By Bill Monroe, WF360 Pacific Northwest Migration Editor
Arctic air is expected to sweep across the Pacific Northwest from Vancouver Island to northern California this week, and thousands of waterfowl will be riding the leading edge of the front in search of two necessities: open water and something to eat.
Cold air from Canada pushed ducks south into Washington well before Christmas and now snow and ice have locked the birds out of their usual haunts.
"Two weeks ago we made a flight in Skagit and Whatcom Counties," reports Kyle Spragens, waterfowl program manager for the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife. "We were surprised to find 240,000 ducks, mostly mallards, pintails and wigeon, as well as tons of snow geese."
Those birds are providing fantastic hunting opportunities throughout the Puget Sound area, but scouting remains essential for success. Good hunting is also being reported in the Columbia and Snake River basins.
"Open water is in short supply right now," says Matt Wilson, statewide waterfowl specialist based in Yakima. "There is some open water around some of the lakes in the north basin, but the edges are icing and it's treacherous."
Wilson recommends trying the river from Umatilla upriver to the Tri-Cities, Patterson, and Wallula.
But hunters should be prepared for some tough conditions. Temperatures will fall into single digits by mid-week, and heavy snow already covers the ground in many areas.
Chris Bonsignore, a DU biologist based in Spokane, says the hunting in the upper Columbia is pretty dismal. "We've got six to 12 inches of snow and ice everywhere. All the birds are pretty much gone," he reports.
Bonsignore says conditions in his area won't change "until we get a chinook (warm southerly winds), but long-range, things aren't looking good."
Bill Monroe is an Oregon-based freelance writer who has hunted the Pacific Flyway for three decades. Monroe will provide hunting and habitat reports throughout the Pacific Flyway for the 2016-2017 waterfowl season.