Waterfowl are Moving South but Spread Out
Date: Nov. 15, 2018
Locations: New England, New York, Mid-Atlantic and the Southeast
Will it ever stop raining? Hurricanes, tropical storms, flooding, more flooding and rain followed by more rain. If there has been one common theme up and down the flyway this fall, it's that it seems to have rained more days than it hasn't. That's not entirely true, of course, but just about any waterfowler in the Atlantic Flyway will say it is one of the wettest falls in recent memory.
It's killing us, said South Carolina resident Dwayne Padgett. There is water everywhere, and it is going to make for a tough season for those who hunt inland.
Avery pro-staffer and Virginia resident Lawrence Mauck echoed Padgett.
We can't catch a break, he said. We might get a few days of no rain, but then we get another big storm. Everything is wet.
The good news is that cold weather will eventually arrive and push birds south. That's already occurring in the northern reaches of the flyway, including parts of Maine. Goose Down Farm Kennels owner Eric Bartlett said smaller marshes and ponds are starting to skim over in north and central Maine.
We are supposed to get some colder weather pretty soon, so I would expect more ice will be coming, he said.
The same thing is happening in northern New York, although Ducks Unlimited eastern New York regional director Arliss Reed said there are no significant cold snaps in the forecast.
I think we will probably see icing and thawing on those smaller waters for a while until things really start to get cold, he said.
Too much rain has led to too many places for the ducks to hide. As such, many hunters are predicting a tough season.
Our reservoirs are way above normal pool, Padgett said. Santee-Cooper is still high, and we have more rain on the way. It hunts best when it is 2 or 3 feet low, but that's not happening any time soon.
Farther north, abundant rain has created an endless amount of habitat in Virginia, Pennsylvania and New York and even into Maine.
We still have flooded standing corn, said eastern Pennsylvania resident and Avery Outdoors pro-staffer Kevin Addy. I think it will stay that way for most of the season in some places. I doubt the farmers will be able to salvage it.
Wet ground has been the rule on the Eastern Shore, too, but most of the corn and beans have been cut, said Chestertown, Maryland, resident Kenny Gray. That has scattered the geese.
They are locked into a routine, which means guys who have access to the fields the birds are using will do well while hunters who don't will have to wait until those birds start getting pushed around, he said.
Gray is concerned about the impact of the wet summer and fall on the Chesapeake Bay and the tidal rivers that flow into it. The big rivers have been stained or muddy for much of the year and aren't expected to clear up. The upper Chesapeake is also dirty. He thinks the birds will avoid the muddy water and filter into the clear tidal creeks up and down the Bay.
That's assuming that muddy water doesn't end up moving into those creeks, he said. That's a possibility. The ducks may just keep going south until the find better water. I don't really know.
Species and Numbers
The good news is that more puddle ducks are showing up on the Eastern Shore. However, Gray said goose numbers have been pretty stagnant since the first migrators arrived in October. Divers are scarce still, too.
I've got some ponds that might usually hold a few dozen ducks this time of year, he said. They have a hundred or more now. Things are looking good for duck season.
Pennsylvania has a few birds, but Addy said no new ducks have been showing up, and those that are around are concentrating in flooded corn.
There are some geese around, but I haven't seen a big push in a while, he said.
Reed said duck and goose numbers are fair to average in New York, based on his observations and reports from other hunters, but he expects things to pick up as cold weather settles in during the next few weeks.
A few mallards, black ducks and other puddlers are around parts of Delaware, but numbers are fairly low. Al Dager, a farmer and guide from central Delaware, has a few hundred big ducks on his farm, but numbers are far below what he normally sees this time of year.
I'm not sure what's going on, he said. Normally, we have a bunch of birds by now, but I'm just not seeing them like I should. I haven't seen any teal, either.
Addy hunted coastal New Jersey on the zone's opening day and managed to scratch down a few black ducks. Numbers were pretty low, he said, and birds were scattered throughout the marsh. He also saw a few flocks of green-winged teal.
Reports are equally spotty farther south. Virginia resident Lawrence Mauck said swans are starting to filter into Virginia, and more ducks are showing up, but like others are reporting, an overabundance of water is scattering the birds.
I think our second split will be good if you can find the ducks, he said. That's going to be the hard part. We still have wood ducks around, but good luck finding a concentration of them. There is water everywhere.
Woodies are still around parts of eastern New York, but most have migrated out of the northern regions of the state. South Carolina has plenty of wood ducks if you can find them, and ringneck numbers are starting to build on the state's larger reservoirs.
There are better reports of puddle ducks coming from the coastal areas, which are always our best waterfowl spots, Padgett said. More pintails and wigeon and mallards are showing up, but it is still early.
What To Expect
There does not seem to be any relief from the constant rain that has plagued much of the eastern United States, so hunters should expect to work extra hard to find birds throughout the season. There is standing water in woods and fields, giving ducks more places to feed than they have had in years.
Although some forecasts point to a brutally cold winter, it could be a month or more before smaller waters ice up in the mid-Atlantic south in the Carolinas. Until then, pray for a little relief from the rain.