Migration Alert: Major Weather Shift Benefits Oregon Waterfowlers

Nov. 11, 2022 – Pacific Flyway – Oregon

It is simply amazing what four inches of rain and a savage windstorm or two can do.

Oregon waterfowl hunters began their season much like others across the Pacific Northwest. The warmest October on record and one of the driest left many hunters scratching their heads. Then all hell broke loose, and most itches have been scratched.

“Raining ducks,” reads one recent field report from the Snake River on Oregon’s eastern boundary with Idaho.

“That rain pushed a ton of ducks in,” reports Mario Friendy of the Mossy Oak pro staff. “It was pretty stale at first with 80-degree weather for the opener.”

Friendy, who hunts in several states and Canadian provinces, lives near Portland and does much of his local hunting in areas adjacent to the Tualatin River National Wildlife Refuge.

He echoes observations across the flyway, especially early in the Pacific Northwest, of far more wigeon than anyone expected. “And teal too,” Friendy adds. “Plus lots of wigeon and green-winged teal.”

Kelly Warren, DU regional biologist for western Oregon, sums up one of the factors brightening the waterfowl scene west of the Cascades: “It’s been a really odd season,” he says. “It started slow everywhere inland, but was okay on the coast for early migrants. Then cold fronts and heavy wind seemed to push birds inland and now everybody’s happy.”

Friendy agrees, noting heavy rains from a “pineapple express” left plenty of sheet water that should keep ducks from venturing further south.

The second element benefiting hunters is a hard freeze to the north, extending from Alaska across British Columbia, Alberta, and Saskatchewan.

“Ducks are pretty clearly being pushed down,” observes Mike Edwards, after a trip last week to Brownsmead, near the mouth of the Columbia River.

“We had no trouble limiting out,” he recalls. “And mostly mallards with some green-winged teal.”

Willamette Valley hunters will find plenty of action, including wood ducks along smaller rivers and streams feeding the Willamette River.

Many await the November 19 opening of state-managed lands at Fern Ridge Reservoir, where Warren observes, “There is lots of water and lots of birds.”

Farther north, at Sauvie Island Wildlife Management Area, hunters started out very slow, then following the storm averages for the area leaped from less than one bird per gun to a whopping four.

“It never fails,” notes Mark Nebeker, area manager for the Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife, referring to the arrival of severe weather on the heels of a three-day season split. “It’s like the world opened up.”

Nebeker assumes “we’re getting some blow ins,” waterfowl moving inland from windy coastal waters, and believes birds “will stay here unless we get something that drives them south.”

Sauvie Island hunters are recording high numbers of wigeon and have already enjoyed a good start to the snow goose hunt.

Although the hard freeze has finally settled across the northland, it doesn’t seem to have pushed many ducks into the upper Columbia River Basin, confirms Dan Somers, who manages riverside hunt zones at Irrigon and Boardman, near the Umatilla National Wildlife Refuge.

Hunting has been slow so far, but Somers is patient.

“They’ll come,” he says. “They always do. They were late last year, too.”

Somers and the Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife recently partnered with Ducks Unlimited to create more marsh habitat at the Irrigon Wildlife Area and reports that while it’s not completed yet, “It’s starting to hold more ducks.”

Farther south, however, hunters at Summer Lake Wildlife Area continue to enjoy unusually good hunting, likely because the area has some of the high desert’s only open water. Drought and dry lakebeds have closed hunts on the Malheur National Wildlife Refuge and Warner Wetlands.

Pintails, gadwalls, wigeon and teal are all up significantly at Summer Lake this season, with gadwalls showing a whopping 222 percent increase last week over the year before.

For once, bluebird weather in the forecast may not slow down hunting across the region.

 

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