The first flocks of migrating waterfowl have begun to arrive in North Dakota, providing a boost to hunting opportunities in the state, but the bigger news is the rain that has fallen over the past week, which has created new water and food resources on the landscape that are proving to be a magnet for ducks and geese.
The newly improved conditions are a big change from how most of the state looked heading into the season, says Kyle Blanchfield, with Northern Flight Guide Service.
“We went from dust to mud pretty quickly,” says Blanchfield, who is based in the Devils Lake area. “The moisture is a game changer.”
The amount of rainfall received in the Devils Lake basin varied between three to more than five inches, which was enough to flood low-lying areas in fields and create the sheet water that is particularly attractive to mallards and other puddle ducks.
“We have seen mallards, pintails, and some green-winged teal; the water has really just arrived, but the ducks seem to find it pretty quickly,” Blanchfield says.
It is hard to say whether the birds are new to North Dakota or if they are local ducks, Blanchfield says, but he is seeing evidence of a migration into the north-central part of the state.
“We are just starting to see a few swans, sandhill cranes, some divers and even the first snow geese,” Blanchfield says, “but at this point it is still just a trickle of a migration. The water is the big news.”
Precipitation totals from across North Dakota indicate that the rainfall wasn’t limited to the Devils Lake area. Much of the state received three inches of rain or more in the past seven days, with some localized areas receiving six inches or more.
“It is not a drought buster at this point, but if we get a little more rain, a hard freeze and a good snow pack we could be heading in the right direction,” explains Dr. Johann Walker, Ducks Unlimited director of operations for the Great Plains region. “The moisture certainly changes things for hunters, though, who were dealing with a lot of mud margins around potholes to start the season.”
Walker says that reports from DU staff suggest that the season started off slowly compared to recent years, when North Dakota experienced strong duck production.
“Based on what we’re seeing here in North Dakota and what I saw firsthand in Saskatchewan this fall, hunters should be aware that they are not going to find a lot of young birds in the fall flight, at least from this part of the flyway,” Walker says. “It will be interesting to see just what kind of hunting opportunities develop on the backside of this recent front that brought all the rain. Even with the moisture, we still need Canada to cool off in order to send more birds down our way.”