By John Pollmann, WF360 Central Flyway Migration Editor
Locally produced ducks and geese have provided steady action for hunters across North Dakota, but the first signs of the fall migration are beginning to show in the state.
Cool weather sent most of the state’s blue-winged teal south before the regular duck season opened in late September, but hunters have been enjoying success for mallards, pintails, and other puddle ducks, says Mike Szymanski, North Dakota Game and Fish (NDGF) migratory game bird management supervisor.
Flocks of migrating white-fronted geese pushed through the state last week, Szymanski says, but it doesn’t appear that many stopped.
“What we are seeing is a bump in the number of little Canada geese and maybe a small push of ducks,” Szymanski reports. “The trend has been for the migration to happen later in the year, and it appears that we are on track for that again this season.”
A push of new birds would be welcome news to Avery pro-staffer Chad Pfeifer, who has been hunting ducks and geese over water and on dry fields in the south-central part of the state.
The recent full moon pushed birds into a pattern of feeding at night, Pfeifer says, though his hunts over water have produced mixed bags of mallards, wigeon, and small numbers of blue- and green-winged teal. Hunts for Canada geese have also been successful.
“We’re at that point in the season when we need a migration of new birds into the area, or the hunting is going to continue to get more difficult,” he adds.
Farmers are just about a week into the soybean harvest in this part of North Dakota, Pfeifer says, which is opening up new hunting opportunities for both ducks and geese in the fields.
“We’ve picked up some divers in the area, too, which is creating some options for hunters on the big water in the area,” Pfeifer says.
The Devils Lake region is experiencing an influx of diving ducks, according to Mark Fisher, a district wildlife biologist with the Devils Lake Wetland Management District.
“The number of bluebills has really increased here over the past five days,” Fisher says. “Unlike canvasbacks and redheads, the bluebills are a bird that do not nest in this area, so when they start to appear on the lakes and sloughs you know you’ve had a bit of a migration. And the hunters have been taking advantage of them and other divers on the larger waters.”
Flocks of little Canada geese and tundra swans have also been arriving in the region, Fisher says, but there has been no indication of any migration of mallards.
Fisher adds that hunters have been averaging two to three ducks per day, based on game checks by federal game wardens in the area. That average is down from opening weekend, when hunters were shooting four to five birds per outing. Mallards and gadwalls have been most prevalent species in hunters’ bags.
“Our wetland conditions are looking good in the area, and the harvest is rolling along, so really all we need now is some help from Mother Nature to bring in some new ducks and geese from the north,” Fisher says.
It’s a similar story at J. Clark Salyer National Wildlife Refuge in north-central North Dakota, where refuge project leader Frank Durbian says very few ducks and geese have arrived from the north.
“We are seeing tundra swans, however, and there are a decent number of sandhill cranes in the area,” Durbian reports. “Overall, hunter success is slow, based on what our wardens have seen in the field.”
The region’s fields of barley and wheat have been providing some of the better action, Durbian says, and wetland conditions are adequate enough to hold birds once they arrive.
“We’ve lost many of our local birds, so now we wait,” Durbian says.
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.