For many waterfowlers in Maryland and Virginia, hunting success so far this season can be described as spotty at best. Hunters targeting local wood ducks have had another good year, and many Canada goose hunters in Virginia’s farm country west of Interstate 95 have found huntable pockets of the big birds.
However, recent cold fronts have begun to push better numbers of migratory waterfowl into the Chesapeake Bay region. Josh Homyack, waterfowl project manager for the Maryland Department of Natural Resources, reports a good migration of Canada geese has recently arrived in the upper portion of Maryland’s Eastern Shore.
“While not near peak numbers, it’s starting to look a little better than it did a week ago,” Homyack says.
He has also observed an uptick in the abundance of ducks in his area. “I have seen very impressive puddle duck numbers on national wildlife refuges and other upper-bay public lands recently.”
Homyack also reports Maryland saw a big push of tundra swans just before Thanksgiving.
In Virginia, John Randolph, who manages the famed Hog Island Wildlife Management Area, reports that a good variety of puddle ducks have arrived with recent weather fronts. Hunters drawing blinds have done well, taking more than 100 ducks in the two hunts held at the WMA.
Chip Watkins of Monquin Creek Outfitters, who hunts extensively in the Pamunkey and Mattaponi River corridors, said his local waters were loaded with wood ducks during both the first and second splits, but many of those birds have since moved on. However, black ducks and ring-necked ducks began arriving around Thanksgiving, and guides have reported a fresh push of mallards during the past week. Gadwall and wigeon numbers appear below average for this time of year.
Jake McPherson, DU’s regional biologist in the Chesapeake region, offers the following forecast for the remainder of the season. First, geese are nowhere near peak numbers yet. “I’ve spoken to biologists to our north, and the consensus is that a lot of geese are still staging in New York. I don’t think goose numbers will peak until weather forces them to move out of those northern latitudes.”
The same goes for ducks. Smaller dabblers will continue to trickle into the area as the season progresses, but the majority of hardier species will likely hang tight until forced to migrate. Divers usually don’t show up in force until sometime in mid- to late December, but poor breeding conditions in the Prairie Pothole Region may result in a diminished migration of these birds.
“I have heard sea duck hunting has been good on the Atlantic Coast and in lower portions of the bay,” McPherson says. “That makes sense because sea ducks often enter the bay at its mouth and work their way north over time.”
In short, as is often the case for waterfowl hunters around the Chesapeake, the watchword is “weather.”