In early January, aerial survey teams of pilots and biologists from the Maryland Department of Natural Resources made visual estimates of the ducks, geese, and swans along most of the state’s Chesapeake Bay, Potomac River, and Atlantic coast shorelines. This year, the teams counted about 627,000 waterfowl, which was higher than the 566,300 birds observed during 2019, but lower than the five-year average of 738,440 birds.
“The abundance and distribution of wintering waterfowl is influenced not only by the annual changes in population size, but also the weather conditions during migration and throughout the winter,” said Wildlife and Heritage Director Paul Peditto in a press release. “Moderate winter weather up and down the east coast has allowed most waterfowl species to remain spread out across Maryland and our surrounding states.”
Overall, the number of dabbling ducks was higher (93,000) than last winter (64,400). However, fewer diving ducks (149,700) were observed than in the 2019 survey (182,000). Biologists also counted more Canada geese this year (327,200) than last year (250,200). Following 2018’s record low hatch, Atlantic Population Canada geese benefited from normal spring weather conditions on their nesting grounds in 2019, leading to average gosling production.
The count for northern pintail was 1,800, up from 600 last year. The mallard count totaled 56,000 birds compared to 39,000 last year. The count for diving ducks was down substantially from 283,600 in 2017. The total duck count was 250,900 compared to 276,500 last year, after a high of 381,200 in 2017.
The Midwinter Waterfowl Survey has been conducted annually since the early 1950s and covers most of the tidal shoreline and near-shore waterfowl habitat in Maryland.
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Fishing gear and know-how
A lot is going on this month in the way of fishing know-how and used-gear bargains. Fishing flea markets and seminars by accomplished anglers with loose lips abound in the Mid-Atlantic. Some examples include the Seaside Boat Show (Feb. 14-16) in Ocean City, the Pasadena Sportfishing Group’s Fishing Expo (Feb. 15-16) in Severna Park, the Philadelphia Fishing Show (Feb. 21-23), the Annapolis Saltwater Fishing Expo (Feb. 29), and the Mid-Shore Fishing Club Flea Market (Feb. 29) in Cambridge.
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Freshwater fishing remains an excellent option these days with fish schooled up and looking for a bite to eat if they don’t have to move too far. I had some good luck this week jigging a 2¾-inch Gulp minnow under a bobber, right down into a downed tree where I pulled up two 13½-inch crappies as well as a largemouth and a couple bluegills. Pickerel are biting as well. One of them went after a suspended jerk bait that I cast into some current. Millponds hold those same fish and you usually don’t have much current to contend with. I haven’t found yellow perch yet, but anglers are catching them when they can find a deep pocket that’s holding them.
On the Atlantic Coast, anglers are landing tautog. You can find them on the near-shore wrecks and reefs where they’re biting white and green crab. Not much happening in the surf. Farther south, some bluefin tuna are making a serious showing at the Outer Banks, as shown on social media, with some monsters smashing through schools of bluefish.
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Duck blind know-it-all
The moon was formed out of debris thrown into orbit by a massive collision between a smaller proto-Earth and another planetoid, about the size of Mars.