Ducks dry up in the wet

Shane Robinson

Shane Robinson

Shane has been wildfowling for over three decades and has been involved in country sports throughout his life. When he’s not out on the marsh chasing geese he will be loading, picking up or competing in gundog events with his trusty Labrador Stan, (named after Stanley Duncan incidentally).

Well that’s yet another season gone, they seem to fly by all too quickly these days. Is it wrong that I find myself already counting down to 1 September 2020?

Reflecting on the season as I always do, I found it a slightly strange one. It never really materialised as far as the birds are concerned.

Undoubtedly the weather played a massive part, and this seemed to be echoed across the entire country. Very few places had a normal pattern of movement other than the early season short-stopping grounds.

Way too mild and way too wet seem to be the first thing to come out of most wildfowlers’ mouths. Early season Canada numbers in the South West on my patch of the Bristol Channel were good although they tended to split as the levels wetted up.

Good numbers of teal and mallard are also showing breeding success but after the first few weeks of the season the mallard did their usual disappearing act only to show up again at the end of the season. An uncanny sixth sense or does this coincide with the inland flight ponds not being fed anymore?

Reports from contacts on the Solway said that big numbers of pinks had arrived in mid-August – this is very early! They pretty much remained throughout the season. This was mirrored north of the border in Scotland.

South of the wall big numbers of pinks arrived in Norfolk, the Wash and the North West estuaries, showing how the species continues to expand its range. The population continues to increase at an impressive rate – approximately half a million left Iceland when the breeding grounds had early snowfall.

I asked other fowlers around the UK how their season had gone…

Dan Reynolds, BASC director England and member of several South Coast clubs, said:

“From the South East perspective the season never really took off. As ever, we had the opening weeks with resident Canada geese and mallard, but the arrival of migratory species was limited. I put it down to the mild winter and their ‘short-stopping’ on the continent. With the prolonged heavy rain, duck pulled inland, further limiting numbers on the foreshore.”

Stephen Sellers Eastern regional officer echoed Dan’s assessment:

“Fenland and Kings Lynn foreshore duck season has been very poor; the suspicion is that most of the duck went inland when the rain hit. It’s likely that the mild weather didn’t push much across from the continent.

“Good numbers of pinks showing. It would be interesting to see what the IGC breeding countThe Blackwater and Dengie 100 clubs both reported duck numbers down, with poor migration due to mild weather. Again, very wet inland so lots of choice for the duck.

“It’s not all doom and gloom, though, the duck that did overwinter here have been in great condition, plenty of meat on the breastbone and wigeon and teal had good fat levels.”

Derek Williams our Wales country officer and Traeth Bach club member said:

“Traeth Bach had a quiet start – not many mallard around but plenty of geese.

In January things picked up, especially on the mallard. There were some good reports by the end of the month of an increase in birds as they started to pair up for breeding.

One long-term member of 40 years told me it was the worst season he had seen for bird numbers.”

North East

Wigeon numbers were good on some marshes but non-existent on others. Again, this was all down to mild wet weather not moving the birds down or across from the continent.

Wigeon numbers on Lindisfarne of 20,000-plus vanished three weeks later once the food had been consumed. They moved inland not to be seen again until late season.

Let’s hope that the weather is kinder to us and things improve for next season.

Have you submitted your bag returns for the season? Go to Green Shoots Mapping and follow the on screen advice. Don’t forget to submit your return to your club’s returns officer for review.

For general information and advice, visit the wildfowling pages on the BASC website.

Images by Dave Joicey