By Wade Bourne, WF360 Mississippi Flyway Migration Editor
It's certainly not a flood of new ducks, but ringnecks and other early migrants are beginning to show up in northern and central Minnesota, augmenting local populations of wood ducks, teal and other species that have been targeted by this state's hunters since the Sept. 21 opening day.
"This morning I saw probably a thousand mallards while driving around the refuge. These birds have just arrived," states Duane King, biological technician at the Rice Lake National Wildlife Refuge (NWR) near McGregor, MN. "Also, ringnecks are beginning to show up, and when their migration starts, they usually come in big numbers."
"I hunted Friday, Saturday and Sunday in the Bemidji area, and I bagged limits each day," reports Steve Cordts, waterfowl specialist for the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources. "I'm sure we've had some ringnecks and early migrants show up in the last few days – mallards, gadwalls, widgeons, a few pintails. But I think our migration is just beginning. We should see a significant increase in ducks with the next cold front, which is forecast for this coming weekend."
Cordts says strong southerly winds and warmer than normal September temperatures have slowed down the arrival of new ducks in Minnesota. However, he adds that the wind swung around to the west over the weekend, and he attributes his good hunting success to this wind shift and the cooler temperature and spotty rain that came with it. "Again, there was no big push, but I definitely feel we had a few new ducks in the marshes where I was hunting."
King reports that water conditions have returned to normal at Rice Lake NWR after a severe drought last year. "We had almost no (wild) rice in 2012 due to a lack of moisture, but this year our water is a lot better, and we have a fair rice crop – plenty to draw and hold a good number of birds."
King adds, "From what I know, hunting in central and northern Minnesota has been hit or miss, depending on where you are. Overall, habitat is better this year than last, and I'd anticipate some good days coming for our waterfowl hunters."
Minnesota is divided into three zones for waterfowl hunting: north, central and south. All zones opened Sept. 21. The north zone runs straight through (no breaks ) until Nov. 19. The central and southern zones ran Sept. 21-29, then closed for temporary breaks. The central zone reopens Oct. 5 and runs through Nov. 24. The southern zone reopens Oct. 12 and closes Dec. 1.
"The way things are shaping up, the second openers in the central and south zones should offer some new ducks and good shooting," Cordts surmises. "The mild conditions we've experienced have stalled the migration, but hopefully the cold front that's forecast should bring in new waves of migrants and cause a pickup in the action. I'm anticipating that in the next couple of weeks, we'll gain some migrants to replace the local teal and wood ducks that have been shot or pushed out since the season started."
Wade Bourne is the Ducks Unlimited Magazine editor-at-large, former DU-TV host, avid waterfowler and conservationist. Bourne will provide habitat and hunting reports for the Mississippi Flyway throughout the 2013-2014 season for Waterfowl360 and the DU Migration Map.