Migration Alert: Approaching Front Brings Much-Needed Change for Pacific Northwest Waterfowlers

Jan. 10, 2014 – Pacific Flyway

By Bill Monroe, WF360 Pacific Flyway Migration Editor

The Pacific Northwest is bracing for rain and high winds this weekend, as a front approaches from the south and mixes with Pacific moisture from the north. This bodes well for wingshooters hoping to improve their season with a late regional migration throughout Oregon and Washington.

"It's been just a weird year," says Brandon Reishus, waterfowl biologist for the Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife. "Hard freezes followed by clear weather, and not much rain."

The bright spot, Reishus says, has been the Oregon coast, where rafted ducks lingered through the mild weather and learned to avoid the heavily hunted north-coast bays and lower Columbia River. Same for big water in Washington's Puget Sound.

While the forecasted rainfall may not leave much new sheet-water on wetlands and valley floors, high winds are likely to push birds off big water and into decoy range across the region.

One of the areas that stands to benefit from resulting bird movement is Sauvie Island Wildlife Management Area near Portland, the state's most popular public hunting area. Sauvie has had a very slow season after a great start,  averaging fewer than two birds per gun through Thursday's hunt. Fortunately, there are thousands of ducks roosting on Sturgeon Lake and the white caps should get them moving and in search of food in less windy areas. Hunt days are Saturday, Monday, and Wednesday through this storm cycle, with the north unit open every day (although the water is low).

High winds are expected for Puget Sound, so hunters north and south should look to protected inland ponds and river sloughs.

The wind will extend from Saturday evening into Monday for the upper Columbia River Basin, where more mallards are rafted. Interestingly enough, both hunters and birdwatchers report an influx of wintering snow geese along the length of the river, from Sauvie Island up to Washington's Palouse, including the Umatilla refuge complex.
DU Regional Biologist Chris Bonsignore of Spokane, Washington, says the coming warm, windy weather will push birds off big water near the Tri-Cities and melt the ice on Moses Lake and the Potholes region. "There are some birds around and this is going to loosen things up and move birds back up into the upper basin," he says.
Most of northwest Oregon's wintering Canada and cackling geese have shifted south into the Willamette Valley, where about 75,000 were estimated in the last count at valley refuges (Finley, Baskett Slough, and Ankeny). Plenty, however, still linger in the northern Willamette Valley and Portland area. The special permit zone hunt ends Sunday, with a two-week breather until February 1.

Waterfowlers along the Oregon coast should head inland, as far out of the wind as possible (up to three to five inches of rain is predicted) to intercept ducks. Some will return to the marshes, but with a bit of initial confusion as the weather clears Sunday and Monday.

Eastern Oregon won’t provide the ample opportunities found farther west. The majority of ducks and geese have left Summer Lake Wildlife Management Area, says manager Marty St. Louis, although there remains open water and a few lingering ducks.

As the front approaches, waterfowlers throughout the Pacific Northwest should make plans to enjoy what may be the final push of the 2013-2014 waterfowl season.

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 2013-2014 waterfowl season.