Thursday, March 1, 2012

Migration Report: March 1

I don't have a problem with the end of duck season. Usually it ends right before my girlfriend is about to dump me and my bank account shows goose eggs. Oh, yeah, sometimes I'm actually worn to shreds by the early rising, outdoor bowel evacuations, and repeated recoil. So, all-in-all, I'm usually glad it's over because I don't posses the common sense to just stop anytime. The only disappointment that truly comes to me is the northward migration. Living where I live, it's not uncommon to go to bed and wake up to geese moaning and clucking, snow geese barking, and swans yelping on a daily basis. I am fortunate. It's the one thing I appreciate most about this region. Sure, I love the bitter and incessant winds, the salted air, and the flat landscape, but it's all made better when the above are dotted with wild birds who thrive in this empty portion of the country as I do. Of course, this northward migration leaves me less than hopeful. I know the prairies are drier than recent and that means difficult nesting, difficult hatching, more predators, and in turn, a smaller fall flight next October. But we can always hope for the best.

I'll structure this a bit this time, birds have flocked out and paired up. Sure, some are travelling in supersized family groups, but without hunting pressure, most birds are incredibly spread out. The hens are being chased by the available drakes. Wood ducks are holed up with each other. Mergansers are packing up their fishing tackle. Mallards, well, we don't have any so I don't care. Resident black ducks are moving deeper into the hardest to reach marshes imaginable. So I can only base this on what I've noticed:

Core Sound: Birds were hesitant to arrive this season all together. Reports of teal were consistent through February, as were those of gadwalls. However, these ducks were using marsh ponds in and around Shackleford Banks. They, too, are spread out. The divers (both of them) have moved north.

Pamlico Sound: Locals and guides have told me that bird counts peaked around mid-February. Lots of buffleheads and bluebills were present. Recent southerly breezes have encouraged the return northward. Most birds as of February 28, were flighty and rafts were reassembling and moving often to feed. This means a northerly migration is inderway.

Inland NE North Carolina: Fields that have held swans are now becoming empty. Warmer temps are raising winter wheat into hard to manage mouthfuls. Birds are also thinning out on Carolina bay lakes.

Dare County: I haven't received any reports that could be verified. Still, in talking with Pea Island officials, birds, including snow geese and pintails are thinning and heading north. PI officials expect all but resident birds to be gone by March 5.

Albemarle Sound: Bluebill rafting was common two weeks ago in the central portions of the Sound. Recently, Bulls Bay has seen an increase of rafting ringnecks and family groups of buffleheads. Approximately 2000 birds have been using the area for it's abundant shells. Still, they're moving often to feed, signifying preparation for a northerly haul. Swans, Snow Geese, and Atlantic Race Canadas multiplied two weeks earlier on account of the Virginia snow showers. Many birds simply vacationed here and retuned immediately. Tremendous flocks of the above three have been spotted flying northward.

My prediction for next year: I expect a May pond count of 35 million birds...this will be down 20% from last year. A dry prairie will mean a diminished flight of the more glorious ducks. Those ducks using the boreal forests to reproduce - buffleheads, wood ducks, wigeon, green wing teal, bluebills - should remain steady as nesting conditions rarely waiver from favorable in these historically soggy places. These birds also use the Atlantic Flyway more-so than others. Wood duck production on the local scale should be good again, but unless drought conditions persist, another hurricane can spread out wood ducks on prevalent water or push them out all together. Impoundment operators should see a standard fall flight next year, assuming weather arrives on time. Sea ducks will again be steady as Pamlico Sound water health is still good for strong mussel production.

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