The first rains in weeks–months in some areas–arrived just in time for the opening week of waterfowl hunting across a good portion of the Pacific Flyway, and that certainly did nothing to dampen the spirits of hunters from BC to Baja.
My friend David Wei of Vancouver reported that snows are following the rains. “I took a look at some fields yesterday morning in Richmond along the Fraser River,” he said. “The greater snow geese are here! Thousands of these birds have moved in from their summer breeding grounds in Russia for their annual stopover in Richmond and Delta, including lots of younger blues this year after a worrisome hatch last year.”
Also singing the blues, Kent Contreras of Newport, Wash., last week bagged rarely seen blue-winged teal pictured here.
“I have only seen blue-wings and cinnamons here in the spring,” he said. “They are usually gone by hunting season. I wish they would have had full plumage; I would have mounted one for the cave!”
South of the Columbia, my friend and outdoor photographer Randy Shipley was singing the blues, too, but for all the wrong reasons. Just a week after limiting out in Klamath County, he found adjacent Lake County to be less than aptly named.
“Warner Wetlands was a bust,” he said. “Low water, calm weather, and not many ducks. Didn’t fire a shot in two days and came home early.”
The Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife reported this week that most of the units in the Warner not-so-Wetlands are dry, except for the ones on the north end. Northern shovelers are abundant on Lake Abert, according to ODFW reports.
The story is similar just over the border in northern California. A recent survey of the Klamath Basin National Wildlife Refuges found just over 144,000 ducks and 18,300 geese on the Lower Klamath, Tule Lake, Upper Klamath, Clear Lake and Klamath Marsh refuges.
Farther south, the Sacramento National Wildlife Refuge Complex surveyed only 250,000 geese–nearly all white-fronts–and 332,000 ducks, mostly puddle ducks–pintails, shovelers, wigeons and mallards. Local production was poor in many of these areas, and hunters in these locations will have to rely on the arrival of record numbers of breeding migrants to fill the void.
The fall harvest of crops in the Rocky Mountain portions of the Pacific Flyway should open the door for the fall harvest of waterfowl, too, according to pro-staffers for Avery Outdoors.
“There’s lots of feed in the area with farmers harvesting crops,” reported Gage Charlesworth, of Willard, Utah, who observed good numbers of wigeon, teal, mallards, gadwalls, canvasbacks and pintails. “I took some kids out on the youth hunt and they had a great time, shooting 19 ducks and 3 geese, including one leg band. Our opener was Oct. 6, and good numbers of birds were moving around with plenty of shots and opportunities.”
Jeremiah Pope of Boise said local ducks and geese are flocking to the fields. “Feeding conditions are good,” he reported. “Harvest has started, field conditions are prime, and birds are beginning to find the fields. We have a small number of local birds around the Treasure Valley – a mix of puddle ducks and Canada geese.”
Bailey Ortley of Missoula said temperatures and water levels are both dropping in western Montana. “It’s been steady around the 50s the past few days I’ve been out, with colder temperatures in the morning around the low 30s,” Ortley reported. “The water levels are still dropping, but there is plenty of open water in the rivers and back waters. Fields have not been tilled yet, but that will happen very soon with colder weather approaching. There’s lots of grain still in the fields in the Bitterroot Valley and up toward Polson.”
Ortley observed that mallards and Canada geese are present in good numbers in the valley, but noted that teal and wigeons are leaving the area day by day.
“I haven’t seen a huge amount of birds yet, except around Nine Pipes Wildlife Refuge, where I saw a few hundred birds on most of the larger ponds,” he noted. “I don’t see a large amount of migrants in the valley yet, but local birds have started to stage and get into larger groups other than family groups.”
While the season is still young, Ortley advised hunters to start looking for birds roosting in more remote backwaters and eddies along the main rivers, such as the Clark Fork and Bitterroot.