While solid estimates of this year’s waterfowl populations are scant due to the cancellation of annual breeding ground surveys this spring, plenty of good habitat awaits arriving ducks and geese in the Mid-Atlantic and southeastern states this fall. Following is a breakdown of habitat conditions in these regions provided by conservation professionals in the field.
Delaware, Maryland, Virginia
DU Regional Biologist Jake McPherson reports that exceptional rainfall in Delaware, Maryland, and Virginia could be a mixed bag for waterfowl hunters in these states. “We have lots of water on the landscape and many managed wetlands are full. This can be good for ducks in that there should be lots of habitat for them to use when they arrive. However, in some cases the heavy rainfall resulted in less than optimal yields in areas where crops are being grown and flooded specifically to benefit waterfowl,” he says. “Lots of water on the landscape can also translate into difficulties for hunters because it can be hard to find the X with so much available habitat for birds to utilize.”
McPherson’s counterpart with the Maryland Department of Natural Resources, Josh Homyack, echoes his observations. “I don't think we could ask for better freshwater wetland conditions in Maryland for this time of year, but the flip side is that usually means turbid water in parts of Chesapeake Bay and generally reduced submerged aquatic vegetation (SAV) acreage,” he says. “That said, I haven’t seen any official numbers for acres of SAV in the Chesapeake and the trend in recent years has been very positive, so that might help buffer any local decreases this year.”
North Carolina, South Carolina, Georgia
Ethan Massey, DU regional biologist for North Carolina, South Carolina, and Georgia, says habitat conditions are also looking good in his region. For example, wetland impoundments on Georgia’s Altamaha Wildlife Management Area (WMA) are in great shape. “Widgeon grass and bulrush production was exceptional in the Rhetts Island Units,” Massey says.
Moving north into South Carolina, Massey says he has also observed good habitat in managed impoundments on Bear Island WMA. Mottled ducks were abundant, and he saw several good flocks of blue-winged teal.
In North Carolina, moist-soil habitat at Mackey Island National Wildlife Refuge (NWR) looks “awesome,” Massey says. “Tidal marshes around Currituck Sound look good as well with thick beds of SAV in many areas. Some local managers have attributed this to having less storms in the area this year, which decreased wave action and water turbidity.”
Massey also reports that Goose Creek Game Lands has “great habitat out in the Pamlico Point impoundments.” Black ducks and blue-winged teal were observed in the area. Further inland, Suggs Mill Pond Game Lands has solid SAV production in its ponds.
“Overall, I think the habitat is looking good in the Carolinas from what I’ve seen,” Massey says.
Jeff Beal, DU’s regional biologist for Florida, offered an overview of the Sunshine State’s waterfowl habitat conditions. He explains that wetland habitat is “looking good” on Merritt Island NWR. Elsewhere, Loxahatchee NWR expanded its open hunting area by more than 100,000 acres for the 2020 season for multiple species, including waterfowl.
Mark McBride, with the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission (FWC), is also optimistic about habitat conditions. Blue-winged teal arrived earlier than usual, and black-bellied whistling ducks also seem to be trending up in abundance and expanding their range in Florida. Hurricanes in the Gulf states often push ducks into the state as well, McBride notes.
Jon Webb, at T.M. Goodwin Waterfowl Management Area, reports that habitat conditions are also good overall, and small flocks of teal and wood ducks have arrived in recent days. Webb anticipates a good season if the weather cooperates.
At the Guana River WMA, Justin Ellenberger reports good water levels, habitat conditions, and ample forage, such as widgeon grass, three-square bulrush, and coontail. In addition, repairs to Guana Dam are complete, improving wetland conditions.
Excellent hunting opportunities will once again be available on many Storm Water Treatment Areas (STAs) in south Florida. However, Jerry Krenz, with the South Florida Water Management District, reports that some STAs will be closed for at least part of the season due to ongoing contract work. Check with the FWC for more information about waterfowl hunting opportunities on STAs and across the state.