In northeast Ohio, where I grew up, wood ducks were synonymous with beaver swamps. Oh, you’d find them on the creeks (pronounced cricks, and spelled that way too sometimes) and we’d kill a few on the east branch of the Mahoning River, if we floated it early enough in the season. But usually, wood ducks, flooded pin oaks, duckweed, and buckbrush all went together like little kids and trick-or-treat.
Now, I’m hearing that hunters in Minnesota are seeing clouds of woodies in the cornfields. I guess it makes sense, what with the marshes here in the Upper Midwest dramatically dry due to the summer drought. No water, no duckweed, no invertebrates; so the birds are going to the most abundant and most readily available food source going these days – corn. I did hit flights of wood ducks in a cornfield cut for silage on the opening day of Iowa’s early season one September. It was a lightning quick, right-at-first-light deal, but it was fascinating to see the colorful drakes and their drab girlfriends twisting and turning over stubble as opposed to cattails, ‘coon tail, and dark water. Sharp eyes could tell drake from hen; sharper shooting skills could bring home a pair like these, courtesy of that eastern Iowa morning.
Woodie numbers, despite the recent cold – and in some locales, snow that swept through the Upper Midwest – remain good, and ‘fowlers are enjoying good to exceptional shoots over both fields and water. Lows in the mid-20s, though, have pushed some woodies, along with teal and sprig, through already, down into central Missouri and points south where hunters still have the better part of a month or more to wait for their traditional openers.
Divers – bluebills, redheads, goldeneyes, and bufflehead – are rolling, albeit slowly, onto Upper Midwest big waters. Mark Brendemuehl out of Minnesota sent a text a couple days back saying he’d found some divers about an hour north of him in the northwest corner of the state. “No many,” he said, “but enough to certainly to make it worthwhile.” Northern Michigan is seeing a similar influx of divers, as are portions of northern Wisconsin.
Right here at home in Jones County, Iowa, the geese still seem to be in late summer patterns, meaning roost to loafing pond and back to roost, with very few if any stops in between. I’m just not seeing much in the way of activity – ducks or geese – right now, and I don’t expect that to increase, what with the temperatures supposed to be near 70 over the coming weekend. Iowa’s North Zone, i.e. north of Highway 30, opens this Saturday, October; 13 however, I really haven’t heard anything in the way of gossip, other than guys beating the dead horse that is the lack of water ’round these parts.
Tony Vandemore in Sumner, Missouri, says he and his friends are killing some local Canadas, “but there’s not really all that many local birds around us here.” He did say that despite being ridiculously dry, the latest cold front did bring with it a good number of summer ducks. “Pintails, shovelers, wood ducks. There’s a few more here now,” Vandemore said. Missouri opens their regular season on Saturday, October 27.