Migration Alert: Water Levels Impacting Outlook for September Teal

Sept. 5, 2018 – Central Flyway

Photo © Michael Furtman

By John Pollmann, WF360 Central Flyway Migration Editor

For some hunters in parts of the Central Flyway, the waterfowl hunting action has already begun, thanks to special September teal seasons in many states. As always, water will be the determining factor on where these early migrants will be found this month.

In North Dakota, wetland conditions improved after breeding pair surveys were conducted in May, benefiting blue-winged teal, which nest later than many other waterfowl species. In fact, a mid-July survey conducted by the North Dakota Game and Fish Department (NDGF) found a 45 percent increase in brood numbers over the previous year’s estimate.

“Duck production really could have been quite bad, based on the way conditions were looking in May,” says NDGF waterfowl biologist Mike Szymanksi. “When the rains started in June, however, we knew there was a good chance we’d be okay. The new water sparked a pretty intense late nesting effort by the birds, and the rains kept coming for a bit, boosting grassland conditions and filling those small wetlands that provide so much food for ducks.”

It is a similar story in South Dakota, where adequate moisture in parts of the state helped improve breeding habitat conditions for blue-winged teal and other ducks. The only downside is that the abundance of water seems to have delayed the migration of teal out of the state.

“Adult male blue-winged teal are some of the first ducks to migrate south from the Prairie Pothole Region, and it appears that their movement is a little behind,” says Rocco Murano, head waterfowl biologist with the South Dakota Game, Fish and Parks, “but that can change really quickly with some colder weather.”

Many of the teal that have moved out of the Dakotas have settled in Nebraska’s Rainwater Basin region, which received some much-needed precipitation earlier this week.

“This recent rain was a true blessing,” says Brad Krohn with the Rainwater Basin Wetland Management District. “We’re seeing a lot of ponding in areas where the soils were already saturated, and the teal have already found these areas of new water. It’s not uncommon to see 1,500 teal on some of these basins right now.”

Thunderstorms kept hunter numbers down last weekend for the opening of the September teal season, Krohn says, but reports indicate that many of those who hunted did well.

“And the water conditions are such that we could be looking at a really nice fall,” Krohn says.

Hunters in Kansas will be able to hit the marshes for teal this weekend in parts of the state, including the marshes that make up the Jamestown Wildlife Area, where heavy rains in recent days have dramatically altered water levels.

“We received five inches of rain over a four-day span within the last week. Everything is flooded,” explains Matt Farmer, Jamestown Wildlife Area assistant. “All of our marshes are full or above full.”

Farmer says that he is seeing “quite a few teal,” but he is concerned that the high water levels may impact hunting in September and beyond.

“Our moist-soil plants have already made seed, but I fear that the food is all going to wash away or break down faster than normal,” Farmer says. “We’re better off than last year, in terms of water, but this could certainly have an impact on food availability going forward.”

Conversely, it’s a lack of rain that has soured the outlook for teal hunters in southwest Oklahoma, where an extreme drought is wreaking havoc on water conditions.

Hackberry Flat Wildlife Management Area is normally a top destination for teal hunters in this part of the state, but Oklahoma Department of Wildlife Conservation biologist Kelvin Schoonover is not optimistic this year.

“We have a 400-acre storage reservoir that we use to flood our wetland areas, and it is down to about 25 acres of water,” Schoonover says. “The wetland complex is completely dry. There won’t be much for teal hunting out here this year.”

Conditions improve in the eastern part of the state, according to J.D. Ridge, a biologist at the Eufaula Wildlife Management Area.

“The water levels have been relatively high all summer, which prevented us from seeding millet along the edges of the reservoirs and also prevented the growth of natural food sources,” Ridge says. “I’ve seen teal come through here already in small numbers, but I fear that our current conditions could hurt us in terms of keeping the birds around here for any stretch of time. My advice to hunters is to try to be here on a migration day, when those teal are moving through.”

Stay tuned for more reports about this year’s blue-winged teal migration. A Texas Teal Preview will be released next week.

John Pollmann is a freelance writer from Dell Rapids, South Dakota, who is an avid waterfowler and conservationist. Pollmann will provide hunting and habitat reports for the Central and Mississippi Flyways throughout the 2018-2019 waterfowl season.