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Woodduck surprise
Unread 02-21-2019, 05:38 PM   #1
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Default Woodduck surprise

I decided to give the grouse and my setter Jesse a break today and check on the ducks in the Great Swamp. The swamp is about 20 miles long and parts of it run through my town of Pawling, NY. Itís a wild and preserved area and is an important headwater area for New York City reservoirs. My favorite area is about ĺ of a mile hike down railroad tracks. I took my retriever and off we went for a day of fun.

There are still some open water areas not frozen over due to the flow of some of the streams and beaver ponds. Some mallards and black ducks winter over in the open waters of the swamp. Many were compacted in the open water areas and we flushed better than 100 ducks today. But the real shocker was the pair of wood ducks I flushed from one of the beaver ponds. I couldnít believe my eyes. I have never seen a woodduck in that swamp past the third week of October. Yet the pair was here in February. I donít believe they wintered in the swamp. I believe them to be very early returns from the South. The Great Swamp is a major nesting area for woodducks and this pair apparently returned extra early. Iíve never seen it before. The squeal of the hen as the pair flushed warmed my soul. It is my favorite wild sound. Hearing it was an uncommon treat for a February day. Iíve been walking on air since. Tomorrow will be another grouse day, but I am tempted to return to the swamp again with Clark my retriever. Who knows, maybe we can find another woodduck pair that donít know itís February.
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Unread 02-21-2019, 11:11 PM   #2
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Not to be misunderstood, the duck season is over and my retriever and I were just walking and observing. No shooting, of course. I visit the ducks throughout the year, even in the off season. Many times I'll just throw out some decoys off season and watch the ducks land among them and swim around. I enjoy it more and more each year. Frankly, I almost enjoy sitting there for a few hours just observing more than shooting. Especially the woodducks. Maybe its because I'm older but I can imagine the day when I'll stop shooting the local woodducks. I have a special fondness for them. I stopped shooting the hens years ago and I'll probably stop killing the drakes at some point also. Seeing that pair today was a special thrill. I'm looking forward to the big flocks coming back in the spring. I'll be there to welcome them and observe. For me, its absolutely soul satisfying.
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Unread 02-22-2019, 07:57 AM   #3
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I imagine with the wood ducks it is early arrivals but we have a great blue heron, a kingfisher, mallards, hooded mergansers, eastern bluebirds, flocks of robins, and other birds all winter long that I would have expected to migrate away. And my local Shawaheen River has been completely frozen over for much of the time. But as soon as it thaws enough to show a bit of open water they’re on it immediately. I guess we may be witnessing some kind of phenomenon or maybe there really is a climate change going on. But maybe the fact that I’m only about 35 miles from the ocean has a lot to do with at least the waterfowl staying nearby and the Merrimack River is less than 6 miles away helps to explain it.





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Unread 02-22-2019, 02:05 PM   #4
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One observation I made is that about 75% of the ducks I flushed were black ducks. The other 25% were mallards. When I was a boy hunting the Great Swamp, black ducks were rare. You see them once and a while, but they were not common. I left them alone and never shot them although the law said that I could take one a day. Now, they are the predominant wintering over duck species in the swamp. It's good to see them in numbers, something I never saw in the old days. The woodduck numbers are relatively the same as in the old days but now there seems to be more mallards. So some things do improve over time.
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Unread 02-22-2019, 02:27 PM   #5
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There may seem to be more mallards but the truth is that the mallards are on the decline over some of their historic range.





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Unread 02-22-2019, 03:17 PM   #6
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Dean Romig View Post
There may seem to be more mallards but the truth is that the mallards are on the decline over some of their historic range.

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I think that the reason I see more mallards in the Great Swamp than I did as a boy is because the environment has changed a bit over the years. There are more open areas now due to beaver flooding. Streams run through the swamp and over the years, the numerous beavers have flooded more areas of standing hardwoods. The flooded trees die leaving more open areas that may be more attractive to the mallard. The woodducks generally shun these more open areas that now harbor the mallard and the black ducks. However, the sheer number of black ducks now using the swamp probably do indicate a recovery of sorts for this duck. New York has upped the limit on black ducks from one per day to two.

