Jim Niemiec's Blog

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Thursday, March 29, 2012
It was a timely storm for wildlife
Saturday, April 14, 2012
The hunt for a field partner

Ducks may be a little tardy in northerly migration
Mother Nature blew in some strong arctic storms the past couple of weeks and perhaps this made ducks in this portion of the Pacific flyway hold off in heading north. There was a movement of birds north during the full moon of early March, consisting mostly of big puddle ducks and divers, but there were many "stick-a-rounds" on ponds, marshes, wetlands and at refuges clear up to the last week of March.

"We had a couple of big flocks of sprig move through just prior to the first storm of the month and a few days later there were as many as 150 shovelers that stopped over on our duck ponds and spent a couple of days before lifting off. It was nice to know that these birds were heading up to nesting grounds in Canada and that the numbers were significant," stated Arlen Downs, club supervisor for the Riverside County Flyway Association.

Western Outdoor News has been traveling around the past couple of weeks in determining the status of the migration. This column is a direct result of seeing nearly 100 wigeon loafing in on a golf course in Tustin. I had been watching this flock of ducks since they arrived in early December, as it grew daily and this is what kicked off an interest in this year's migration.

"The San Jacinto Wildlife Refuge does hold water all year long for brooding waterfowl, which has enjoyed many successful hatches over the years. These prime wetlands seem to see an increase in the number of mallards, gadwall and teal using this habitat as a nesting area. In addition to these three puddle ducks we are even starting to see shovelers nest on the refuge and that's a good indication of how well the wetlands are maintained and managed at a suitable level to encourage local nesting," said Scott Sewell, Wildlife Habitat Supervisor 11, Area Manager for the refuge.

In addition to a good staffing and lots of support from CWA and DU both the San Jacinto and Wister Wildlife refuges have benefited by holding fresh water in some of the ponds, channels and irrigation ditches.

Sewell went on tell WON, "At Wister we have spots that produce good hatches of puddle ducks and that both WLA's are sensitive to those issues and try to manage the brooding hand-in-hand with managing waterfowl ponds and marshes to provide success for both management principles."

Western Outdoor News witnessed just how important a good local hatch of ducks is to success within our flyway. This hunting editor was invited to hunt opening day at Wister by Frank Theodoropoulos of Tustin and together with 2 other shooters, all limited out on puddle ducks of which most were mallards that likely were a direct result of an excellent hatch of local ducks that mixed well with the early arrival of birds migrating out of Canada and other northern brooding regions of the west.

WON checked in with Gordon Outhier who devotes and lot of time and effort on behalf of nesting wood ducks in the southern portion of this flyway.

"Right now things a looking very good for the wood ducks in Prado Basin. The basin is holding back just enough water to make for ideal nesting conditions for these local ducks and we should see a good brood as a direct result of excellent conditions. Presently there are only about 10 more wood duck boxes that need attention and we'll leave the rest up to the ducks and conditions that Mother Nature might come up with," noted Outhier.

Editor's note: Any WON reader who would like to volunteer to assist Outhier as he gathers nesting conditions of wood ducks in the southland can reach him at (714) 996-9879.

In checking with Nick Stanley, the interim manager at the Kern National Wildlife Refuge in Wasco, (David Hardt retired in December) he reported that the southern end of the San Joaquin Valley received over 2 inches of rain from the last storm that passed across the valley floor.

"Interestingly, we only got about .6 of an inch of rain at the refuge, but up the road over 2 inches fell and began flooding vast acreages of crop land that was once the site of the ancient Buena Vista Lakebed. The refuge held ducks for a little longer than normal this season and then they finally started dribbling out. We traditionally don't hold much in the way of ponds, wetlands or marshes on this refuge all-year due to the fear of botulism spreading to locally hatched ducks and then having them mix with early arriving migrants from other regions. We try to dry up the entire refuge before summer to prevent botulism. The refuge does contribute a little to locally hatched puddle ducks but it's not a significant number. This refuge shot very well this past season and if we get anywhere near the same water allocation we received last season the refuge should offer up good gunning and additional sites again this coming season," stated Stanley.

Another area that saw pretty much an "on time" migration of big puddle ducks were the vast marshes around Los Mochis. Sprig, gadwall and wigeon headed north in late February leaving a mix of teal, spoonies and local nesting ducks like the Mexican duck and pichiquila to close out the season.

More on ducks and conservation programs supporting California Waterfowl projects are available when attending California Waterfowl Association events. There are two great fund raisers that waterfowlers should put on their calendars "to attend list." The first CWA event will be the 11th annual Southern California Shoot and BBQ to be held at the Triple B Clays range on April 21. For additional information contact Adam Weleba at (805) 975-8170. Another CWA event not to miss is the 7th Annual Orange County dinner that will be held at the Santa Ana Elks Lodge on May 10. For advance ticketing, early bird high-end shotgun drawing or prize donations call Frank Theodoropoulos at (714) 227-3304 or log on to their web site at frankcwa@yahoo.com.

wigeon late to migrate
WIGEON LATE TO MIGRATE — This flock of wigeon had been hanging out at the Tustin Ranch Golf course since early December. These ducks have adopted the greens and fresh water for the last 5 years and were in no hurry to head out on their northerly migration to nesting grounds. WON PHOTO BY JIM NIEMIEC

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