By Michael R. Shea, WF360 Atlantic Flyway Migration Editor
For the first time in months, water levels are rising on rivers and lakes, beaver ponds are filling, and there's sheet water in agricultural fields across New York and New England. Heavy rains last week and throughout the weekend effectively ended months of unusually dry weather across much of the northeast.
The timing couldn't have been better for duck hunters in New York, where the state's western zone waterfowl season opened on Saturday.
"I measured 4.53 inches of rain on my farm," says Michael Schummer, the Roosevelt Waterfowl Ecologist at State University of New York (SUNY) College of Environmental Science and Forestry and a visiting assistant professor at SUNY−Oswego. "Everywhere from central New York through New England got three to five inches, so wetlands that were dry now have water in them. The stage is set for a great season."
Wetlands often produce an abundance of seed-producing moist-soil plants following a draw down, Schummer explains, and with dry conditions from early spring through early fall, all that was needed was a good rain to put water back in wetland basins. "We can expect a bumper crop of duck food this season," he says.
On opening morning, Schummer, who is a New York native and avid waterfowler, bagged a limit of green-winged teal, including a banded bird.
Not far away, just west of Syracuse, Jason Mocyk hunted on a private marsh with friends and family. "There were lots of wigeon, gadwalls, green-winged teal, wood ducks, mallards, and honkers. We bagged seven different species of ducks," he says.
Mocyk reports that many ducks have been staging in flooded agricultural fields in his area, but marshes have also been providing steady shooting. "It's a promising start to the season, but then I'm an optimistic guy," Mocyk says.
By all indications, early migrants like green-winged teal, wigeon, and pintails have arrived in northern and central New York in respectable numbers, joining locally raised mallards, black ducks, and woodies. Canada geese are also present and being harvested in good numbers, but Schummer explains that the bulk of the goose migration has yet to arrive.
It will likely be some time before major push of birds is on, which may not be such a bad deal for hunters. Waterfowl season dates across most of New York were pushed back this year. The early split in the southeast zone ran the first 10 days of October and the late season will run until December 31. The northeast zone opened on October 8 and the second split runs until December 11. Hunters in the western zone have a new late season that runs from December 31 to January 15—better timing, many say, for the big flights of divers than seem to come later and later every year.
"Everything is flooded now, but long term, that's a good thing," says Steve Sullivan, a diehard northern New York waterfowler. "The birds are spread out now, so it's up to us to find them, but so far it's been pretty decent, and with a little weather, it'll only get better."
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 2016−2017 waterfowl season.