By John Pollmann, WF360 Central Flyway Migration Editor
With hunters reporting flocks of white-fronted geese and the first snow geese arriving in the Dakotas, the migration of birds out of Canada has begun. However, as the following on-the-ground observations confirm, there are still plenty of birds yet to come from north of the 49th parallel.
The weather has been the big news along the extreme northern edge of the prairies in Alberta, where variable conditions during the month of September were more in tune with what normally occurs in late October, according to Trevor Manteufel with Top of the Flyway Outfitters.
According to Manteufel, the cold temperatures, rain, and snow have helped push birds in and out of the area. “Swans and little Canada geese arrived here about three weeks earlier than normal,” he says, “but we lost our specks about two weeks ahead of schedule.”
The weather has slowed down the local harvest of peas and small grains, which has concentrated birds, Maneufel reports. While the overnight temperatures are causing skim ice to form on lakes and creeks, smaller ponds are already frozen, and with another round of extremely cold temperatures forecasted for the region in the coming days, even more water could be lost for the season.
“In 17 seasons guiding in this area, I have never seen a fall this cold,” Manteufel says. “But despite the low temperatures, we still have a lot of our local ducks, and now we’re waiting on the mallards from the north.”
Across the border in west-central Saskatchewan, Chad Stuart with Buck Paradise Outfitters is hopeful that an impending warmup may open most of the small potholes that have frozen. This freeze has pushed birds from the area to rivers and other bigger waters.
Stuart reports that duck numbers in the region are strong, and hunters have had success shooting mallards and pintails in swathed barley fields and fields of baled oats, but hunting for snow geese and other Arctic-nesting birds has been more difficult.
The low numbers of light and dark geese could reflect the bad hatch reported by biologists earlier this year.
“I’d venture to say that in the flocks of snow geese we’ve had over the decoys, nine out of 10 birds were adults,” Stuart says. “Overall, we don’t have strong goose numbers here, but I’m optimistic that we still have some more to push through here yet. Same for ducks.”
On the other side of the province, near Yorkton, guide Tony Vandemore says that ice-covered sloughs and three inches of snow have pushed some birds south, but large numbers of geese are still providing opportunities for hunters.
“There have definitely been some birds moving on, but we’re still in good shape,” Vandemore says.
Vandemore reports that there are still a fair number of sandhill cranes in the area, perhaps an indication that the migration of birds out of the province is still a work in progress and that hunters to the south may have to wait a bit longer for waterfowl to move en masse out of Prairie Canada.
“Our short-term forecast calls for sun and warmer temperatures, which should open things back up,” Vandemore says. “There’s plenty of time left in the season up here; I don’t think it’s anywhere near over.”
Optimism reigns in the Oak Hammock Marsh region of Manitoba as well, where Canada goose numbers have been building.
“We’ve had a few really good north winds, which have chased some birds south, but the winds have brought in new ones too,” says Bob Yaworski of Oak Hammock Outfitters. “Things seem to be right on track for this time of year.”
Yaworski says that the geese are finding plenty of food in the area, and that the mallard hunting will heat up as area producers begin to harvest cornfields near the marsh. “I’d say we’re about halfway through the season, though a lot can change based on the weather,” he says. “Some cold temperatures and snow or a really strong north wind will send the birds packing.”
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 2018-2019 waterfowl season.