USFWS: WINTRY WEATHER HASTENS WATERFOWL MIGRATION THROUGH STATE
Waterfowl hunters who didn?t get into the field last weekend may have missed the peak of the migration. According to the weekly report from the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, numbers of ducks and geese in North Dakota took a big jump over the weekend, and made an equal or greater drop by mid-week. Some areas still report good bird populations, but the continued cold temperatures in the forecast could cause additional, sudden declines.
About 25,000 snow geese were still feeding near the north end of Des Lacs National Wildlife Refuge near Kenmare on Tuesday. However, refuge operations specialist Chad Zorn says most wetlands are freezing over, and the birds could depart at any time. The refuge also held about 6,000 mallards, a few small pockets of scaup, a few Canada geese and 200 tundra swans on Tuesday, big decreases from the previous weekend.
Waterfowl hunters in Divide County went from feast to famine in less than 24 hours. Tim Kessler and Toby Placek of the Crosby Wetland Management District reported 150,000 snow geese near Crosby and an equal or greater number of geese plus 20,000 ducks near Noonan on Tuesday, but below-zero temperatures and strong northwest winds drove nearly all of those birds out by Wednesday.
Most waterfowl had left J. Clark Salyer National Wildlife Refuge near Upham by mid-week. Project leader Tedd Gutzke says the refuge dropped below 10,000 snow geese, and had even fewer Canada geese and ducks on Tuesday. He adds that most wetlands have iced over, and fields have up to six inches of snow.
Below-zero temperatures on Tuesday night froze up the remaining open wetlands in Mountrail and southern Burke counties. Todd Frerichs of the Lostwood Wetland Management District says what appeared to be the last of the snow geese departed early this week, riding strong winds out of the area.
About 200,000 snow geese had piled into Upper Souris National Wildlife Refuge near Minot over the weekend. However, they took advantage of strong northwest winds to pull out on Tuesday night, according to refuge spokesperson Darla Leslie. She reports area lakes and smaller wetlands are freezing rapidly.
Only about 500 snow geese remained at Audubon National Wildlife Refuge at mid-week. Wetland manager Mike Goos says the refuge still has up to 10,000 Canada geese and 2,000 ducks. He says most wetlands have iced over and waterfowl have moved to bigger water. Goos suggests hunters look for giant Canada geese on the Missouri River system.
Many mallards and snow geese have moved into and out of northeastern North Dakota in the past few days. Mark Fisher of the Devils Lake Wetland Management District says many wetlands have frozen over and most fields are snow-covered. He notes that most big lakes remain open, and that?s where the birds are concentrated. Fisher adds that hunting is difficult, but areas such as Lake Loretta, Devils Lake and Lake Alice National Wildlife Refuge still have some geese as well as large numbers of ducks.
The snow goose population at Long Lake National Wildlife Refuge near Moffit went from 130,000 on Tuesday to about 10,000 on Wednesday. Biologist Cheryl Jacobs says the refuge?s wetlands were ice-covered on Wednesday, but 10,000 snow geese, 1,000 lesser Canada geese and a few mallards remained in the area. Some small, scattered concentrations of snow geese and Canada geese can still be found in Kidder and Burleigh counties.
Quite a few geese arrived at Arrowwood National Wildlife Refuge early this week, but quite a few ducks departed. Biologist Paulette Scherr says the Refuge held more than 4,000 Canada geese, 3,000 snow geese and 10,000 puddle ducks, but no diving ducks on Monday. She reports hearing snow geese moving south over the weekend, but noted some smaller flocks were apparently looking for a place to feed. Scherr expects most birds to be concentrated in areas with open water.
Hunters in Stutsman and Wells counties are having a tough time finding concentrations of ducks, although there are still some Canada geese in the area. Tomi Buskness of the Chase Lake Prairie Project reports seeing some snow geese in the area, but not in large numbers.
A few snow geese and ducks have been moving through the Valley City area, but hunting success has been spotty. Ed Meendering of the Valley City Wetland Management District has seen a few large flocks of mallards feeding in harvested fields, but he says the small potholes are freezing.
Huntable numbers of mallards and Canada geese can still be found in southeast-central North Dakota. Mick Erickson of the Kulm Wetland Management District says large flocks of snow geese and white-fronted geese have been flying over the area this week, but hunters shouldn?t give up yet. He suggests they head for larger bodies of water in the four-county district.
Southeastern North Dakota may still offer some good waterfowl hunting opportunities, but not as many as early this week. Jesse Lisburg of Tewaukon National Wildlife Refuge reported seeing flocks of several thousand mallards feeding in harvested fields between Oakes and the Richland/Sargent County line early in the week, but not at mid-week. He believes the peak of the waterfowl migration may be past. Lisburg notes that the smaller wetlands are freezing over, though the larger bodies of water remain open.
In northeastern South Dakota, the snow goose population at Sand Lake National Wildlife Refuge apparently peaked at 240,000 on Sunday. Biologist Bill Schultze says the Tuesday night low temperature of 7-degrees froze most lakes on the refuge and the surrounding wetlands. He estimates the Wednesday snow goose numbers at 180,000. The duck population has dropped from 160,000 on Sunday to 110,000. Schultze says most of those are mallards. Only about 2,100 Canada geese remain from last week?s 5,000. Schultze believes another cold night will cause further departures.
Hunters are reminded that the remaining duck populations include pintails and canvasbacks, two species whose seasons have closed. Also some hunters are still failing to leave adequate identification on their birds. North Dakota law requires one fully feathered wing or the fully feathered head of all waterfowl to remain attached during transportation.
The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service is the principal Federal agency responsible for conserving, protecting and enhancing fish, wildlife and plants and their habitats for the continuing benefit of the American people.