Migration Alert: Waterfowl Numbers Slowly Increase in Chesapeake Bay and Tributaries

Dec. 13, 2019 – Atlantic Flyway – Virginia & Maryland

© Richard Pearce

Some waterfowl hunters in Maryland and Virginia enjoyed a strong start to the duck season courtesy of a cold snap that put much of the northern tier of the flyway in a deep freeze. Unfortunately, the action tailed off quickly for many waterfowlers.

According to Dr. Gary Costanzo, migratory bird specialist for the Virginia Department of Game and Inland Fisheries, “The cold front we had in mid-November pushed down a lot of dabblers and swans as well as fair numbers of ring-necked ducks. The first couple days of the season weren’t bad, but we had no real weather to make the birds move much after that, so it got pretty slow.”

Josh Homyack, waterfowl project manager for the Maryland Department of Natural Resources, says he was surprised by the numbers of ducks he saw in various Eastern Shore locations in November. He adds that some hunters reported good hunting on Maryland’s Choptank and Nanticoke Rivers.

In contrast, Jake McPherson, DU biologist for Maryland and Delaware, reports that geese were late arriving on Maryland’s Eastern Shore this fall. “Canada geese didn’t begin showing up in any numbers until about the third week of November,” he says. “Around the same time, groups of swans and snow geese began arriving as well.”

Chip Heaps, DU’s senior director of development in the mid-Atlantic region, has a front-row seat for migration activity from his base in Chestertown, Maryland. He echoed McPherson’s view that Canada geese were a little late arriving but adds that the migration has picked up nicely in recent days.

McPherson reports that diving duck numbers on Chesapeake Bay and its major tributaries have been increasing over the last couple of weeks. Homyack agrees, stating that divers, mostly scaup, are building up around Eastern Neck Island. Diving duck numbers have also been increasing, along with puddle ducks, on the Susquehanna Flats.

The US Army’s Fort Belvoir fronts the Potomac River and two of its smaller tributaries in northern Virginia. Kevin Walter, the fort’s natural resources specialist, would welcome an influx of birds. “We had teal early followed by large numbers of ruddy ducks and then small groups of ringnecks, bluebills, canvasbacks, gadwalls, and black ducks. Overall, it has been slow,” he says.

Homyack adds, “I’d expect some ducks—teal and pintails in particular—have moved south by now. I think there’s a fair number of ducks around, but we all know having lots of ducks doesn’t always mean fantastic hunting.”

Costanzo sums up the situation for waterfowl hunters in the Chesapeake Bay region: “We’ll need some more weather up north and in the Great Lakes to push more birds down our way, especially divers like cans and scaup, but we still have time for that to happen.”