Clay Baird: Welcome to the Ducks Unlimited podcast, the only podcast about all things waterfowl. From hunting insights, to science based discussions about ducks, geese and issues affecting waterfowl and wetlands conservation in North America, we bring the resource to you. The DU podcast with your host Chris Jennings.
Chris Jennings: We've got a special bonus show today, something a little more real time than we've done in the past. I've got Dr. Scott Stephens on the line to provide a habitat and migration update from Prairie Canada. Scott's the Director of Regional Operations in the Prairie Region for Ducks Unlimited Canada. Scott, thanks for joining me today.
Scott Stephens: Yeah, absolutely. Happy to join and visit.
Chris Jennings: Awesome. Well let's go ahead and kick it off with kind of a Prairie Canada habitat conditions update. What was it like coming out of the breeding season into the fall? Just kind of set the stage for this.
Scott Stephens: Yeah, we came into the spring time, and we were pretty dry across Prairie Canada. So, we had not as much water as we've had in past years, and then as the summer went along, that continued, and we were pretty dry through the summer. There were a few areas that got a little bit of rain and helped a little bit, but hadn't changed things much. Then as we moved into fall here, especially in like Southern Manitoba a couple of weeks ago, we had a big Colorado low system move through and dumped two feet of snow on us here in Southern Manitoba. That changed the landscape quickly, but at the same time probably drove some birds out, and moved some around. So we've had pretty dramatic changes in our wetland conditions from what we started with in the spring, to what we have now.
Chris Jennings: Really that's for the positive too. I mean picking up that extra moisture, that's a positive, correct?
Scott Stephens: Yeah, absolutely, because right now the soil is completely saturated. We are just freezing up now, this week. When I was at Oak Hammock Marsh on Monday, there was still open water and still birds, and I know I just returned from a trip, and as I was driving home, all of the water that was open was frozen now, so we're just locking up. But soil moisture is really good. So the stage is set so that if we get some snow pack when the melt comes in the spring time, that will all run, and should fill wetlands. But even the snow this fall helped fill back up some of the wetlands that had been dry. So yeah, the stage is set to have a good spring if we have a little snow this winter.
Chris Jennings: That's perfect. How was your hunting this fall? I've kind of heard mixed reports from all over the Prairie provinces. I ended up in northern Saskatchewan, well north of the prairies a little bit, and it was very good. I was kind of in the Parklands Boreal area, but I've talked to people in Alberta, and Saskatchewan, and Manitoba, and it was really all over the board. How was your hunting locally, and did you get to any other province?
Scott Stephens: Yeah, so what's pretty typical for me is I'll take the first week of September off, and I will go to some areas in Southern Manitoba and focus on blue-winged teal, so I did that again this year. We still had good numbers of blue-winged teal even though we were a little drier and probably didn't have as many breeding here as we've had in the past. The hunting was very good. With blue wings, especially early in the season, it's just if you find the right water depth, they're pretty easy to track down, and so they were cooperative. I had very good success on blue wings here in Manitoba, and then I did travel-
Chris Jennings: That's great.
Scott Stephens: Yeah, yeah, I love blue wings. At that time of the year, they're also of all the birds in the marsh, they're in the best condition because they're really stocking up on fat because they're getting ready to migrate. It's interesting as I look on Facebook that time of the year and early September, we have lots of blue wings here. I'll have friends in Kansas, and Mississippi, and Louisiana who are shooting blue wings. So they're really spread all across the continent. It's kind of a cool time of year for blue wings in particular.
Chris Jennings: Yeah, that's cool. So did you hear about any other that kind of the habitat conditions that were forcing birds to do different things in any of the other provinces?
Scott Stephens: Yeah, well, well after I spent a little time here chasing blue wings, I was in central Saskatchewan in mid September, and it was interesting conditions because when I showed up there, that's earlier than I typically go there, and we were chasing sandhill cranes was one of the primary targets. But when I got there, there was very little crop that was harvested. So there was really limited field feeding opportunities for the cranes. Now it ended up that we had good success. The conditions were that people had just started the harvest. So many of the fields were swath barley, and then things got wet. In fact, it rained the whole day I drove over there. So things were pretty wet, and my truck was covered with road slime when I got there. But that stalled harvest out, but there was swath grain on the ground, and so birds were definitely taking advantage of that.
