By Michael R. Shea, WF360 Atlantic Flyway Migration Editor
The recent winter storm pushed huge numbers of ducks south from New Jersey and Delaware with record snowfall and below-zero temperatures. Yet an expected warm up later this week, and plenty of geese to hunt, means you shouldn’t put your decoys in storage just yet.
Justin Foth, waterfowl, turkey and upland gamebird biologist with Delaware Division of Fish & Wildlife, flew over The First State on Thursday (before the winter storm) and recorded good numbers of ducks and geese, consistent with his previous late-December count. On Sunday, after the bomb cyclone hit the East Coast, he flew again, and saw a “substantially reduced” number of ducks. “Most of the state is frozen solid,” he says. “There’s ice way out into Delaware Bay.”
Yet the few spots of open water that he saw, such as tidal creeks and pockets along the bay shore, were holding big concentrations of ducks, Foth says. If you have access to open water, now is the time to get out there.
“Goose numbers seem similar to late December,” Foth reports. “Right now would be a great time to hunt geese. They’re just looking for a place to go.”
Champion contest caller and Banded/Avery pro-staffer Al Dager says that his Delaware impoundments are only open thanks to ice eaters and running well water. “We’re holding some ducks, but with everything around us frozen solid we’re not seeing big numbers.”
Geese, on the other hand, are everywhere, he explains. “There’s no lack of geese. It’s more than I’ve seen in quite a few years—one of the best years since the 1980s.”
Of the puddle ducks still holding on, most are mallards and black ducks. By all accounts, up and down the flyway, black duck numbers have been excellent this year.
Just to the north, on the Jersey shore, it’s much the same story. Most of the puddlers are long gone, but brant and geese are holding on, says Capt. Mike Briel of West Wind Outfitters.
“There’s a boatload of broadbills too—30,000 to 40,000 birds in small pockets— but they’re skittish right now and not coming to decoys,” Briel says.
The entire region is expected to warm up this week, with highs in New Jersey and Delaware in the 50s. That will certainly open up new water, but will also spread out otherwise concentrated birds.
Michael R. Shea is a New York–based freelance writer, who hunts waterfowl throughout the Atlantic Flyway. Shea will be providing habitat and hunting reports for the Atlantic Flyway during the 2017−2018 waterfowl season.