By Jay Anglin, WF360 Great Lakes Region Migration Editor
Waterfowl hunters across the Great Lakes states are rejoicing as early teal and Canada goose seasons have opened throughout the region. Blue-winged teal have been staging for a few weeks at traditional stopovers, their numbers bolstered by the first waves of migrating green-winged teal from the north.
Heavy rains have plagued much of the Great Lakes region in recent weeks, and this will certainly have an impact on waterfowl activity. For example, some areas of Wisconsin received an astonishing 15 to 20 inches of rain in a matter of days.
Wisconsin’s one-week teal season closed on September 7 and Department of Natural Resources biologist Taylor Finger is satisfied with the results. “The heavy rains spread the birds out, but also made for some ideal hunting conditions in flooded fields. Based on the reports that I have received, I would say that generally this year’s teal season went well, and there were birds present in most of the state,” Finger says.
In Illinois, teal season is open through September 23. Following heavy rainfall, the Mississippi and Illinois Rivers have flooded adjacent backwaters, attracting large concentrations of teal, especially in areas with an abundance of moist-soil vegetation. “Rising water will concentrate birds in some areas and scatter them in others. Hunters should be cognizant of these changes in habitat availability, as ducks often find and readily exploit recently flooded areas,” notes Randy Smith, wetland wildlife program manager for the Illinois Department of Natural Resources.
Nearly 25,000 teal were observed during the first waterfowl survey conducted in the Illinois and Mississippi River bottoms on September 4. Blue-winged teal abundance was 22 percent above average along the Illinois River while average numbers of teal were surveyed along the Mississippi. The largest concentrations of birds were located on state and federal waterfowl management areas.
Waterfowl ecologist Aaron Yetter, based at the Stephen A. Forbes Biological Station−Frank C. Bellrose Waterfowl Research Center, conducts the surveys with other staff. “I started seeing appreciable numbers of bluewings on August 22 while conducting shorebird surveys along the Illinois River, and teal abundance has been slowly increasing each week,” Yetter notes. “Wetland habitats and moist-soil vegetation along both river systems look phenomenal.”
Indiana hunters have also faced drastically changing wetland conditions due to heavy rainfall. With the exception of state properties such as Willow Slough Fish and Wildlife Area (FWA), which had good numbers of birds, Indiana hunters reported relatively low numbers of teal opening weekend. In the southwest, Goose Pond FWA staff counted just over 1,000 bluewings during their weekly inventory.
“We had above-average teal numbers during the first week of September. Since then, the area has had considerable rainfall and widespread flooding, so I would say this is going to mix things up for a while,” says Goose Pond property manager Travis Stoelting. “The initial hunter harvest for opening weekend, prior to the flooding, was very encouraging. Hopefully we’ll continue to see good results despite the flooding.”
Much like Wisconsin, Michigan hunters are now enjoying the opportunity to hit the marshes during the state’s relatively new early teal season that runs through September 16. “Last week we had quite a few teal around the southeast part of the state,” reports Michigan Department of Natural Resources Southeast Regional Supervisor Joe Robison. “Hunters are also seeing decent numbers of bluewings at Crow Island up by Saginaw Bay, and Shiawassee River State Game Area has good numbers of birds. With the Great Lakes water levels being high, hunters really need to look for shallow water and mudflats. For me personally, I am seeing more teal than last year.”
Ohio waterfowlers will be hunting teal until September 16, with good numbers of bluewings flitting about the Lake Erie marshes and good waterfowl habitat present across the state. Jim Schott, area supervisor at Pickerel Creek Wildlife Area on Lake Erie’s Sandusky Bay, estimated that roughly 5,000 teal were on the property the week before the season.
“Teal season has been good. We have been shooting mostly bluewings. There seems to have been a push of new teal during the middle of last week,” Schott says.
Reports from farther north indicate that large numbers of teal have yet to make their way down the flyway. While the 2018 Waterfowl Breeding Population and Habitat Survey showed that teal numbers were down from recent years, both blue-winged and green-winged teal populations remain well above their long-term averages.
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Jay Anglin is an avid hunter, fisherman, and guide from LaPorte, Indiana. A veteran writer, Anglin, holds a biology degree from Northern Michigan University. He will be providing migration updates from the Great Lakes Region throughout the 2018-2019 waterfowl season.