With general waterfowl seasons about to kick off across the northeastern United States, hunters are readying their gear, tuning up their retrievers, and checking out hunting spots. Following an unusually dry summer, water levels are low in many areas, which is a mixed blessing for waterfowlers.
“We have been in drought conditions for a while, so many wetlands are dry,” reports Ed Farley, DU regional biologist in New York. “While a lack of water can limit available habitat, it can increase the growth of beneficial moist-soil vegetation. These conditions were great for growing waterfowl food this summer. I have been out in a few wetlands that have had excellent food production this year.”
If dry weather continues, migrating ducks and geese will be concentrated on any open water they can find. While reduced water levels can increase hunting success in some areas, dry conditions can also force ducks and geese to look elsewhere for better habitat.
“Dry weather through late summer has resulted in dry wetland basins for the early fall migration,” says Sarah Fleming, DU manager of conservation programs in the Northeast Region. “States have been reporting that several waterfowl management areas won’t be accessible until rainfall refills the basins.”
On a positive note, waterfowl migrations are already well under way, with many sightings of teal reported winging their way south. In addition, hunters targeting resident Canada geese have reported a large influx of molt migrants over the past week, Fleming says.
“With many hunting seasons opening over the next few weeks, as usual the majority of the birds available to waterfowl hunters will be resident wood ducks, mallards, and Canada geese,” Fleming says. “However, flocks of both blue- and green-winged teal and northern pintails will also be moving into the region.”
As always, the bulk of the migration is still several weeks away. Large migrations of dabblers and diving ducks typically don’t arrive until bitter cold temperatures and winter storms strike to the north and west. In the meantime, waterfowlers will be praying for rain as timely precipitation could drastically improve habitat and hunting conditions.
“In terms of hunting prospects, the weather will be key. All we need is the water now,” Farley says. “Let’s hope for some rain, so hunters and ducks have room to spread out.”