Mallards & More In The Mid-Atlantic

Mallards & More In The Mid-Atlantic

The early duck and goose seasons are in full swing this month in Maryland, Delaware and New Jersey. Read on for top places to hunt right now! (October 2007)

Photo by Kenny Bahr.

Waterfowl hunters along the East Coast have enjoyed some very good shooting in recent years. Part of the reason is that some seasons are more liberal, giving hunters a lot more days in which to hunt. According to recent surveys, while some waterfowl populations have showed slight declines, the overall health of most duck and goose populations is very good.

The waterfowl populations that have shown a decline are a result of development in stopover and wintering spots along their flyways, and habitat conditions in their breeding areas. While mid-continent populations of waterfowl rise and fall relative to the amount of precipitation that falls in wetland habitat, habitat conditions in eastern North America have been comparatively stable in recent years.

For the last several years, hunting regulations in the Atlantic Flyway have been based on the Adaptive Harvest Management (AHM) approach, which in turn is based on the status of eastern mallards.

In 2004, 1,110,700 mallards were estimated in the eastern survey area, which is consistent with the long-term average. In 2005, that average dropped to 1,047,000. The 2006 breeding season saw a significant drop in numbers to 899,200.

Since the study began in 1990, the highest estimated number of mallards was 1,131,500 in 1996. The lowest number surveyed in the same period was 855,800 mallards in 1990, during the first year of the survey.

By and large, the drop in numbers is not a serious concern. After six straight years of over a million mallards being counted, the number dropped to 890,000 in the year 2000, then rebounded to over 1 million for another five years before the drop in 2006. Most often, these drops in numbers for a year or two are due to weather and conditions in the birds' breeding areas, which impact on the survival rate of hatchlings.

Most other waterfowl like geese, brant, teal and others are also showing the same type of trends. This is mainly due to adverse habitat conditions in the birds' breeding areas, as well as the impact that weather patterns exert on the amount of forage available for the birds during their migrations.

NEW JERSEY

For the last several years, Garden State sportsmen have seen consistent numbers of Atlantic Flyway birds stopping over on their state's plentiful marshes. In addition, populations of resident Canada geese have continued an upward trend, providing waterfowl hunters with some good shooting.

The Division of Fish and Wildlife (DFW) has done a good job at protecting the state's marshes and wetlands. Even with continued development, waterfowl habitat has remained fairly stable, especially in the central and southern portions of the state. And the number of resident hunters taking to the marshes, rivers and coastal wetlands has remained between 10,000 to 12,000 sportsmen.

Like other mid-Atlantic states along the flyway, New Jersey has both freshwater and saltwater marshes. With extensive bays, small rivers and streams along its 100-plus mile coastline, along with the tea-stained water of the Pine Barrens, it's easy to understand why New Jersey is a major stopover along the Atlantic Flyway for ducks and geese.

When you combine these numerous wetlands with the plethora of small parks, golf courses, corporate centers and other areas off-limits to hunters, it's easy to see why the resident Canada goose population is estimated at over 100,000 birds.

Even with a September and January season on these birds, their numbers are being held in check only by hunters. If you add in between 150,000 and 275,000 migrating birds and the estimated 100,000-plus snow geese that make New Jersey their annual winter home, Garden State water- fowlers have between 350,000 and 450,000 big birds to shoot at every year.

When it comes to smaller ducks, the state has an inventory of mallards, black ducks, blue-winged and green-winged teal. It's also a stopover for about 75 percent of the migratory brant population along the Atlantic Coast.

Both mallard and black duck populations have remained stable over the last several years. Recent surveys show good numbers of green-winged teal (between 2,500 and 3,000 birds) available to hunters during October and into November, depending on the conditions in any given year.

As mentioned, New Jersey's saltwater marshes are the wintering grounds of the largest brant population along the Atlantic Coast. Brant populations peaked in the early 1990s and have been seeing up and down numbers for the last several years.

Dix Wildlife Management Area

New Jersey has numerous public hunting grounds that are prime waterfowl hunting areas, and one of the best is the Dix Wildlife Management Area. Located on the shores of Delaware Bay in the lower western portion of the state, this Cumberland County WMA is located south of the Cohansey River, about six miles west of Fairton on Back Neck Road.

