By Wade Bourne, WF360 Mississippi Flyway Migration Editor
Joe Robison was a happy hunter this morning (Friday, Oct. 28.). When contacted, he was picking up decoys after a successful Canada goose field hunt in southeast Michigan. He and his hunting partners had taken a limit of geese, and he anticipates that other hunters in the state's goose country did likewise.
"We've had a big push of new honkers into this area. When I scouted yesterday, there were maybe 300 geese feeding in the field, but this morning there were at least a thousand trying to work in there," says Robison, who is a wildlife biologist and area supervisor for the Michigan Department of Natural Resources. "They were obviously new geese. It was a noticeable difference numbers-wise from where we have been."
"Also, goose hunters in southern Michigan are seeing large flocks of specklebellies (white-fronted geese), which is very unusual here," he reports. "I've personally seen several groups. It's the most I've witnessed here in my 34 years of goose hunting. I don't know why they're showing up. Maybe they got pushed out of Saskatchewan by the snowfall they received there several days back. Whatever the reason, local hunters are taking a few specks in with their Canadas."
Robison adds that while the goose hunting has been good, duck hunting in southern Michigan has slowed down due to unusually warm weather. "We had a good push of migrators—both diving ducks and puddlers—earlier this week, but now the birds are not moving much in the balmy conditions. Last week there were some snow showers up around Saginaw Bay, and the ducks there got pretty active. Hunters did well on several of our wildlife areas.
"The shooting has dropped off since then, and with the forecast for warm weather stretching into next week, duck hunting might continue to be slow. I just hope the ducks we have now will hang around until hunting conditions get better."
Robison notes that more divers are showing up on Lake St. Clair and also on the western basin of Lake Erie. And some new puddle ducks (mainly mallards, pintails, wigeon, and gadwalls) have shown up in coastal marshes and inland wildlife management areas in the South Zone.
Elsewhere in Michigan, Bill Scullon, wildlife biologist in the Upper Peninsula, echoes Robison's report. "Geese have been moving through the UP in good numbers. Also, we're seeing a lot of sandhill cranes. There's no hunting season for these birds in Michigan, but their presence is an indication that the fall waterfowl migration is well under way."
However, Scullon adds that "our duck numbers are down for late October."
He says large rafts of redheads and lesser scaup are building in the Mackinaw Straits—typical for this time of year—but numbers of puddle ducks and hunter success on these birds are lackluster in his region.
"Mallards just aren't showing up here in big numbers yet," Scullon says.
And in Michigan's Middle Zone, DNR biologist Brian Piccolo corroborates reports from his counterparts in the North and South Zones. "A friend of mine who hunts ducks avidly is telling me that the hunting has been terribly slow so far this season," Piccolo says. "He hasn't seen much evidence of new birds, and the warm, calm conditions have kept what ducks we do have from moving around much."
Duck season in Michigan's North Zone continues through Nov. 20, and then reopens on Nov. 26−27. In the Middle Zone, hunting runs through Nov. 27 and is also open Dec. 17−18. In the South Zone, hunting runs through Dec. 4 and reopens Dec. 31−Jan. 1.
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.