The northerns are here, according to Mikal Moore, state waterfowl biologist in the Columbia Basin.
Moore compiled data Wednesday from the season’s first aerial waterfowl surveys over the Basin’s waterfowl magnet areas on Monday and Tuesday.
“There a lot of new birds in the Basin, probably recently arrived, that seem to be staging in large groups at well-established reserves and private hunting clubs”, she said. The ducks were not yet well distributed and widely available to hunters, but many opportunities exist, she said.
In the North Basin (Chief Joseph Pool to Priest Rapids on the west and Banks Lake to north Franklin County on the east), she surveyed 240,000 ducks, including 153,000 mallards, and 62,000 divers, mostly scaup.
The biggest concentrations of mallards were on North Potholes Reserve, Winchester Reserve, Eagle Lakes and Columbia Basin National Wildlife Refuge.
Wanapum Pool held the most divers, followed by Wells Pool.
“These are good, solid duck numbers for the Columbia Basin in December,” she said. “I expect field hunting for mallards over corn stubble to really pick up in the coming days.”
Cold weather is ice-capping shallow water throughout the region.
“North Potholes Reserve didn’t have a lot of open water, but what was ice-free was crawling with mallards – about 30,000,” she said.
Those birds are flying out to fee in Hiawatha Valley, a hot spot and mostly tied up in private hunting leases.
The surveys focus on water bodies, so they don’t target geese, which tend to be in the fields during the flights.
But Moore confirms that Canada geese are numerous and widespread.
With no snow cover, field hunting is a good bet for both duck and goose hunters, but don’t count out the action found on the main Columbia.
“You can have a ball hunting divers, especially on Wells Pool, where there’s up to 20,000 scaup,” Moore said. “The birds aren’t really concentrated at the mouth of the Okanogan, by there’s a diverse species mix of divers as well as mallards and lots of widgeons. You could have a real hoot there.”
Not so good were Rocky Reach and Rock Island pools, she said.
While the numbers are good now, the South Basin numbers tend to go up in January, she said, particularly if the North Basin freezes solid or the food becomes covered by a hard snow crust.