The Dix WMA offers 2,643 acres of prime marshes, streams and bay front hunting. It was purchased in 1962 with federal aid to wildlife funds and added to under the Green Acres Program.

Middle Marsh Creek and Division Creek are the main areas for hunting out of duck boats. Sneakboxes make an excellent hunting base for the tidal marshes where the water drops several feet between high and low tides, especially at full and new moon.

Dix offers one of the best mixes of ducks and geese of any wildlife management area. Throughout the fall, both migrating and resident birds are available to hunters, with black ducks, mallards, pintails and Canada and snow geese making up the bulk of the birds found in the marshes. It's also not uncommon to find green-winged teal mixed in with the birds during October and early November.

Port Republic WMA

As mentioned earlier, the Garden State has some of the best duck hunting to be found along the East Coast. One of the prime spots is the 930-acre Port Republic Wildlife Management Area in Atlantic County.

While it's not the biggest WMA where waterfowl hunting is the mainstay, what it lacks in size it makes up for in quality hunting. Acquired in 1962, it is part of the Mullica River drainage system. Its salt marshes usually contain lots of black ducks and teal, especially during October and November. Brant frequent the WMA on a regular basis in the late fall. This WMA offers excellent hunting from a duck boat, and sev

eral boat launches are located close by.

MARYLAND

With the exception of black ducks, Maryland's populations of waterfowl have remained steady and are in excellent shape. The Eastern Shore has a well-deserved reputation. With its miles of bay shoreline and coastal marshes, it is a wintering ground for huge populations of ducks and geese.

This part of Maryland's shoreline is a legendary stopping-over spot along the Atlantic Flyway. Each year, an estimated 500,000 Canada geese, and 200,000 snow geese touch down on Maryland's waters, marshes and coastal wetlands. Throw in 85,000 to 90,000 resident birds, and waterfowlers have 800,000 targets to aim their 12-gauges at. While the numbers of migrating birds may vary slightly because of conditions and migrating numbers on any given year, no doubt Maryland's Eastern Shore is a waterfowlers' paradise.

When it comes to the duck numbers, according to the January 2007 survey, mallard populations are at 34,764 birds -- an increase of 2,000-plus birds from the survey taken in January of 2006. Breeding areas saw some better weather conditions, and this led to better numbers of birds in the state's marshes.

Black duck numbers have been up and down for the last several years. While their numbers are now better than last year's, they are still below the 10-year average.

Gunpowder Falls State Park

Located in Baltimore County on the Chesapeake Bay, the 18,000 acres of Gunpowder Falls SP have lots to offer waterfowl hunters. Hunting blind sites in the Days Cove Area and Hart-Miller Island are operated by Gunpowder Falls State Park.

Public boat ramps are located at Mariner's Point Park in Joppatowne, Bowerman's Marina and the Dundee Creek Marina. The Hart-Miller Island can be reached from marinas in the Edgemere area.

A boat is necessary to reach all blind sites. Hunters must reserve blind sites no more than five days in advance at the Hammerman Area office.

Days Cove sites are located at the confluence of the Little Gunpowder and Gunpowder Falls, Maryland's only true river delta, with sinuous creeks and backwaters. A variety of wetland vegetation provides optimum waterfowl habitat.

Hart-Miller Island is located in open water of Chesapeake Bay. Nearby dredge ponds support vast numbers of waterfowl, both resident and migratory on a seasonal basis. Abundant wetland vegetation provides excellent waterfowl habitat for Canada geese, mallards, wood ducks, mergansers, teal and some less common species such as shovelers.

For more information on Gunpowder Falls State Park and the hunting there, call (410) 592-2897.

South Marsh Island WMA

This 3,000-acre island, located within Chesapeake Bay, is entirely comprised of marshlands, punctuated by ponds and creeks. It is ideal for hunting from a small flat-bottomed boat, sneak box or canoe. A good number of hunters will also wade to hunt off some of the small islands.

Most of the waterfowl here are gadwalls, black ducks, mallards, scaup and Canada geese, with both resident and migratory birds being present during the fall season.

