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Waterfowl numbers not good for opener

WILLMAR -- This summer was one of the more pleasant summers in many years -- not too hot, humid or rainy.

It wasn't that great for ducks.

After a wet spring with plenty of wetlands for ducks to rest, those small bodies of water dried up as we entered the summer months and haven't come back as the state waterfowl hunting season begins today.

"We looked at a lot of water, or lack thereof. Around here it doesn't look good," said Jeff Miller of the Department of Natural Resources' Wildlife office at Sibley State Park. "One of the things is the drought. It looked good this spring, but the water left and they became prey to predators. Not only that, but the teal and woodies left with the last pocket of wind."

The teal and wood ducks are normally the backbone of the early duck season. After they leave, mallards and other, hardier ducks fly in to take rests as they proceed south for warmer weather.

Josh Kavanagh, a regional biologist for Ducks Unlimited, said a lot of the smaller wetlands will probably be barren, but look for the larger ones to find ducks.

"It's a little bit drier this year. I have seen some teal and wood ducks but not mallards yet," he said. "It seems like there's pockets of birds. You will run across pockets of wetlands that hold a lot of birds and others that don't hold any. The healthier wetlands that can hold more food, you will see some birds."

The dry summer also had an affect on geese. Just drive around Willmar to the usual hangouts around Foot and Willmar lakes and there's a marked difference.

"The early goose season has been bad. People that had been out have said that there aren't any geese around," said Miller. "It's noticeable around Willmar, because the geese aren't out like they normally are at this time of year."

But never fear. As the temperatures fall and the winds decide to bring more of autumn with them, there will be more opportunities.

"Birds are going to push through," Kavanagh said. "There's the refuge at Lac qui Parle and birds are building up there right now. Wood ducks, teal and some mallards. It peaks in mid-October."