Some Areas are Hot, but Hunters Elsewhere Hoping for a New Push
Date: Dec. 14
Location: middle to southern portions of the Atlantic Flyway
The ducks are here. Or they aren't. Reports up and down the Atlantic Flyway vary from state to state and even by location within a state or region. But that's how it always is, right? The good news is that final splits are open or set to open in many states in the flyway, and seasons are winding down to the north. For hunters south of New York, though, the final splits tend to produce the most birds. That's when winter weather is most likely to push new ducks and geese into the area.
The good news is that a strong cold front is filtering down from the North, with temperatures expected to dip into the teens in the mid-Atlantic and single digits to the north. Parts of New York have experienced below-freezing temperatures for an extended period, so the coming front will likely push some birds out of the area as lakes and marshes that aren't already locked up start to freeze.
However, typical of much of the flyway, those cold temperatures are not expected to last. The cold front will be followed by a warm front, with temperatures expected to increase into the 50s and even 60s in the mid-Atlantic region. That could spell trouble as the migration stalls and hunters deal with stale ducks.
Snow and ice are starting to move birds out of New York and New England. Eric Bartlett, of Hollis, Maine, said smaller lakes and shallower areas of larger waters in much of Maine are getting close to locking up. Parts of western and northern New York are covered with a foot of snow.
Dry, wet, dry continues to be the pattern throughout much of the flyway, with lingering drought causing habitat issues in parts of Virginia, North Carolina and southward into Georgia. Some swamps are full, but many are low or even dry, depending on their location and what water sources feed them.
With few exceptions, cornfields are cut throughout the flyway, giving Canada geese more places to feed. As such, the birds are more scattered, with some hunters reporting high numbers of birds in the same regions where others are reporting low to fair numbers.
Species and Numbers
That's most notable in parts of New York and eastern Pennsylvania, where Daniel Hawley, of West Chester, Pennsylvania, is seeing increasing numbers of geese.
It's definitely getting better, he said. I think this cold front will really help. Right now, I'm seeing decent numbers of geese, but they seem to be ganged up in larger flocks when they are feeding, so some areas don't seem to have any birds, while other areas have a lot together.
Hawley has been hearing fair to good reports coming from waterfowlers who frequent the upper Chesapeake Bay and Delaware River.
A friend saw a pretty good raft of divers near Wilmington, he said. There are some big ducks around and some divers, but it's not what I would call great yet.
Avery Outdoors pro staffer Allen Stanley is also reporting below-average numbers in Delaware.
The snow geese are just starting to show up here, he said. They are two months late, which is how it has been for the past four years. We hardly have any ducks, though. I hunted a tidal marsh on opening day and only saw 11 ducks.
Apparently, a lot of birds bypassed the middle part of the flyway and kept heading south. Florida hunters are experiencing a banner year, thanks to an early push of divers. Hunters in the panhandle are shooting a mix of buffleheads, bluebills and canvasbacks. Southern Florida hunters are reporting fair numbers of ringnecks and teal. Wood duck numbers are increasing in northern Florida.
Canada geese are starting to pile up on Maryland's Eastern Shore, said Avery Outdoors pro staffer Kenny Gray.
It hasn't peaked yet, but we had a great first flight — the best it's been in 10 years or so, he said. I expect to see a lot more geese coming in with the cold weather we are expected to get this week. Ducks are above average in numbers, but divers are still kind of scarce. We usually don't get a big push of divers until around Christmas.
Duck numbers are fair to good on Virginia's tidal rivers, said Richmond-area resident and Avery Outdoors pro-staffer Eric Sandiford. He's been seeing tons of gadwalls and some big flocks of mallards.
Sea ducks are starting to show up in the Chesapeake Bay, but aside from buffleheads, there aren't many divers, he said. We don't have a lot of geese or swans around yet, either. There was a big push of swans in November, but I think they kept on going to North Carolina. Black duck numbers are still low, too.
Wood ducks remain in good numbers on some beaver ponds and swamps from Virginia into Georgia. However, some hunters, including North Carolina Ducks Unlimited state youth coordinator David Bass, reported sparse numbers of birds.
Resident wood ducks are pretty scarce, and I haven't seen any big ducks on our local swamps at all, he said. I live in central North Carolina, so I'm not really in great duck country to begin with.
Bartlett said the season is pretty much finished in coastal Maine. He hunted four days recently and only saw four mallards and a handful of geese. The good news is that sea ducks are trickling in to coastal areas of New England.
Despite decent reports in some parts of the flyway and a strong cold front pushing through, many hardcore duck hunters are holding out hope until about Christmas. That's when ducks tend to show up around the Bay and south into the Carolinas.
I don't get too excited about it until around then, Sandiford said. I'll probably go this weekend, but I'm not expecting much until later in the season.
Gray also favors the tail end of the final split for the same reasons. The bulk of the birds don't show up until then.