Scott Stephens: When you stopped to talk to any of the land owners, they were happy to give you permission to go in and hunt because they wanted the birds run off of those swaths, so they wouldn't continue to eat the crops that they had on the ground. So we had really good success for cranes, also did some field duck hunting too, but conditions were dry, and there was more limited water than I've seen, but it just meant you had to put it in a little more time scouting and finding birds. Once we did, we had very good success. But , I'd say each year is unique. It was definitely dryer, harvest was delayed, there was limited crop harvested. Once some more of that came off, it opened up more opportunities. But I'd say still the strategy of putting in your time scouting, finding birds and the spots that they're using was effective, but it was maybe a little more work than it's been in the past.
Chris Jennings: I heard the same thing. I flew into Edmonton, and then we drove from Edmonton all the way up towards right outside of Meadow Lake Saskatchewan. It was very interesting because as we came out of Edmonton and even right there in Alberta, it was wet. Then when we got into Saskatchewan, it was really dry, like a noticeable difference. You could look out there and see, and then you'd go another I don't know 45 miles, and it would be really wet again. So you'd have that very stark contrast between dry and wet habitat conditions. You could see those the little wetlands that were holding water and then obviously the ones that weren't. It was pretty eye opening. But I see that a lot of that had changed as the weather continued to change up there throughout the season, which probably did make it a little more difficult for hunters, or easier in some aspects. Where are you guys at right now as far as the migration? You mentioned you guys are starting to get ice, you're not seeing the birds as many as that you had there at Oak Hammock. Where are you guys at as far as the migration right now?
Scott Stephens: Yeah, I would say most of our birds are gone. There are probably a few geese that are still sticking around and sticking things out. I've not been out on bigger water like Delta Marsh, but I suspect that there could be a little bit open water there, and there might be some, a few goldeneye left, or maybe some bluebills. But for the most part, I would say most of our birds have probably headed south, and at least here in Manitoba, we probably lost a lot of birds when we got that big snow that was sort of mid October, and changed the landscape. It was kind of crazy because there were still leaves on the trees, and we had so much snow that power lines went down everywhere, and people were without power for about 10 days. So yeah it was kind of an unusually early snow storm, but definitely impacted birds that were out there too. A couple feet of snow made field feeding not an option, and made wetlands slushy too, so a lot of the birds that we had probably moved on.
Chris Jennings: Yeah, you probably lost a lot of the more wetland oriented bird, the gadwalls, and teal, and some of them they probably just bugged out immediately as soon as that slush hit, right?
Scott Stephens: Yeah, and it was interesting. I did a little bit of hunting for diving ducks early on too, and it was unusual. A couple places that I go in Western Manitoba, we went there, and there were divers around, but there were not canvasbacks, and I saw very few redheads this year.I'm not sure what was going on there exactly, but I heard those reports from other people too that some traditional places like Waterhen, Martin in Northern Manitoba didn't have redheads like it typically does. So I don't know if that's because we had drier conditions, and maybe they didn't have as good a reproductive success, and birds sort of went and molted somewhere different than they usually do, or exactly what happened. But those were reports that we heard too, that diving ducks were kind of not in the abundance that they typically are here either.
Chris Jennings: Interesting. Yeah, that's, well kind of looking at the forecast here as we're looking at your forecast, that 10 day it looks like single digits are in your near future, which means that that's probably going to close the door for a lot of waterfowl moving out of Prairie, Canada. Any recommendations to duck hunters here in the US, anything that you want people to look out for?
Scott Stephens: Yeah, I guess I would just say the movement is probably on, so if you have open seasons and opportunities, you should get out there and take advantage because the birds should be on the move.
Chris Jennings: Awesome. I appreciate it, Scott. Thanks for joining us today. I really do appreciate it.
Scott Stephens: Yeah, no problem. Happy to take part.
Clay Baird: Thank you for listening to this episode of the DU podcast. Be sure to rate, review and subscribe to the show, and visit www.ducks.org/dupodcast for resources based on today's topics, as well as access to more episodes. Opinions expressed by guests do not necessarily reflect those of Ducks Unlimited. Until next time, stay tuned to the ducks.