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A flock of ringbill, also known as ringneck ducks, launches from an Otter Tail County pond Saturday morning. The migration of waterfowl is at its peak in west-central Minnesota.

Spring waterfowl migration at its peak

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The first clues of what Minnesota's 2014 waterfowl hunting season may be like are now showing up on ponds and lakes across the state's west-central region.

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After a brutally cold but fairly dry winter, rafts of diving ducks like canvasback, scaup and redheads mingle with the startling colors of wood ducks, shovelers and mallards to bring a kaleidoscope of feathered activity to waters which until recently were frozen and snow-covered.

Most of the visitors are migrating north in the age-old procession from the southern wintering grounds to their breeding areas. Some will like the local nesting conditions. Mallards, teal and wood ducks are among the ducks that nest in Otter Tail and Wadena Counties. They are joined by Canada geese, some of the first returning migrants to arrive.

How strong the numbers are in the Mississippi Flyway remain to be determined. The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service begins working up breeding numbers until late April. The Minnesota Department of Natural Resources will not be releasing 2013 harvest data until June.

Most of the visitors are migrating north in the age-old procession from the southern wintering grounds to their breeding areas. Some will like the local nesting conditions. Mallards, teal and wood ducks are among the ducks that nest in Otter Tail and Wadena Counties. They are joined by Canada geese, some of the first returning migrants to arrive.

"It's well under way depending on which migrants you're talking about," Fergus Falls wildlife manager Don Schultz said.

Schultz saw snow geese move through the Fergus Falls area first. The snow goose hunting season begins March 1 in Minnesota. Schultz said these were followed by thousands of migrating Canada geese. Diving and puddle ducks are the current visitors.

"It's fairly dry in the fields and they aren't going to hang around," Schultz said. "Typically we'd be at the trailing end of the migration but this year I'd say we're right in the middle."

Schultz noted that resident Canada geese had poor nesting conditions last year when winter storms stretched into May, and he believes it is too early to say how their nesting efforts will fare this year.

DNR conservation officer Tricia Plautz, who covers the eastern portion of Otter Tail County, has been seeing ducks, but not in great numbers. Plautz had observed teal, wood ducks and mallards. Plautz has also noted the dry field conditions but she is optimistic about the coming hatch.

"I think we're going to have a decent nesting season," Plautz said.

The effects of a long, cold winter are still being felt in northern Minnesota according to DNR waterfowl staff specialist Steve Cordts.

"There are some ducks and geese around Bemidji, but we still have lots of ice on the big lakes," Cordts said. "We start some surveys next week for geese in southern Minnesota so should have a better feel after that."

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