It starts on the faded-blue wing patch of the teal, capitalized by the Canada goose, punctuated by the elegance of the pintail and capped by the mayhem that is the green-headed mallard. It is the fall waterfowl migration, and it is spectacular.
Few can resist the instinctual urge to glance skyward when the sounds off of a passing flock reach their ears – I know I cannot. The annual southward movement of waterfowl has been an attraction to me for longer than I can remember and draws me to the special places the ducks and geese congregate during their trip. I have gone with camera and without – just to play witness to the spectacle. However, it is in the role of a predator that I find myself truly feeling a part of the autumnal cycle.
Blue-winged teal are the tip of the migration, often beginning their journey by the middle of August. Many of these small birds will be sunning themselves south of our nation’s border by the time several other species make their way into our fair state in late October and November. So in early September the teal is my excuse to spend time around the small waters of south-central Nebraska.
My brother is also afflicted with an affinity for the fall migration, so there are two of us slogging along in the dark of pre-dawn wearing chest-waders. Compared to the hunts that will come later during the regular season our load is light. No boat needed, just enough decoys to suggest a landing spot and a bucket to sit on.
Teal are early risers and to properly catch them in our planned trap we must be to our chosen spot well before dawn.
Soon there is a slight blush of color on the eastern sky, contrasting with the clear sky of shining stars. Not enough to eliminate our use of head-lamps to illuminate the work of setting decoys out, but obviously more than enough for the teal who’s wings we hear whistling about the area through the very dark sky. Our work pace quickens.
Decoys set, coffee poured and sitting on buckets we enjoy the activity now being revealed by the increasing light. In Nebraska water is life. No better evidence of that exists than in the small potholes and shallow marshes of our state that the teal prefer.
Teal season may have wrapped up as you read this, but teal are just the tip. The appetizer for the full course of the spectacle we call the fall migration. Don’t miss out…