With the first flocks of teal already migrating south from their breeding grounds, hunter excitement is building in anticipation of the upcoming special teal seasons across the Central Flyway. Read on to find out more on habitat conditions, bird numbers and how these little ducks can help you start the 2019–2020 waterfowl season off on the right foot.
The outlook for the September season begins with the results of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service’s annual waterfowl survey, which reports a decline in the breeding population of blue-winged teal from last year, but the number of birds that settled on the prairie this spring remains above the long-term-average.
Mike Szymanski, migratory game bird management supervisor for the North Dakota Game and Fish Department, reports that wetland conditions in this vital duck production state improved dramatically after the federal survey was completed, meaning that those teal that did settle on the Prairie Pothole Region likely experienced tremendous nesting success.
“We had excellent waterfowl breeding conditions this summer, and if you take a look today just about anywhere in the state you see evidence of strong duck production,” Szymanski says. “We cranked out a ton of birds.”
The wetland conditions in South Dakota likely stopped a large proportion of the teal migrating north in the spring, according to Rocco Murano, chief waterfowl biologist with the South Dakota Game, Fish and Parks, and above-average summer precipitation only helped strengthen the likelihood of a highly productive breeding and nesting season for the birds.
“I don’t know if I’ve ever seen water conditions in South Dakota quite like what we experienced this spring and summer,” Murano says. “Border to border, from north to south and east to west, there was water everywhere, and the levels remain high heading into fall. I think we blew the doors off duck production this year for several species of ducks, including teal.”
Evidence of this excellent production arrived with the sight of flock after flock of of blue-winged teal buzzing above South Dakota’s wetlands a month ago. Some of these birds pushed south in recent weeks, thanks to a series of cold fronts that brought northwest winds and nighttime temperatures in the 40s.
“The first reports of teal moving out started to roll in about two weeks ago, which will certainly help the start of the September seasons in states to our south,” Murano says. “The good news for those hunters is that there are many, many more teal to come.”
A number of these teal made a stop on areas of crucial migration habitat in Nebraska, where excellent wetland conditions can be found across the state. The even better news for September teal hunters in the Cornhusker State is that there is no shortage of locally produced birds.
“During our summer banding program, we trapped a bunch of hatch-year blue-wings,” says Mark Vrtiska, waterfowl program manager for the Nebraska Game and Parks Commission. “I think we probably had one of the stronger seasons of production for teal in quite some time, and that’s because our habitat conditions are looking as good as they ever have since I started working here twenty years ago. From one end of the state to the other, it truly is more water than I’ve ever seen.”
For teal hunters, the water conditions could almost be too much of a good thing, Vrtiska adds.
“The ducks are going to have plenty of options,” he says. “Scouting will be key, and it will also help to have hunters out, moving the birds around.”
The abundance of water extends into portions of Kansas, where wetland and food conditions are primed for a strong September, explains Matt Farmer with the Kansas Division of Wildlife, Parks and Tourism.
“We have been really wet. We’ve actually had to work pretty hard to keep the water off our moist soil projects to give them a chance to grow,” Farmer says. “The bluewings started to roll in a while ago, but we noticed a big jump in numbers just over a week ago, and they’re starting to take advantage of what are some pretty good conditions.”
Eastern Oklahoma may be one of the exceptions in the Central Flyway regarding the quality of conditions heading into the September teal season, explains J.D. Ridge, a biologist at the Oklahoma Department of Wildlife Conservation’s Eufaula Wildlife Management Area.
“There is plenty of water, but so much so that the levels have kept us out of the field and not allowed us to plant food sources like Japanese millet or manage water levels to promote the growth of natural moist-soil food sources,” Ridge says.
Ridge has received reports of teal moving into the state with a recent cold front, and he encourages hunters to keep an eye on the weather in the coming weeks in order to maximize opportunities during what could be a challenging September teal season.
“Teal tend to move through here quickly in a normal year, but I think because of the shortage of food or the high water levels that are covering those mud flats that the ducks seem to like so much, they may move through even more quickly this year,” Ridge says. “This doesn’t mean that they won’t stop, but it is just not looking to be a typical September. If you’re not out there on a flight day, when we have a cold front and the teal are on the move, you may miss the birds entirely.”
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