Duck Hunting photo

Record low temperatures could strike much of the Atlantic Flyway this weekend, with widespread freeze potential extending from Maine down to parts of Northern Virginia and the Midwest. Northwest winds gusting to 30 mph could drop the temperature as much as 13 degrees below average in some areas. That’s all to say the duck hunting this weekend and next week could be very, very good.

At the top of the flyway, bird numbers over previous weeks have almost doubled, by some counts. On Tuesday, 16,800 ducks over 13 different species were counted on the Missisquoi National Wildlife Refuge, on Lake Champlain in Swanton, Vermont. That’s 1.8 times more than the 9,300 birds that were counted on September 24.

“We’re picking up quite a few ringnecks, mallards and blacks,” said Bill Crenshaw, wildlife biologist, Vermont Fish & Wildlife Department. “When you see those you know they’re migrators.”

Moving down the flyway, migrant geese are continuing to work fields in Massachusetts, Connecticut and Rhode Island. Report after report – many from hunters sitting in treestands working to fill archery tags – confirm geese are overhead looking for cut corn. But migrating big ducks in Southern New England are few and far between. “We’re not seeing the puddle ducks yet, no way,” said Min Huang, migratory game bird program leader for the Connecticut Department of Energy and Environmental Protection. “Our early season, which starts on Saturday, we’re targeting our (resident) birds and teal. For mallards, our breeding numbers this year were the lowest we’ve seen in 20 years.”

Despite booming numbers nationally, mallards are down on the Atlantic flyway – a 19-percent decrease from the long-term average, according to the 2012 U.S. Fish & Wildlife Waterfowl Population Status Report. Biologists aren’t sure why the East Coast greenheads aren’t keeping pace with the rest of the country.

Vermont, Massachusetts, Rhode Island, southern New York, Maryland and parts of New Jersey open the early duck season this week, along with Connecticut.

“We’re getting geese with this cold front. They’re up high, arriving, so they’re building up, but we haven’t had the real big push yet,” said Larry Hyman, waterfowl project leader with Maryland DNR. “As far as ducks, we have quite a few green-winged teal, some pintails and a few bluewings sticking around. It’s time. Birds are moving.”

If you’ve been reading this blog, you’ve heard it before: the name of the game is water. Low water conditions have plagued much of the flyway. Look for big water with available foods, like aquatic weed beds.

Avery Pro Staffer Arliss Reed played the water game last weekend on the New York north zone opener, and hit the jackpot, which is plainly evident in the photo above. He set up in his traditional spot, a backwoods roost pond. But with the water so low the spot boomed with vegetation this year, turning it into a prime feed hole.

Over Saturday and Sunday, with a big group of buddies, they bagged 63 ducks in pouring rain and a cold wind. “It was miserable. Everyone was cold and wet, but we shot a bunch of ducks. Geese were rolling over us all day; we saw a flock of brant fly over, which we’ve never seen before in that spot. There were good groups of mallards, bluewings, greenwings, blacks and ringnecks. It was a great weekend.”

And it might just be a great early season opener for the majority of the flyway this weekend.