With an upswing in the 2011 numbers of some nesting duck species in the center of the North American continent, hunters in several of the four flyway management zones could see some increases in hunting opportunity.
Waterfowl specialists from Canadian Wildlife Service, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and non-profit cooperators including Ducks Unlimited found an estimated 45.6 million ducks in the traditional continental waterfowl survey area that stretches from the north central U.S. through the Canadian prairie potholes region into interior river valleys in Alaska during May nesting ground surveys.
The 2011 breeding duck numbers are a 4.8 million bird increase over 2010 estimates and represent a 35 percent gain over the long-term combined nesting duck average.
Waterfowl specialists say the 2011 nesting population is certainly taking advantage of a 22 percent increase in the number of ponds (8.1 million individual waters) found this spring. By comparison, in the same sampling areas in 2010 observers counted a total of 6.7 million ponds.But just how far nature’s largesse might spread, insofar as hunting is concerned, is yet to be determined.NESTING GROUND CONDITIONS
Northing ducks and geese this spring found conditions on their North American nesting
grounds, with a few exceptions, mostly good to excellent with potholes and marshlands generally well-hydrated.
Though this spring started cooler than normal with later than usual ice-outs, as an accelerated warm-up began breeding activity was said to be well underway by early June.
The very best conditions for duck nesting were seen in the north central United States (Montana and the Dakotas together with the prairie potholes region encompassing southern , south and central Saskatchewan and southwest Manitoba). The numbers of ponds and volume of moisture found this spring there were in stark contrast to the drought conditions seen in 2010.
Even as the region’s human residents were coping with significant flooding, Canadian and U.S. waterfowl observers reported seeing larger than usual numbers of dabbling ducks stopping over and nesting in the expansive wetlands.
One downside, potentially for some Pacific Flyway hunters, were wetland conditions in several areas of interior British , where a large segment of the passage birds that transit Puget Sound often nest.
Ducks Unlimited observers reported that wetland habitat conditions in mountainous southeast B.C. were categorized as being only fair, while the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service’s June report indicated the area of relatively poor conditions extended into the forested region of west central . A higher-than-usual forest fire count was also seen in this area during spring surveys.
These areas are used by a portion of the Pacific Flyway’s dabblers including mallards and the nesting areas selected by this sub-population often dictate where this mass of birds migrates south in the fall.
The further west into B.C. the ducks nest, the more likely it is they will come down through Puget Sound. If they nest to the east into , the bulk of those ducks will migrate south through the Washington’s Basin.
Good to very good conditions also were found in the coastal and northern interior regions of B.C. and Alaska, according to DU waterfowl specialists surveying those duck and goose production areas.
The upside of the late, wet spring in northwest B.C. forests is that northern pintail nesters were found in much greater abundance this year underscoring what may be a significant rebound of this duck species.
DUCK POPULATION TRENDS
Several dabbler species scored well in the 2011 spring waterfowl nesting survey conducted in the Canadian plains provinces and the North Central U.S.
However, waterfowl numbers were not found to be uniformly up in all areas such as interior B.C., northern and east central Alaska where breeding duck numbers actually fell.
Scoring at the top of the waterfowl hit parade this spring were nesting blue-winged teal, which were found in record abundance totaling an estimated 8.9 million birds. That’s 41 percent above their 2010 number and 91 percent above the blue-winged teal long-term average.
Blue-winged teal are among the first of the webfoot migrants to appear in Puget Sound often in mid- to late-September.
Overall, nesting mallard numbers this spring jumped nine percent above 2010 estimates to 9.2 million birds continuing in a rosy trend now 22 percent above their long-term average yearly abundance.
And another dabbler making a strong showing on the nesting grounds relative to the recent past is the northern pintail, which, at 4.4 million birds, bested last year’s count by 26 percent and the specie’s long-term average by 3.5 percent.
Trending downward as evidenced by this spring’s May nesting counts were American widgeon down 14 and 20 percent from their 2010 spring count and long-term average, respectively.
Lesser and greater scaup, a noteworthy winter resident in Puget Sound, whose hunting harvests have been curbed in recent years also were found in smaller numbers in spring nesting areas. At 4.3 million birds this spring, scaup lag by 15 percent their long-term nesting count average of just over five million birds per year.
PREPARATIONS FOR FALL
With fall duck and geese flight forecasts in the offing and rules for the upcoming 2011-12 water hunting seasons to be decided in early August, federal, provincial and state waterfowl managers are meeting this week to look over the data and set federal frameworks for season lengths and bag limits in the four continental flyways.
