November Brings Central Flyway Push

By
Weather Moving Birds Through South Dakota, Nebraska and Kansas

Central

Date: Nov. 8

Location: northern to central portions of the flyway

Overview

An apparent mid- to late-October lull in duck migration is ending on the northern plains, with a zone of almost-arctic air settling in and waterfowl on the move.

That said, duck hunting reports have been solid from North Dakota through South Dakota, and south through Nebraska and portions of Kansas.

The big migration has yet to happen, but it’s almost certainly on the doorstep — and happening.

Major Weather Trends

Much of October was just cloudy and “soaky” in the plains. A trickle of waterfowl migration occurred, but weather events were never quite major enough to cause significant duck movements.

That’s changing. Fast. Right now. Bottoms are dropping out of the thermometer, and North Dakota will see single digits for lows, with low teens in South Dakota and even some teens in Nebraska toward the mid-November.

“We’re going to get cold even here,” said Mark Vrtiska, waterfowl biologist with Nebraska Game and Parks. “It will be interesting to see how much water locks up. But it all won’t. That’s the key.” Rivers will hold a lot of birds.

The corn harvest is progressing rapidly in northern portions of the flyway, opening up great field opportunities. Photo © Tom Rassuchine/Banded

Water/Habitat Conditions

“Small wetlands are going to start freezing up all over the northern half of the flyway with all that cold,” said Rocco Murano, senior waterfowl biologist with South Dakota Game, Fish and Parks.

“We had a lot of rain in late summer and early fall,” Vrtiska said. “There’s no shortage of water.”

Some crops remain standing in the flyway — more than you would expect this time of year — because of the wet October, but that can actually help field hunters a bit, with fewer fields available for duck to feed in.

North Dakota’s corn harvest is still less than 50 percent complete, with South Dakota’s about 75 percent done, and Nebraska and Kansas at about 65 percent.

“We’re definitely behind in the harvest here in Nebraska,” Vrtiska said. “But this cold will be just fine. The farmers will keep harvesting crops — maybe catch up.”

Beans are pretty much harvested everywhere.

All the water standing in stubble, which has been great for hunting, will become a sheet of ice, so that won’t do hunters much good. I spent a few days hunting sheet water like that and had good mixed-bag hunts in late October. Ducks love water and grain together.

Species and Numbers

“There have been a lot of wigeon, gadwalls and divers on folks’ ducks straps,” Murano said. “Just a nice mixed bag. There are some mallards pretty consistently around, but not in huge numbers. We haven’t yet seen the major push, that grand passage as I like to call it. The big influx of greenheads is coming.”

Vrtiska concurred.

“We’re going to lose some ducks with this cold push, but we’re to gain a lot more,” he said. That should hold true for Nebraska and Kansas, and even Oklahoma should benefit.

Hunting Reports and Advice

“Success has been good to very good overall in South Dakota,” Murano said. “Those mixed bags have been fun to see. Be ready for anything. Mix up your spread. We have seen a nice push of redheads go through. The bluebills should be in next, diver-wise.”

The Devil’s Lake area of North Dakota has seen some good reports as the first week of November developed, particularly with big mallards finally arriving.

Farther south, “We have definitely had a good fall for waterfowling in Nebraska,” Vrtiska said. “Much better than last year. But the ducks are educated now. Everybody’s excited for a new push of birds.”

The same goes for Kansas, where hunters are reporting good hunting but a lot of anticipations for new ducks to arrive.

Boat Ramp Chatter

“I think the window of time between Veteran’s Day and Thanksgiving is going to be really good up and down the flyway,” Murano said. “All indications say that the first half to three weeks of November will be prime time.”

“There’s a lot of good hunting coming,” Vrtiska said, “and I mean that across the flyway. I think the real push is starting, and Nebraska will see a lot of birds coming in.”

It’s November. The weather’s getting a little crappy. Need we say more? Just get out duck hunting.

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