Waterfowl hunters can take home an extra pintail and again shoot canvasbacks this season, but the overall number of ducks and geese in Eastern Washington is expected to be on par with previous seasons.
Duck and goose season opens in Eastern Washington today and pintails -- among the earliest of migrators -- already are rolling though northeastern and north-central Washington, said Mikal Moore, waterfowl specialist for the state Department of Fish and Wildlife.
Improved wetlands conditions in the duck-producing Prairie Potholes region of the northern Great Plains states and southern Canada prompted the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service to recommend more liberal limits in every flyway for some species this fall.
U.S. Fish and Wildlife estimated the breeding population of pintails this year was 3.2 million, up by 23 percent from the 2008 estimate, according to the 2009 season forecast posted on the website of Ducks Unlimited. That was enough to raise the daily bag limit for Washington hunters from one to two this season.
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Canvasback numbers also were up -- from an estimated 489,000 in 2008 to 662,000 this year, according to Ducks Unlimited -- prompting the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service to again allow them to be hunted. The daily bag limit in Washington is one, Moore said.
But nesting conditions in southern Alberta, the breeding grounds for most of the later-season mallards that migrate through Eastern Washington, were fair to poor because of dry conditions in the spring, according to DU biologists.
Most of those ducks typically arrive in the region after Thanksgiving, Moore said. Hunter success this year again could depend on how fast lakes freeze over, and if food sources are plentiful.
"We're looking at a smaller number compared to last year and the previous year," Moore said. "Of course, a lot of our hunting success here (in Eastern Washington) is dependent on weather patterns."
Locally, Moore said her department's index count of breeding pairs of ducks was down about 2 percent from last year.
The local numbers were up for Canada geese, with the local index of nest counts 7 percent higher than in 2008, Moore said. And because there was no two-day early season in September, the local geese may not be as gun-shy when the season opens.
But poor nesting conditions in southern Alberta also affected Canada goose numbers as well, meaning hunters may see "more experienced birds in the air and fewer goslings in the air," Moore said.
"The Canadian (waterfowl) season has already started, so these birds are getting an education," she said.
Lesser Canada geese already are moving into Eastern Washington, though. Moore said fish and wildlife recently counted over 5,300 lessers near the town of Stratford north of Moses Lake. That number can be expected to grow to up to 30,000 by the end of October as the birds visit surrounding wheat fields and pasture land, Moore said.
"Those birds make up a good percentage of our early season harvest until the big honkers show up," she said.
Moore also asked hunters to watch for geese with white neck collars with numbers on them, and to call 800-327-BAND to report the numbers. Geese with the collars were banded by biologists as part of a five-year study by fish and wildlife of the lifestyles of urban and rural geese.
Information gleaned from the study could help explain a seven-year decline in local rural goose nesting counts, which prompted the Washington Fish and Wildlife Commission this spring to cancel the two-day September goose hunt in Eastern Washington.