Winter is missing element, not ducks

On the Outdoors

January 11, 1998|By Peter Baker | Peter Baker,SUN STAFF

As I walked out of the marsh -- mud sucking at my waders, shotgun cased, decoys bagged and that damned dog constantly underfoot -- I knew another winter morning had been warm, windless and wasted.

What had become of the promise of duck season?

Late last summer, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service predicted record fall flights of ducks for most of the United States, based on high breeding population and production surveys.

There was, however, a caveat in the annual USFWS waterfowl population report: Nesting areas in Eastern Canada had been inundated by rainfall and snow melt last spring, and breeding success could be off because of flooded habitat.

Numbers of ducks moving south from those areas could be expected to be smaller than the fall flight of 1996, and Maryland benefits more from those birds than from the flights coming from mid-continent.

Larry Hindman, waterfowl project leader for Maryland's Department of Natural Resources, said Friday that the numbers of ducks don't appear to be a problem.

"We had a lot of birds early in the season," said Hindman, an avid waterfowler, "and it has been consistent through the season. But you have to have the right conditions to hunt."

Wind. Snow. Cold temperatures. Frozen ponds and impoundments.

And the season, it seems, has been flat and warm since mid-December.

"What makes them move is wind and temperature. When it's cold, they have to eat, and when there's wind, they need to find shelter," said Hindman.

"They are not stressed at all with this type of winter, and unlike last year the ponds are open and they have lots of water available and are widely dispersed."

All of which translates to inconsistent hunting conditions in the state.

"I've talked to a lot of people who hunt regularly and most of them say the season is way off from last year," Hindman added. "One guy who goes heavy after diving ducks had 600 scaup by this time last season. He doesn't have 100 this year."

Each year, DNR conducts a winter waterfowl survey, but Hindman said that only one flight has been made so far, from Thomas Point to Point No Point on the western shore of Chesapeake Bay.

"I've seen more birds this season than in the last five years," he said. "But to get a shot at them, you have to have the right conditions and be in the right place.

"With the weather the way it has been, that's been tough to do."

The duck season closes Jan. 20, and the long-range weather forecast calls for temperatures to fall back to normal seasonal levels, with a chance of rain or snow flurries at midweek.

Pub Date: 1/11/98

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