All's quiet on duck hunting front

OUTDOORS

November 24, 1994|By PETER BAKER

QUANTICO, Md. -- Red-winged blackbirds moved quickly, close to the top of the marsh edge along Rewastico Creek in Wicomico County. Turkey vultures rode the wind currents above the blackbirds, and higher still small flights of geese noisily made their way south.

From across the creek and beyond perhaps a half-mile of thick marsh, gunfire rumbled through the morning, heavily punctuated the boom of what was either an artillery piece or a 10-gauge shotgun.

But all was quiet on the northern marsh front. While songbirds, gulls, hawks and vultures were numerous, ducks were scarce. Only one duck had been close enough for a shot, a mallard drake that fled across the marsh from the direction of the 10-gauge and fell like stone among the decoys 10 yards out.

We were hunting the Nanticoke River Wildlife Management Area, a 1,700-acre tract of fields, woodland and marsh that is open to public hunting this year for the first time.

The expectation, of course, had been that the extensive marsh would be thick with ducks, and judging from the amount of

gunfire upwind, some areas of the marsh were.

We were, quite simply, in the wrong place at the wrong time.

The wind was northwest and gusting well above 20 knots. The twisting channel of Rewastico Creek probably was as close as it ever gets to being roiled, and the marsh was draining fast as the tide went out.

But this is an area well worth visiting -- especially as the weather turns colder and more ducks move down from the north, because nonpermit, nonlottery public waterfowl hunting areas are relatively few.

Larry Hindman, head of Maryland's migratory game bird programs for the Department of Natural Resources, said earlier this week that the warm weather this fall has slowed duck migrations.

"We are past the middle of November and we are not seeing the birds we should be seeing even earlier in the year," Hindman said. "The numbers don't seem to be there yet, and ducks especially I think are way behind."

Canada geese seem to be on schedule, but Hindman said the fall flight from northern Quebec appears to be weak. Early seasons in Quebec Province and New York State have been off, and they are one barometer by which Maryland's seasons can be gauged.

"If you look at the Quebec harvest of geese this year, the numbers are way down and the age ratio is real low, too," Hindman said. "That's certainly not good news."

The ratio of juveniles to adults is an indicator of breeding success, and a high ratio of young birds usually means that fewer breeding-age birds will be killed by hunters.

Hindman said that in Quebec the ratio was .3 juveniles per adult, when it normally is 1.6 or higher.

While the fall flight forecast was very favorable for ducks this year, the numbers have not arrived here yet, because the weather has not forced the birds southward.

"There is almost no ice up there yet, but once they get some pTC hard water around [in the upper Midwest and prairie Canada], that will force the birds to come south," Hindman said. "You can bet there still are a lot of ducks to come."

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