ron Maher, Ducks Unlimited Canada’s (DUC) manager of provincial operations in Alberta. “We had a protracted hatch, and there are still a lot of young birds around. We did see large flocks of pintails in some fields, which is typical for this time of year.”
Maher explains that dry weather over the summer has reduced the abundance of wetland habitat on the landscape. Many of the ephemeral and semi-permanent wetlands have gone dry, leaving the larger wetlands to support staging waterfowl.
“The timing of the harvest and the migration dictate hunting success around here, and the harvest is only about a third complete,” Maher says. “As for the migration, it’s close to normal. We still have lots of blue-winged teal and young mallards. We saw good numbers of specks, which is a little early. We aren’t a big diver producer, so we haven’t seen any divers yet. We have a couple of weeks until the scaup and canvasbacks arrive.”
Dr. Fritz Reid, Ducks Unlimited Inc.’s director of conservation programs in the Western Region, is currently hunting farther north in the parklands of central Alberta.
“This area seems to have had good production, and while the water is in decent shape now, the wetlands may need to be recharged by significant winter snowfall,” Reid says. “We are focusing on field shoots in pea, barley, and wheat fields and seeing fantastic numbers of mallards, teal, and pintails.”
Reid says that a big surprise this week has been an abundance of juvenile pintails in the area, which indicates that the birds had good production, at least locally. Another surprise are the snow goose numbers.
“We are seeing big concentrations of snow geese, which seems to be much earlier than normal. We always see a few small flocks of Ross’s geese, but these are snows,” Reid says. “We are doing very well on whitefronts, but they are mainly adult birds. These birds may be a tad early, but it is a sign that we are in the first stages of migration.”
Reid notes that hunters coming up to the Alberta parklands in the coming weeks should expect to find suitable conditions and decent bird numbers.
“All of the peas are harvested and about half of the wheat and barley is harvested,” Reid says. “It’s an average to wet year, and there should be plenty of places for the birds to settle down. The birds are spread out, which is good because hunters will be able to work smaller flocks. It’s not like drought years where it’s all big flocks.”
Reid was in the Northwest Territories last week and reports that habitat and brood production looked solid in the Boreal region.
“There appears to have been a strong late nesting effort,” Reid says. “We saw pintails, greenwings, and wigeon with young broods, some of which had very young broods. The Yukon and western Alaska were cool and wet with very few fires. Those are favorable conditions for Boreal breeding ducks.”
Maher expects another good year for waterfowlers in Alberta but confirms Reid’s assessment that wetlands in the province will need more moisture from fall precipitation and winter snowfall to be in good shape next spring.
“For hunters coming to Alberta this fall, my advice is to be adaptable, mobile, and follow the birds. If you’re planning to hunt fields, bring equipment to hunt water as well, as there could be some good opportunities,” Maher says. “It’s great for DU members to come up here this time of year and witness the benefits of the conservation work that’s being done on the landscape by DU and its partners.”
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