By Ken Perrotte, WF360 South Atlantic Flyway Migration Editor
South Carolina waterfowlers have a message for their brethren to the north: “Send us more birds, please.”
While habitat conditions are generally good, there hasn’t been enough cold weather to push typical numbers of ducks into the Palmetto State. According to DU regional biologist Clay Shipes, “Bird numbers are low across the ACE (Ashepoo, Combahee and South Edisto) Basin, and the migration appears to have stalled given the lack of weather. Duck numbers will most likely continue to be low without a change in weather patterns.”
It’s a common refrain. Molly Kneece, a waterfowl biologist with the South Carolina Department of Natural Resources (DNR), confirms that duck numbers appear to be below average in many areas.
Winter weather can vary widely in this part of the Atlantic Flyway. For example, in early January 2018 several inches of snow fell. This year, daytime high temperatures have been in the 60s to low 70s.
Kneece notes that some observers have seen localized concentrations of dabblers and divers in parts of the state. Gadwalls appear to be the most prevalent dabbling ducks, and there have been some concentrations of pintails in select areas along the coast. Ringnecks have also shown up in decent numbers in portions of the state. Numbers of green-winged teal, one of South Carolina’s typical “go-to” species, appear to be well below average.
“Abundant rainfall throughout the state has the birds dispersed,” Kneece adds.
Rainfall totals throughout the region have been immense this year. Coastal South Carolina has an impressive amount of waterfowl habitat. The 1.1-million-acre ACE Basin encompasses miles of freshwater and brackish wetlands, plus sprawling saltwater tidal marshes. The region is one of the largest undeveloped estuaries on the East Coast. Excessive rainfall creates even more hiding spots for waterfowl.
Conservation Note: The ACE Basin Project, in which Ducks Unlimited is a partner along with the South Carolina DNR, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, The Nature Conservancy, private landowners, and others, is dedicated to conserving wetlands and wildlife habitat in this environmentally sensitive region. Established in 1988, the project’s original goal was to protect 90,000 acres. That goal was quickly surpassed, and more than 217,000 acres have been protected and enhanced to date. Private landowners have particularly risen to the occasion, placing conservation easements on properties that permanently protect 148,000 acres.
Ken Perrotte is a freelance writer and editor based in Virginia’s Northern Neck who hunts waterfowl throughout the Mid-Atlantic. Perrotte will be providing habitat and hunting reports for the Altantic Flyway throughout the 2018-2019 waterfowl season.