Migration Alert: Habitat Throughout Chesapeake Region in Decent Shape

Oct. 8, 2021 – Virginia, North Carolina, Maryland and Delaware

© Michael Furtman

It’s early fall across the Mid-Atlantic states and excitement is growing as duck and goose seasons approach. Habitat conditions are mixed in North Carolina, Virginia, Maryland and Delaware as the region has received variable levels of precipitation over the past few months.

North Carolina and Virginia

“Habitat is looking good in most managed wetlands across North Carolina and Virginia,” reports DU Regional Biologist Ethan Massey. “As always, we will be hoping for a few good cold fronts to push birds into the area.”

North Carolina’s Pea Island National Wildlife Refuge has good looking habitat, Massey says, as does Virginia’s Hog Island Wildlife Management Area, a bellwether for the Old Dominion.

“The Hog Island impoundments look good and should support plenty of waterfowl when they arrive,” Massey says. “I have heard mixed reports on submerged aquatic vegetation (SAV) production in Chesapeake Bay, with some areas seeing a decline while other areas have increased. I have heard better reports about the grass on the seaside of the Eastern Shore.”

Delaware and Maryland

Jake McPherson, DU’s regional biologist in the Delmarva region, says, “Speaking broadly, except for a dry April, monthly rainfall totals in Maryland and Delaware have been on par with long-term averages. That said, rain seemed to be very localized this year, because I’ve heard from folks in certain areas who were very dry and then their neighbors just a few miles down the road were exceptionally wet. The saving grace is even those areas that were dry into late summer have received a decent amount of rain from the recent tropical storms that moved through the area.”

Recent rains have enabled Chesapeake Bay area wetland managers to begin filling impoundments. “My observation has been that moist-soil plant production was exceptional this year,” McPherson says. “The 2021 Chesapeake Bay SAV survey data won’t be available for some time yet. The last two years saw substantial reductions in SAV acreage in the bay, and I think a primary reason for that was lots of spring rain in 2019 and 2020. Since spring 2021 was a bit dryer, I expect SAV production to have been better this year, although it likely didn’t break any records.”

Farmers are having a generally successful year on the Delmarva Peninsula with the corn harvest well under way, which should create ample feeding opportunities when geese and bigger dabbling ducks show up.

“There weren’t many teal to speak of during Maryland’s teal season, and I personally think the bulk of the teal had already moved through to lower latitudes,” McPherson says. “I’ve seen a few high-flying flocks of geese coming from the north, and last week I visited Bombay Hook National Wildlife Refuge in Delaware and was pleasantly surprised to see decent numbers of shovelers, wigeon, and a few teal and pintail. Based on this, I think it’s safe to say the migration has started.”

McPherson calls overall habitat conditions “better than average” but with the caveat that some areas are in better shape than others.

“Without data from breeding ground surveys, we don’t have hard population estimates but all reports indicate that waterfowl production was down in the Prairie Pothole Region. Fortunately, in the Atlantic Flyway we’re slightly buffered from those effects because we get a sizable number of our birds from eastern Canada, where habitat conditions are typically more stable than on the prairies,” McPherson says.