The Pacific Flyway’s technical meeting is at Bozeman, Mont., where specialists will be looking at numbers indicating a decline in overall dabbling duck productivity in north central B.C. and northern .
However, potentially countering those indications are information and estimates generated by a new relatively survey system done in other areas that Washington and other states have been developing.
Though each jurisdiction (state and provincial) enacts their own regulations and seasons for migratory birds each year, all duck, goose, mourning dove and band-tailed pigeon season durations, bag limits and species restrictions must conform to the limitations in the federal framework set by each flyway’s duly authorized committee.
The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service supervises these committees.
States are free to lower bag limits and reduce the number of open hunting days below the federal standard and may even ban hunting for certain species locally, but they may not exceed any of the terms in the flyway guidelines.
Pending the Washington Fish and Wildlife Commission’s adoption of the 2011-12 migratory waterfowl hunting package Saturday morning, Aug. 6, there are some things bird hunters can do to begin preparing for fall hunts.
In addition to breaking out and refurbishing decoys, camo material for portable blinds and other gear, now is the time to do some on-line homework. Here are some suggestions:
Quality Waterfowl Hunts – check out the fish and wildlife department’s website for duck and goose hunting at wdfw.wa.gov/hunting/waterfowl/index.html.
While a portion of the links open to what is now out-of-date material on regulations and seasons, some links will give you valuable insights into programs such as the Waterfowl Quality Hunt and the Snow Goose Quality Hunt programs that are providing significant opportunities to access private farm lands heretofore off-limits to most hunters.
Most of the links on this webpage will be updated in mid- to late- August or in September after new rules are set.
State Wildlife Areas – to learn more about publicly owned lands available for hunting throughout the state, log on to the fish and wildlife department’s website for its wildlife areas at wdfw.wa.gov/lands/wildlife_areas/.
The two complexes in Northwest Washington of key interest to would-be waterfowlers residing here are the Whatcom Wildlife Area and the Skagit-Snoqualmie Wildlife Area.
This portal allows a search by installation name or you can call up all the fish and wildlife department owned and managed lands by individual county.
Registering for authorizations – to harvest some migratory bird species, hunters, in addition to some version of a basic hunting license together with federal and state migratory bird stamp equivalents, must have special written authorizations issued by the state of Washington.
These documents must be in hand to hunt for and possess band-tailed pigeons, sea ducks (scoters, long-tails and harlequins), brant (Skagit County) and snow geese (Skagit, Island and Snohomish counties).
Hunters holding these documents are required to report their effort and harvest at the end of individual hunting seasons for each species. If that is done promptly and completely, each registered hunter remains in good standing and will be automatically in line for the coming year’s document. But, by rule, if you fail to report you could be ineligible to receive the coming year’s authorization.
Though the system suffered some glitches last year, if you were in good standing as of February 2011 you should be in line for the appropriate documents this fall.
First-timers can register to receive their initial authorizations at wdfw.wa.gov/hunting/permits/migratory/index.html.
Hunter education classes – any person born after January 1972 seeking their first-ever hunting license here in Washington must take and successfully pass a sanctioned hunter education class and present a certificate of completion to a license dealer when buying their initial documents.
Qualifying instruction in other states is acceptable in lieu of taking a class here as long as there is a certifiable document presented.
Washington’s hunter education courses include about 10 to 12 hours of instruction and some offer actual supervised firearms handing and shooting if they are taught at or near a shooting range.
Though available in some areas year-round, many classes are scheduled for late summer and fall just before general hunting seasons open.
Taught by a cadre of well-trained volunteers supervised by WDFW, seating and enrollment may be limited so finding and signing up early for a class can save considerable turmoil in September and October.
HUNT RAFFLES SALES WIND UP
Today is the last day hunters can buy raffle tickets for Washington’s special big-game hunt permit giveaways.
Because of Washington State gambling restrictions, it’s no longer possible to buy these lottery tickets online or by phone.
You can only buy them over-the-counter at fishing and hunting license dealers, the names and locations of which can be found at wdfw.wa.gov/licensing/vendors.
An extensive list of these big game permit opportunities and combos can be found on pages 75-77 of Washington’s 2011 Big Game Hunting Seasons and Regulations pamphlet.
This set of drawings will award permits for some highly coveted hunts both by big game species as well as region of the state.
There is no limit to the number of tickets you can buy for each named raffle drawing.
The cost per drawing ticket are as follows:
? Individual deer, elk, moose and mountain goat permits: $5.90
? Bighorn sheep permits: $11.90
? Multi-hunt (three species) permits: $16.70
? Multi-hunt (four species) permits: $22.10