"Wait and hope!" Those are the watch words for Ohio waterfowlers at the end of this week. Hunting in this state's Lake Erie Marsh Zone is on hold now and reopens November 12. In the meantime, hunters here and elsewhere in Ohio are looking northward and hoping to see a migration of mallards riding down on some yet-to-arrive blast of Arctic air. So far, not many greenheads have shown up.
"Our mallard migration is certainly behind schedule because of the warm weather," says Doug McClain, waterfowl biologist for the Ohio Division of Wildlife. "We're seeing a trickle of new ducks coming in, but they're mostly gadwalls, wigeon, and lesser scaup. We haven't had that big push of mallards yet."
McClain continues, "We actually had a cold front to move through yesterday [Thursday], and it's possible we're picking up some new ducks on today's wind. During the middle of the week, temperatures across Ohio were approaching 80 degrees, then yesterday the high temperature dropped into the upper 50s. So there's change taking place, but we just haven't had enough frontal activity to move the mallards down out of Canada."
The Ohio Division of Wildlife flew an aerial waterfowl survey back on Oct. 28, and surveyors counted 49,000 ducks (mostly gadwalls, wood ducks, and lesser scaup) and 6,000 Canada geese in the northern half of the state. The survey showed an increase in birds in the Lake Erie marsh area—from Maumee Bay to Sandusky Bay—over the previous survey, which had been taken two weeks earlier. However, the number of ducks counted in the recent survey was down 21 percent from the same period last year. "This is an indication of the delay in this year's migration," McClain says.
McClain adds that the survey did show a increasing numbers of lesser scaup along Lake Erie's southwest shore and also in Sandusky Bay. "This past census counted 2,700 bluebills, and this number should increase to around 65,000 by mid-November, so we should be picking up more of these diving ducks with each front," he explains.
The next aerial waterfowl survey in Ohio is scheduled for November 11.
Rick Nemecek, a senior punter (guide) with the legendary Winous Point Shooting Club on Sandusky Bay's northwest shore, echoes McClain's comments. "I've been in the marsh each morning this week working on blinds and watching ducks, and we're really short on mallards. We held some pintails and wigeon in the early season, but now most of them have moved on south. There are still several gadwalls, woodies, and local mallards in our marsh, but the migrators are yet to show in significant numbers. Our hunting resumes November 12, and I hope something changes by then," Nemecek says.
Further downstate, waterfowl hunting has been slow and focused mainly on locally produced birds. "Action has been really slow here. We're waiting for that polar vortex to kick in and bring us some colder weather and new ducks," says Brett Beatty, wildlife management supervisor for the Ohio Division of Wildlife's Region 5 (southwest Ohio). "Hunting in the South Zone is open now and runs through Sunday [November 6]. Then it doesn't reopen again until December 17. Hopefully by then the migration will be in full swing, and hunter success will pick up in our area."
For management purposes, Ohio is divided into three waterfowl hunting zones: the Lake Erie Marsh Zone, North Zone, and South Zone. In the Lake Erie Marsh Zone, hunting reopens November 12 and continues through Dec. 25. In the North Zone, the second segment runs from November 19 through January 1. And in the South Zone, the first segment closes November 6; then hunting for ducks resumes December 17 and continues through January 29. The second segment of the South Zone's goose season runs from November 24 through February 11.
Wade Bourne is the Ducks Unlimited magazine editor-at-large, co-host of DU TV, avid waterfowler, and conservationist. Bourne will provide habitat and hunting reports for the Mississippi Flyway throughout the 2016-2017 season.
Subscribe to Migration Alert emails and receive real-time migration updates in your flyway.