By John Pollmann
A major winter storm that just swept across the northern plains has brought the snow goose migration to a halt, with deep snow and ice found throughout traditional migration corridors in South Dakota and western Minnesota.
Small numbers of snow geese were spotted in southeastern South Dakota in the days leading up to the winter weather system, but the storm dumped heavy snow across the Missouri and James River valleys, which serve as funnels for migrating light geese in the spring. With temperatures predicted to hover near the freezing mark for the next several days, it could be a week or more before warmer temperatures arrive to help melt the latest round of snow.
When warmer weather does return, hunters in South Dakota will not have to wait long for the snow geese to arrive. Numbers have been building in Nebraska and Iowa over the past week. Along the Missouri River just north of Omaha, as many as 700,000 snow geese are staging on Desoto National Wildlife Refuge, providing excellent hunting opportunities in the surrounding area.
Farther west, in the Rainwater Basin, snow goose numbers have also likely reached their peak. Jeff Drahota, with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service’s Rainwater Basin Wetland Management District, completed a habitat survey last week and observed an estimated 3.7 million snow geese in the basin. However, goose numbers declined in the days leading up to the winter storm that impacted South Dakota this week.
“I think we could see more snow geese sliding west this spring into western Nebraska and eastern Colorado, given the prevailing wind patterns and weather conditions in South Dakota,” Drahota says.
He adds that the region is still holding many Canada geese and around 10 different species of ducks.
“It has been an interesting migration around here,” Drahota says. “We’ve been sitting on a lot of Canada geese for about the past three weeks and several species of ducks, including shovelers, gadwalls, and even blue-winged teal. The ducks began showing up as soon as the ice was off, maybe two or three weeks ahead of schedule.”
Migrating mallards, pintails, and other ducks are starting to fill the void left in north-central Missouri, which has largely emptied of snow geese for the time being.
“Things have slowed down here, that’s for sure, but we know there are a lot more to come,” explains Tony Vandemore of Sumner. “The smaller flocks of juvenile geese haven’t shown up yet, and they make for some of the best hunting of the season. There are still good hunts to come.”
That’s a sentiment that is shared by many hunters still waiting for birds in the upper Central and Mississippi Flyways.