To everything there is a season
I was in a foul mood – and a fowl mood – when I pushed off from shore on my paddleboard.
Foul due to stuff I shouldn’t let bother me as much as I do. Fowl due to it being September and, with it, the opening of goose and teal seasons.
As usual, as soon as I started to float, my worries were sucked out of me through the paddle and into the St. Mary’s River.
My thoughts of bringing along a spear to turn this excursion into a quasi-fishing trip vanished when I saw the river was still muddy from a heavy rain and a couple days of strong northwest winds. I decided instead to paddle around where we’re hoping to hunt ducks and geese so I could gather some fresh migration intel.
I didn’t have to wait long to find results. As I approached a bay where we often hunt, a flock of three- or four-dozen ducks, small and barely skimming the surface of the water as diving ducks will do, came zinging around a point. I instinctively crouched when I saw them and they must have had trouble picking me out or they’d never seen a human before they’d crossed Whitefish Bay. They flew right over me, so low and so close that I could hear the wind moving through their wings and could easily identify them as blue-winged teal by the slate-blue-colored covert feathers on their wings. (Coverts = “shoulders” when it comes to duck wing feathers.)
I was elated to see them.
Blue-wings are one of the first migrating ducks, often starting to move south in the middle of August. I’d seen and shot them in this bay in the past, but it’s always hit-or-miss on whether you’ll be in the bay on the same day they are.
Today was one of those days.
Several flocks were visible as I moved farther into the bay, and I ended up seeing nearly 200 blue-wings. That’s a good number for around these parts.
But that wasn’t all.
Common terns were moving through, as well as monarch butterflies. The teal were more numerous, followed by the terns, which were scattered through the bay – wheeling and diving and resting on beaches and rock piles. The monarchs weren’t in big bunches – just one here and there, then another, then another, then another…between the Canadian and U.S. shores.
All in all, it was a great day to observe migration, and I noticed that my reactions to seeing ducks were the same with a paddle in my hand as they were when I’m holding a shotgun. That’s a thought for another day.
Meanwhile, with fresh intel, I headed home to report to my colleagues. I started out the trip with a kink in my back between my shoulder blades, and as I pulled in to shore 2½ hours later, the pain had migrated to my lower back, probably because of the miles covered and my efforts to stay low while trying to sneak up on birds.
With a stiff back and sore knees, I staggered up the boat ramp to find my federal duck stamp in the mailbox.
Looks like I’m set to go with shotgun, as well as paddle, next time.
To everything, there is a season.