I absolutely love the swamp and have always spent time there, much of it during the off season. There are relatively few access points that donít require a long walk in. Most of the hunting is done near roads or on the WMA at the southern end. The core of the swamp is virtually unvisited and I pretty much have it to myself. Most hunters like to hunt areas that donít require a lot of effort to get to. The swamp encompasses about 6,000 acres, most of it inaccessible to the casual weekend hunter. Itís a special area that has always been an important part of my life.
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Unread 02-26-2019, 10:37 AM   #7
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One more note. As I mentioned, the squeal of the hen woodduck is my favorite wild sound. I like it even better than the loon. The hens generally squeal when flushed but they also squeal when resting and feeding. I like to jump shoot the beaver ponds and the streams leading into them. Generally, I can pinpoint where the ducks are by listening for squealing hens. I then approach them extra carefully to get within sure range before they flush. I don’t kill the hens so I found it important not to shoot the leading duck which is always the hen. Except for the wings, there is not much color to the woodduck hen which is rather drab. But I still find it a beautiful duck in its own way.

Fortunately, there are a lot of oak trees in my favorite areas of the swamp. The acorns fall into the water and the ducks pick them floating on the surface. It is absolutely amazing how many acorns they can stuff into their crops. I have no idea how they can swallow the rather large acorns.

There is a primary area that the woodducks use for a night time roost. They come in large numbers just before dark. I like to sit there and watch them. The hens tend to be particularly vocal when on the roosting site and the sound of all those squeels is sublime. I never shoot a woodduck roost. Doing so continually can push them out of the area. It is important to shoot them on the feeding and daytime resting areas only. Roosts should always be off limits for shooting woodducks, in my opinion.
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Unread 02-26-2019, 12:13 PM   #8
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Years ago, I shot several woodies which each had 17 acorns in their throat. Each acorn had the "hat" peeled off. I don't know how they are able to pop the tops off. I can't do it with my thumb. I wonder how much food do those 17 acorns represent. A day? two days, a week?
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Unread 02-27-2019, 08:56 AM   #9
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We see a few wood ducks each year along the Mohawk river near Schenectady, NY down to where it meets the Hudson river in January during our annual waterfowl counts. I never considered they could be returning birds, but they certainly could be. I just wrote them off as hardy late departures staying a little longer when food remained accessible.

I would say that we see them in years where the temps are warmer through December and early January and there is a lot of open water on count day. During years when the temps are frigid and everything is frozen up, wood duck numbers are very low or absent.

Our count over the last 15 years has averaged about (rough estimate from memory) 90:10 mallards to black ducks, but that has been changing toward more black ducks. This past January the ratio more like 80:20. As Dean pointed out, this could be due to a reduction in mallard numbers rather than an increase in black duck numbers.

My one notable wood duck story was the time I was trout fishing along the Kayaderosseras Creek near Wilton, NY. I was fishing a stretch that wound through a heavily wooded area and at one point something caught my eye above the creek bank. It turned out to be a drake wood duck "stuck" to the trunk of a tree about 20 feet up. I was able to climb up to check it out and found that it had flown into the tree head on and impaled itself on a broken-off branch stub.
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Unread 03-13-2019, 06:19 PM   #10
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I've been spending a lot of time with the ducks of the Great Swamp. Actually, I've been visiting different areas of the swamp every day. Today I saw two pairs of woodducks in addition to the pair I saw earlier. The first pair I saw shocked me, but the dual pair I saw today was less shocking but still surprising. I have never seen woodducks in the swamp at this time of year but, then again, I am spending a lot more time with the ducks since I retired. I doubt the woodies wintered over. They are probably early arrivals from further south. I don't know for sure, but I sure as heck get a kick out of seeing them.

Clark the retriever and I will do another section of the swamp tomorrow. I'm loving retirement and spending days in the swamp, one of my favorite places on earth.
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