By Bill Monroe, WF360 Pacific Northwest Migration Editor
Wake up and smell the mallards.
Frigid air is sweeping south from Alaska and the Yukon, and a hard freeze is in the forecast for western Canada late this week—just in time to push birds south into the Pacific Northwest. This is the weather system waterfowl hunters in the region have been anticipating. Meanwhile, temperatures in the Northwest have dropped, especially at night, and waterfowl are far more active as they look for energy-restoring food sources.
Oregon hunters are already reaping the rewards from the more seasonal weather. The number of ducks harvested per hunter has been ranging between two and four birds on the state’s most popular public hunting spot, Sauvie Island Wildlife Management Area (WMA), near Portland. The harvest thus far has been predominantly mallards, with green-winged teal coming in a distant second, followed by wigeon, shovelers, and pintails.
“We were really worried,” recalls Mark Nebeker, manager of Sauvie Island WMA. “Right up until Halloween, we had thousands of birds sitting out on mud flats, holding tight. I didn’t expect sunshine and 75 degrees, but this is much better.”
Oddly enough, the colder weather has brought plenty of new birds, but not much rain, which is concentrating waterfowl in areas with suitable wetland habitat.
“I’ve looked around all the holes with water at William L. Finley National Wildlife Refuge (NWR) and they’re choked with mallards,” says Kelly Warren, DU’s new biologist in western Oregon. “Alberta got a hard freeze and the birds showed up right on time.”
Warren says ducks are rafted up on the Willamette River and on Fern Ridge Reservoir near Eugene, where there hasn’t been enough rain yet to flood the reservoir’s public hunting areas.
Along the coast, Brandon Reishus, waterfowl biologist for the Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife, has heard that hunting success has been hit or miss as waves of migrating ducks jump from one estuary to the next on their way south.
“The birds show up in big pulses,” Reishus says. “We’re not seeing the wigeon there yet. Hopefully we’ll get some more weather to sustain things.” Wigeon numbers remain high farther to the north in Washington.
Eric Strand of S2 Outfitters agrees with the need for some fierce weather to push birds inland from the coast. “I’ve heard of some good success on north Puget Sound,” he says, “so hopefully some of those birds will push south.”
Farther east, freeze-up is approaching in Oregon’s high desert, but Reishus says there’s still open water on Summer Lake’s public hunting area. He adds that desert ponds between Summer Lake and Warner Basin are freezing over at night, then thawing enough to hunt on sunny afternoons.
In the upper Columbia Basin, large numbers of snow geese are holding on both the Washington and Oregon sides of the river and a few more ducks are arriving. Warren, Reishus, and Nebeker all agree more geese have moved into northwest Oregon’s permit zone, and they predict a good second-season opener on Saturday.
Bill Monroe is an Oregon-based freelance writer who has hunted the Pacific Flyway for three decades. Monroe will provide hunting and habitat reports throughout the Pacific Flyway for the 2018-2019 waterfowl season.