By Bink Grimes, WF360 Texas Migration Editor
There are two things Texas waterfowl hunters won't see a shortage of during this year's special September teal season—water and ducks.
Record summer rainfall has provided an abundance of lush green wetland habitat for arriving waterfowl across the state. Along the Gulf Coast, a wealth of water has allowed farmers to ramp up rice production. Consequently, there is more rice on the Texas coastal prairie than there has been in almost six years.
Lots of water and lots of rice equals fantastic teal numbers.
"I've never seen this many teal here so early," says Matt Sbrusch, a guide with Prairie Waterfowl in Eagle Lake/East Bernard. "It's kind of scary actually. I hope they stay around for the season."
August's full moon, coupled with a late-summer cool front, sent loads of teal to Texas three weeks ago.
Since blue-winged teal often pick up and move with the slightest wind or weather change, many hunters are worried clouds of teal could move south before the first shots are fired.
"Boy, there have been a lot of birds here since August," says Mike Grigar, owner of Johnny's Sport Shop in Eagle Lake, a long-established hub for waterfowlers. "I just can't remember there being so many birds here this early."
Grigar believes the abundance of rice in Texas could keep teal in the area longer.
"It is so nice to see the rice back," Grigar says. "Our community, farmers, and businesses have been suffering with the absence of rice during the past five years of drought, and it has put a strain on the birds as well. The ducks have a lot more food this year, so hopefully they will stick around."
While an abundance of water is good for ducks, it can be a curse for hunters. Teal love to dabble in shallow water, which is now plentiful in plowed and laser-leveled fields across the coastal prairie.
With lots of sheet water on the landscape, teal have many options on where to feed and rest.
"The birds are definitely in the skinniest water they can find," reports guide Andrew Armour of Karankawa Plains Outfitters on the Pierce Ranch near Wharton. "There are a ton of birds, and we are pumping fresh water on second-cropped rice to hold them."
Another early front arrived on September 1, bringing new flights of bluewings and some other early migrants as well.
"I saw a dozen flights that morning," says Capt. Ray Sexton of Matagorda. "There were two large flights of pintails as well."
Despite high teal numbers, coastal hunters may have a hard time finding birds in some areas. Recent storm tides have inundated shallow marsh habitats with up to two feet of water. Under those conditions, many bluewings and other dabblers move inland to find shallower water.
"There are a few birds in the marsh, but we are really concentrating on the second-cropped rice north and south of I-10 in Chambers County," says Brian Davenport of Fin and Fowl Outfitters. "We are sitting on a lot of birds right now. We will also have a full moon in the middle of teal season this year, so we should get another big push of birds."
The Texas teal season runs September 10−25.
Bink Grimes is a freelance writer, waterfowler, and licensed captain. A waterfowl guide in his 26th season, Grimes resides in Bay City, Texas. He will provide detailed migration and hunting reports for Waterfowl360 throughout the 2016-2017 Texas waterfowl season.