Migration Alert: Strong Duck Numbers and Winter Weather Provides Solid Hunting in Michigan

Nov. 15, 2018 – Mississippi Flyway – Michigan

Photo © Michael Furtman

By Jay Anglin, WF360 Great Lakes Region Migration Editor

Michigan waterfowl hunters have been waiting patiently for better conditions and new birds after experiencing fantastic openers across the state. Thankfully, a series of cold fronts has not only prompted stale waterfowl to move but also kick-started the back end of the migration.

As small water began to freeze late last week, big water quickly loaded up with birds. Anecdotal reports suggest an unprecedented number of divers have congregated on the Straits of Mackinac between the Upper Peninsula (UP) and downstate Michigan, where hundreds of thousands of ducks have stopped on their way south.

“There are lots of birds down by the Mackinaw Bridge and some of the nearby bays. The vast majority are divers of course,” says DU volunteer Dylan Graves of Sault Ste Marie. “There are still some longtails and a few big hardy mallards coming down, but I think Canada has given us most of its ducks by now.”

Reports from the rest of the UP indicate a sharp downward trend, with fair numbers of buffleheads, goldeneyes, bluebills and several sea duck species holding out in open water. To the south, good numbers of divers can still be found throughout the interior of the northern lower peninsula on larger lakes, as well as mallards and geese that make feeding forays to nearby corn stubble.

State properties on the west side of Michigan report fair numbers of birds, with mallard numbers slowly increasing. Though many marshes are partially frozen, oak-lined streams are still holding wood ducks, and hunters are targeting them along with mallards. Impressive concentrations of scaup and some sea ducks can be found offshore on Lake Michigan as well as on inland lakes when high winds and waves drive the birds off the bigger water.

Saginaw Bay and Lake St. Clair picked up new birds on top of good numbers of waterfowl already present. However, cold weather has begun to be a factor as ice quickly forms on shallow, flooded croplands and nearby marshes.

While several Michigan Department of Natural Resources (DNR) properties have frozen and lost most of their birds, others are still providing good shooting where open water remains. As of last count, the refuge at St. Clair Flats Wildlife Area on Harsens Island was still holding more than 20,000 ducks.

“The vast majority of our smaller duck species have left, with just a handful of teal, wigeon, and gadwall still on the refuge,” reports Michigan DNR wildlife technician John Darling. “With the cold temperatures predicted for the next couple days and impending ice, I expect we’re nearing the end of the migration here. With things really starting to lock up to the north of us, I’m hopeful we’ll get a last push of mallards and black ducks, plus maybe a few more pintail.”

Guide Jeremy Ullmann and his clients have witnessed waves of migrating waterfowl while layout hunting this week on Lake St. Clair. “There are crazy numbers of divers around now,” Ullman says. “We’ve been taking mixed bags, including a few sea ducks.”

Ullmann says the number of redheads and canvasbacks on Lake St. Clair is unprecedented for this time of year, but further south along the shoreline of Lake Erie the situation is less encouraging. Hunters report good numbers of bluebills in the western basin of Erie but note that they are often feeding miles offshore. Inshore, many of the marshes are now frozen and what ducks remain will likely move out when inclement weather occurs.

With the exception of a couple Goose Management Units (GMU), which are temporarily closed to goose hunting, seasons are currently open in all three of the state’s waterfowl zones. While waterfowlers in the UP are watching the curtain fall on another season, hunters in the southern part of the state are giddy as high winds and cold weather have duck and geese up and moving.

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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.