Migration Alert: Central Valley Habitat Much Improved, Waterfowl Numbers Strong

Nov. 8, 2022 – Pacific Flyway – California

© Michael Furtman

Hallelujah! Rain fell twice in California’s Central Valley over the past nine days, creating optimism that winter storms will soon return at normal frequency. The rice country in the Sacramento Valley is still dry on the west side due to the extended three-year drought, while the east side offers half-flooded ponds and sporadic duck hunting.

White-fronted geese are piling into the region between Lambertville and Princeton, with hunters setting up in fallowed fields and pass-shooting. On private clubs in Butte Basin the better blinds are giving up wigeon, pintails, gadwalls and shovelers, but few mallards. If you’ve got water, you’ve got birds, no doubt.

Sacramento, Colusa, and Delevan National Wildlife Refuges (NWR) will open November 19, at last, with federal lands finally reaching the 50-percent flooded threshold required to allow some hunting. Sutter NWR will not open in the foreseeable future, if at all. Nearby state wildlife areas did open on October 22, with Gray Lodge offering amazing shoots.

In the northern part of the state, the Ash Creek Wildlife Area and Modoc NWR are top draws for public shooters without reservations. Simply show up, sign in at the unmanned kiosk, and head to the pond. Modoc accommodates an average of 30 hunters per day who average between 3.8 and 4.7 birds per gun. Ash Creek gives up better than 3 birds per gun.

Tule Lake and Lower Klamath NWRs are closed for the season, as are Butte Valley and Shasta Wildlife Areas because of a lack of water.

Between Sacramento and Davis, the Yolo Bypass Wildlife Area is yielding more than 650 ducks per day, which elevates this public area off Interstate 80 to the No. 1 spot for hunting areas without reservation requirements. Shovelers, green-winged teal, ruddy ducks, and wigeon make up the bulk of the take.

Just to the south, the Cosumnes River Preserve is flooded and holding white-fronted geese and pintails, with additional birds having arrived en masse this week after the storm. The nearby Delta islands boast mallards, wood ducks, wigeon and pintails that center on Staton, Mandeville and Venice islands. Aleutian cackling geese frequent most of the islands, arriving early in the morning from their roost at San Joaquin NWR west of Modesto, where hunting is not allowed, and returning in the early evening.

The Suisun Marsh, the largest estuary on the West Coast, is fully flooded as are the Napa Marshes and Cullinan Ranch on the shores of the North Bay. Wigeon and shovelers dominate in these areas. The Grizzly Island Wildlife Area is also fully flooded, with more spaces for hunters than hunters to fill them. For San Francisco Bay and tidal marsh hunters, scaup season opened November 7.

Another opportunity in the South Bay is the Eden Landing Ecological Reserve near Hayward, which opens November 12 on selected Saturdays, Tuesdays, and Thursdays.

The hot spot for the Central Valley is the 300,000-acre Grasslands Ecological Area in Merced County. This unique complex includes federal and state lands and about 150 duck clubs and accounts for the largest annual duck harvest of any county in the US. Among the public areas, Volta, San Luis, Kesterson and Merced are shooting very well. Volta hunters are bagging upwards of 250 ducks a day.

Hunting on private clubs, especially north of Highway 152, has been consistently good with green-winged teal, shovelers, pintails and ring-necked ducks providing most of the action. Limits are common. Below Highway 152, in the area known as the South Grasslands, hunting has been fair to poor. But there is great news coming soon for this area. About half of the clubs chose not to flood for the opener because of the uncertainty of water availability and, instead, have held off flooding until mid-November. More habitat and more shooting will certainly move birds around with the peak of migration expected to occur on December 10. Among the public areas, the popular Gadwall Unit will open November 26. Only the federal East and West Bear Creek NWRs remain uncertain when hunting will be allowed.

West of Fresno, the Mendota Wildlife Area is off to a rousing start, giving up more than 450 ducks a day, mainly shovelers and green-winged teal. Hunters also are sacking more than 10 geese per day, an indicator of the burgeoning population of specklebellies.

At the bottom of the San Joaquin Valley, Kern NWR opens on November 19 for Wednesday and Saturday hunting. This is the last vestige of public hunting in what was the Tulare Lake Basin.

In Southern California, cinnamon teal, ruddy ducks, and green-winged teal top the charts at Wister Wildlife Area on the shore of the Salton Sea, where hunters average better than 2.5 birds per gun.

At San Jacinto Wildlife Area next to Mystic Lake, hunting is good for ring-necked ducks, green-winged teal, gadwalls and wigeon. The few nearby private clubs, to include Mystic Lake and Ramona, are flooded and shooting very well in the opening three weeks of the long campaign.

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