By Michael R. Shea, WF360 Atlantic Flyway Migration Editor
With generally stable duck and goose numbers and good habitat conditions, hunters in the Atlantic Flyway could have a banner waterfowl season this year—if Mother Nature cooperates. According to the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, populations of the six most abundant duck species in the eastern survey area were similar to last year’s, with the exception of ring-necked ducks, which were down 19 percent from the previous year’s estimates. However, as always, seasonal fall weather will be required to push waterfowl down the flyway in a timely fashion.
In New York, DU Manager of Conservation Programs Sarah Fleming reports that blue-winged teal have already blown through Montezuma National Wildlife Refuge (NWR) and other early migrants are just beginning to arrive in the area.
“We’re seeing wigeons and shovelers, but no big concentrations of puddle ducks just yet,” Fleming says.
Located on the north end of Cayuga Lake in New York’s Finger Lakes region, Montezuma NWR is one of the first stops for waterfowl migrating south from Canada, and a good indicator of what’s in store for the rest of the flyway. This year, scaup and other “calendar ducks” are expected to arrive in this area around the first full moon in November.
Following a wet summer, plenty of wetland habitat is available for arriving ducks in the Finger Lakes region. “Hunters will really have to scout this year and not assume it’s going to be like last year,” Fleming says. “The birds will likely have a lot more options and will be less concentrated with so much open water.”
Farther down the flyway, wet weather has also created an abundance of wetland habitat in the Mid-Atlantic region. “We’re to the point where all the water has caused some backlogs in our habitat restoration work,” says Jim Feaga, DU regional biologist for New Jersey and Pennsylvania. “But water, food availability and good hunting go hand in hand. More water means plenty of roosting areas, which gives birds places to space out and rest. Ideally, we want the happy medium, but this year the scale is tipping toward too much water, at least from a hunting perspective.”
For more migration information, visit the DU Migration Map.
Michael R. Shea is a New York–based freelance writer who hunts waterfowl throughout the Atlantic Flyway. Shea will be providing habitat and hunting reports for the Atlantic Flyway during the 2017–2018 waterfowl season.