Pacific Flyway Habitats Need Rain; Duck Forecast Above Average



Pacific Flyway Habitats Need Rain; Duck Forecast Above Average

Posted 2015-10-09T05:17:00Z  by  M.D. Johnson

Region - Pacific Flyway

Reporter - M.D. Johnson

Date - October 9, 2015

Location - Wahkiakum County, Washington

Believe it or not, folks, this year I'm actually doing the Pacific Flyway Report FROM the Pacific Flyway. Julie and I sold our home in Iowa back in July, and moved to what we affectionately call The Little Red House (LRH) in Wahkiakum County. As we sit, we're five minutes from the Columbia River, and a short 52 miles from the coast, with a w-h-o-l-e lot of duck and goose ground in-between. The season out here, at least in Washington, runs October 17-21, and October 24 through January 31, 2016; many of the other states in the flyway share a similar seasonal structure. In Washington and Oregon, major changes have been announced in the dusky Canada goose season, all of which are far too lengthy and convoluted to expound upon here; however, information is available on the state wildlife agency websites. Other notable regulatory situations include a season-within-a-season for bluebills, and a two-bird daily bag limit on canvasbacks. Flyway-wide, duck numbers are forecast above the long-term average; goose numbers, at least based on what I've been seeing since mid-July in Washington and elsewhere along the West Coast, are very good. It's going to be a good year, folks; definitely a year to dust off the decoys if you haven't been for a while.

Major weather trends

In a word - DRY. In two words, terribly dry. Julie and I arrived at The LRH on July 13; since then, I don't believe an inch of rain has fallen here in the Cathlamet area. The whole of southwest Washington is in the same situation; in fact, the entire Pacific Northwest is awfully dry, and has been for quite some time now. There's a reason the 2015 wildfire season was a busy one - and it ain't due to too much rain. What's going to happen throughout October and November? A bit of rain is predicted for the Longview area - about 25 miles due east of our place - throughout the month of October, but nothing to really get excited about. As for temperatures, those seem pretty standard for this time of year through Halloween; lows in the mid-40s, with highs ranging from 70s early to the low 60s during the final days of the month.

Find water and you should see opening day ducks. (Realtree photo)

Water conditions

Low is an understatement. I saw more bare dirt at the bottom of ponds between Longview (Washington) and the Pacific Coast than I have ever seen - and I've been travelling those roads off and on since 1993. Some of these same ponds have a little water in them now; however, most are still awfully low. Larger bodies of water up and down the Interstate 5 Corridor and to points west along Highway 12 (Centralia/Chehalis) and Highway 6 (Vader/Ryderwood) are showing the same thing. The area just desperately needs water; hopefully, it's going to come in the form of traditional fall rains, but there's a lot of catching up to do. Some of the freshwater ponds, i.e. Black Lake on the Long Beach Peninsula, are also as low as ever. The Columbia River tributary streams, too - the Naselle, Grays, Kalama, and the Elochoman - are scary skinny. We just need water, plain and simple.

Habitat conditions

Not surprisingly, it's all tied into the shortage of water in regards to habitat conditions; however, we did have enough rain, albeit not much, during September to green things up a bit. In the nearby Julia Butler Hansen NWR, the grass has sprung up recently, and is providing feed for Canadas and Columbia whitetails alike. I spoke with a professional dog trainer on October 4 living north of Seattle; his corn is coming along just fine, despite the dryer-than-normal conditions all summer. At least some folks, it appears, are doing all right.

Species and numbers

Despite the aforementioned lack of water, there is good news in the Pacific Northwest, and that is a tremendous number of home-grown puddle ducks. Where there's water, good friend and rabid 'fowler, Tony Miller (Kalama, WA), told me, there's ducks. I'm actually seeing a really good number of local puddlers between I-5 and the Coast, as well as from the (Columbia) river north to the Seattle area. If a guy can stake out some water, he said, he ought to have a really good opener. Myself, I'm seeing the usual brown mallards, with a few teal and some gadwall thrown in for good measure. More wood ducks, it seems, this year paddling around the little lily ponds holding water. What I'd call an average number of Canadas - nothing to go WOW! about, but it's early still.

Personal hunting report

We won't start hunting until Saturday, October 17, which coincidentally is also the modern firearm deer opener. I've been hunting muzzleloader elk since October 3; getting into animals and finding my way around this new very vertical ground - NOTE: We're not in Iowa anymore. For the past eight days, there's been an incredible migration of white-fronts from the north; some going due south, others going east. On Friday, October 2, and under low clouds, the specklebelly movement - and their high-pitched beautiful calls - was an all-day event, lasting throughout the night and into the next morning. October 4 brought the first sandhill cranes into the area, or at least the first ones I've heard. It's that time of year, folks!

Boat ramp chatter

Nothing really at this point as far as ducks are concerned. Early archery seasons are over; early muzzleloader deer season - blacktails, whitetails, and mulies - opened on October 3, continuing through the 11th. The same Tony Miller from above stopped by on Thursday, September 24, to show us a dandy black bear he'd killed toward the coast earlier that afternoon. And I heard of a raghorn 1x5 bull killed with a muzzleloader by a local just a couple miles southeast of the house on the October 3 opener. It's all big game now, myself included, as I have deer, elk, bear, and cougar tags burning holes in my wallet.

Upcoming patterns/hotspots

Miller will be in Idaho on a big game safari - deer, elk, and bear - for the duck opener, but I'll be out with his son, Nick Waderman Miller, that morning. We have our little puddle of water staked out already, with Nick providing periodic glowing reports telling of excellent bunches of puddlers and ridiculous numbers of Canadas. We're going to test drive Ira McCauley's new AT-X Invisilay layout blind.

Veteran waterfowler M.D. Johnson will report on the Pacific Flyway this season.