South Marsh Island WMA is located in western Somerset County. Access is by boat only. Public ramps are available at Deal Island via state Route (SR) 363 and Crisfield via SR 413. Access both of these roads from U.S. Route 13. For additional information on South Marsh Island and the hunting there, contact the Wellington Wildlife Office at (410) 543-8223.

DELAWARE

Waterfowl hunting in the Diamond State is a tradition that dates back to Colonial times. Delaware and Chesapeake bays are the prime stopping-over places on the migration of all types of geese and ducks along the Atlantic Flyway. Delaware lies right in the middle of both bays.

While some of Delaware's waterfowl populations have shown a slight decline, a majority of the state's waterfowl numbers have either remained stable or shown an increase in the last several years. Likewise, while in recent years the state's number of waterfowl hunters has declined slightly to approximately 5,500 sportsmen, as with Maryland, the number of out-of-state waterfowl hunters is on the rise once again.

Delaware's marshes are the wintering grounds for many migratory waterfowl. The number of waterfowl that winter over in the marshes is related to how successful the breeding seasons have been in their Arctic and Canadian breeding grounds.

Recent trends in the numbers of birds wintering in the state have remained within their 10-year averages. Snow geese, which garner a lion's share of attention from waterfowl hunters, annually see an estimated 200,000 to 300,000 birds wintering over in Delaware marshes.

Migratory Canada goose populations are estimated at about 55,000 birds. This number can vary with the severity of the winter. However, last winter's late arrival -- in late January 2007 -- saw a lot of birds holding over in the marshes.

Resident populations are estimated at 4,000 to 5,000 birds, giving Delaware goose hunters between 250,000 and 300,000 birds to shoot at.

Mallards, green-winged teal and black ducks make up the bulk of the duck populations in Delaware's wetlands. Collectively, they number about 100,000-plus birds. During the January 2007 survey, an estimated 4,989 black ducks, 11,961 mallards, 7,071 pintails, 2,293 green-winged teal, 2,100 gadwalls, 3,155 shovelers and 2,525 mergansers were counted, along with a collection of other lesser species.

While Diamond State waterfowlers have two of the best duck and goose hunting areas found along the East Coast in Bombay Hook (for geese) and Prime Hook national wildlife refuges (for ducks), several smaller public-hunting areas also offer some topnotch waterfowling.

While these areas are nearly not as big or well noted, they offer some excellent hunting opportunities and are well worth giving a try.

Ted Harvey Wildlife Are

The Ted Harvey WA in Kent County annually plays host to thousands of migrating ducks and geese on their spring and fall migrations. It's considered one of the top goose-hunting areas in the state. The main attractions for both ducks and geese are the sheltered marshes and marsh grasses, fish, and other forage.

Its 2,661 acres include freshwater pools, swamps and tidal salt marshes, and annually see heavy migrations of snow geese and Canada geese.

Waterfowl refuge management programs develop and protect desirable habitat for waterfowl. The Logan Lane Tract offers hunters 44 blinds that are available on a first-come, first-served basis and by lottery from the Little Creek Checking Station.

Hunting from boats is allowed. All boats must be properly registered and have the necessary safety equipment on board. Pre-season permit holders must obtain a daily permit from the c

heck station prior to the lottery before going hunting.

The conservation area is home to good numbers of mallards, green-winged teal, black ducks and gadwalls. For more information on the Ted Harvey Wildlife Area, call (302) 284-1077.

Cedar Swamp Wildlife Area

When it comes to duck hunting, Ken told me the top spot in the state is Prime Hook NWR. Some of the best numbers of mallards, green-winged teal, black ducks and gadwalls are found here during the fall.

Prime Hook is a federal wildlife refuge and is subject to special regulations. Its 4,983-plus acres are managed as waterfowl habitat and combine saltwater marshes, freshwater impoundments and small streams.

Better than 150,000 to 200,000 waterfowl are estimated to move in and out of the refuge on any given year. This translates into excellent hunting for waterfowlers.

For more information on Cedar Swamp and the waterfowl hunting there, call (302) 653-8080.

There you have it -- a look at some of the best waterfowl hunting along the East Coast. The mid-Atlantic states of Delaware, Maryland and New Jersey have for a long time been a favorite destination of waterfowlers, and these areas remain some of the top areas in the country.

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