Waterfowlers in teal hotspots should expect to find success

Lynn Burkhead
For the Herald Democrat

Barring unexpected hurricane activity, the table appears set for another good early teal season across Texas.

But while weather — think the passage of Hurricane Ike in 2008 or Hurricane Harvey in 2017 — can certainly prove to be a spoiler for Texas teal hunters, it can also help usher in some good hunting prospects.

That appears likely over the next two weeks as good reports of blue-winged teal, green-winged teal, and even the rare cinnamon teal or two continue to be seen along the Texas Gulf Coast, here in North Texas, and even in the playa lakes region of the Texas Panhandle.

Why the good early teal reports so far, even before the two-week long season begins? The weather, of course.

“I am expecting a good teal season once again for the state of Texas,” said Kevin Kraai, waterfowl program leader for the Texas Parks and Wildlife Department (TPWD), in a news release. “Teal numbers are already impressive in many areas of Texas, especially the rice prairies of the Texas Gulf Coast and the playa wetlands of the Panhandle.”

With a 16-day season upcoming, one that will run from Sept. 11-26 and offer hunters the chance for a six teal daily bag limit (with a possession limit of 18), the reason that the early birds are so numerous this year is because of weather conditions to the north.

In short, the same severe drought that has curtailed teal breeding numbers this year to some degree in the fabled Duck Factory of the northern U.S. and southern Canada, is also working to bring the birds south a bit earlier than normal.

In fact, the annual early autumn blue-winged teal migration — normally influenced by shortening days, the September full moon, and early autumn cool fronts — is well under way according to Kraai.

And it’s actually a couple weeks earlier than normal considering the poor wetland conditions in the breeding grounds to the north in the Dakotas, Saskatchewan, and Alberta, areas that supply the lion’s share of waterfowl that push south into the Texomaland area each year.

Already, because of the dry weather up north, Kraai says impressive bluewing numbers are being reported in the rice prairies down along the Coast, up in the playa lakes region of the Panhandle, and even elsewhere like our own backyard.

That’s not entirely surprising since habitat conditions are in very good shape in many areas of Texas, thanks to spring and summer rains that have left abundant, shallow water with a lot of flooded vegetation on stock tanks, reservoirs, and rivers scattered around the Lone Star State.

That means that teal — in particular the early migrating bluewings, which are the second most abundant duck species in North America — will be coming through Texas over the next couple of weeks.

They’ll also be roaring through Oklahoma, where the Sooner State is also gearing up for a Sept. 11-26 season that begins tomorrow morning a half hour before sunrise.

While this year’s lower teal production levels will mean fewer juvenile birds circling the early season decoy spreads, there are plenty of adult birds ready to push into the two states lying on either side of the Red River.

“We still have literally millions of blue-winged teal in North America,” said Kraai. “Current estimates of blue-winged teal are 5.83 million, which is far above the 4.7 million bird threshold required to have a 16-day teal season for 2022-2023. So, there will be no changes next year as well.”