Photo Essay: Blue-winged magic

By Labor Day, large flights of teal are on the move, riding the cool winds of early cold fronts. For waterfowl hunters, the appearance of these swift little ducks is a welcome harbinger of autumn following a long, hot summer. These early migrants are many waterfowler's first opportunities of the season. 

Many bluewings blow through the U.S. in a matter of days, stopping only briefly to feed and rest. Hunters looking to take advantage of early teal seasons must be in the right place at the right time. 

The majority of the population follows the Central and Mississippi Flyways, with fewer numbers migrating down the Atlantic Flyway. 

Most of the birds continue south to wintering areas in Mexico, Latin America and the Caribbean. Teal banded in North America have been recovered as far away as Chile, England, Spain and Morocco.

Unlike many waterfowl species that return to the same breeding areas, bluewings are more opportunistic and may nest wherever wetland conditions are favorable. 

Excellent wetland conditions across the prairies in 2011 helped blue-winged teal numbers soar to a record 8.9 million birds – a 41-percent increase from last year's estimate. 

A drake blue-winged teal in full plumage is a sight to behold. 

Blue-winged teal are well known as excellent table fare.

Many waterfowlers perceive blue-winged teal to be among the fastest-flying waterfowl. Their acrobatic flight and maneuverability make them challenging targets for many waterfowl hunters.  

With mild temperatures and fast-paced action, early teal season is a great time to introduce young hunters to waterfowling.