Migration Alert: California Hunters Benefit from Recent Storm

Jan. 8, 2019 – Pacific Flyway – California

By Peter Ottesen, WF360 California Migration Editor

Heavy rain and south wind pelted the Central Valley over the weekend to further disperse birds and make for continued off-again, on-again hunting results. Some locations are enjoying good gunning while others go begging, even within the same general region. Following the precipitation, a period of heavy fog would be a welcome sight for hunters as the season winds down with just three weeks to go.

The highly-anticipated invasion of green-winged teal has finally happened as the smallest puddle duck is cruising about in dense flocks from the Yolo Bypass west of Sacramento clear south to San Jacinto Wildlife Area east of Los Angeles. At the Gadwall Unit near Los Banos, hunters averaged 5.6 birds per strap recently, with much of the bag consisting of the tasty greenwings. In fact, teal are among the top birds at many public areas such as Mendota, Kern, Salt Slough, Grizzly Island, San Luis, Los Banos, Volta, Kesterson and Wister, though the daily averages aren’t very strong, with the notable exception of Salt Slough, which touts a 2.5-bird average.

David Canclini of Stockton reports, “The colder weather appears to have moved new birds into the Grasslands and onto private clubs near Gustine, especially wigeon, gadwall, and the ever-present shoveler. Green-winged teal are abundant, too, but it depends where and how they choose to fly on a given day.” Nightly temperatures drop into the low 30s while daytime highs reach the low 60s under sunny skies. In response, teal tend to fly early and then sit down for the duration, preening and sleeping in the warmth of the sun.

“We’re still struggling to eke out a two-bird average on most of the public areas,” says Sean Allen, interim manager at Los Banos Wildlife Area. “The storm and wind helped, but not what you might expect. There was a little uptick during the storm. Greenwings are very active and a few more wigeon, mallards, and pintails, are showing, especially on off days in the managed areas.”

In the Sacramento Valley, only Delevan National Wildlife Refuge (NWR) is posting consistent averages, with gadwalls, wigeon, and shovelers the predominant birds. Little Dry Creek is carding almost three birds on average, topped by mallards and wigeon. Sacramento, Colusa, and Sutter NWRs haven’t produced well, though averages increased during Saturday’s storm and high wind. In fact, at Sacramento NWR, snow geese have often been the top species in the bag.

Hunters plying their luck in rice blinds have found this season to be among the toughest in memory because of so much available habitat and private ground that isn’t disturbed. The heavy rain is providing plenty of casual water to provide ducks and geese even more choices to glean waste grain, loaf, and roost. Northern pintails are abundant, but few are falling to the gun, even with the expanded two-bird limit.

In the Bay-Delta estuary, including Suisun Marsh, green-winged teal are providing plenty of action, followed by wigeon and shovelers. White-fronted geese are loaded on Delta islands such as Twitchell, Bouldin, Mandeville, Empire and Rindge. Ron Morris near Discovery Bay reports that snow geese are present in huge numbers on the Palm Tract.

On public marshes along Highway 37 between Napa and San Rafael in the North Bay, canvasbacks, shovelers, and buffleheads are providing good sport and often can be spotted right off the highway. With all the restoration efforts at Cullinan Ranch by a number of partners, including Ducks Unlimited, it appears canvasbacks are not only responding, but some are staying throughout the spring and summer to produce local hatches of the “king of ducks.”

Richardson Bay and Suisun Bay are holding “rafts” of lesser scaup, typical of late-winter when these coveted diving ducks congregate.

Peter Ottesen is an award-winning, California-based writer who has a passion for hunting, conservation, and farming. Ottesen will provide Migration Alerts for the Pacific Flyway during the 2018-2019 waterfowl season.