By Kyle Wintersteen, WF360 Atlantic Flyway Editor
Dedicated Ducks Unlimited volunteer Mike Donnelly isn't big on annual predictions.
"I prefer to go into each season with the same optimism as I have before every duck hunt," the central Massachusetts native says. "I just count on the birds being there. If they are, wonderful; if not, tomorrow's another day."
Few migrating ducks have materialized thus far in Massachusetts—where seasons are set to open shortly—but Donnelly says they're on the way.
"Plentiful numbers are being reported in New Hampshire," he says. "A buddy of mine went up there to hunt Great Bay last week, and he and a friend shot two easy limits of teal in two days. It was a 50/50 mix of bluewings and greenwings. I would say that the early migrators are right about on schedule for this time of year. Assuming cooler temperatures, I'll bet we see a big arrival of birds by October 15, but maybe I'm a positive thinker."
Arriving ducks may find a shortage of wetlands in Massachusetts following a dry second half of the summer. Donnelly reports that many wetlands are low on water and choked with vegetation.
"It's wait-and-see at this point," he says. "If we get rain soon, it could easily flood the vegetation and provide good wetlands for migration. If not, ducks as well as hunters will be pushed from dry backwaters to deeper water."
Fortunately variable habitat conditions have a lesser effect on sea ducks, which are perhaps Massachusetts's most consistent waterfowling opportunity.
"The scoters are always first to show up and they're already arriving in encouraging numbers," Donnelly says. "The long-tailed ducks will soon follow and should be plentiful. That's the closest thing to a prediction you'll get out of me."
Eiders are still a few weeks from arriving, but Massachusetts is one of the finest destinations in the world to target them. Unlike scoters, they don't just pass through along the state's coastal waters; they winter in huge numbers off Cape Cod.
"So, if the dabbler migration doesn't pan out or the backwaters remain dry, we'll just focus more on sea ducks," Donnelly explains. "That's the great thing about duck hunting in Massachusetts; there's always something to do, always an alternative course of action."
Kyle Wintersteen is a freelance writer and passionate waterfowler who has hunted the Atlantic Flyway for two decades. Wintersteen will provide hunting and habitat reports for the Atlantic Flyway throughout the 2013-2014 waterfowl season.