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Teal season primed to be a good one

Sept. 8, 2012 at 4:08 a.m.

Most wet prairie or marsh ponds are holding good numbers of bluewings like these.

Guys like me who cherish the smell of a wet dog, relish the aroma of a rotten marsh, smile at the sound of air rushing through tiny wings, mark off days on the calendar with a permanent marker in anticipation of the next chance to hunt ducks.

Thursday, I began my season early.

During the entire month of August I watched flurries of bluewings dancing in the Matagorda marsh. It was the highlight of my daily jaunt down the Intracoastal Waterway to East Bay as groups of a dozen or more acrobats buzzed the estuary in the orange light.

Ducks still amaze me. What other creature is so predictable, yet so unpredictable? What prompts an animal to spend the night in the Dakotas, then wake up and fly to Texas? Why do these amazing avian find the same pound year after year?

After more than half of my life as a duck hunter, I can't answer these questions. But, I keep showing up, morning after morning, afraid to waste a sunrise and the next spectacular display of aerodynamics.

Buddies from Eagle Lake, Garwood, Wharton and Collegeport have been calling and telling me how impressed they were with the quantity of birds on the prairies this early in the season.

Finally, I got a break from fishing this week, so I loaded a couple of dozen decoys, slipped on a pair of hip boots and slid quietly in to my favorite prairie pond before daylight with my digital camera.

Thousands of teal welcomed me back for another campaign.

Reports along the entire upper and middle coasts, the heartland of Central Flyway duck hunting, all indicate what I saw this week - there are a lot of blue-winged teal.There should be since biologists indicate a record flight of 9.2 million, up from the previous record of 8.4 million a year ago.

I can't imagine a better teal season than a year ago, yet it seems to be shaping up that way. And, this observation is before the first significant cool front of September that passed through Saturday, surely bringing more wings with it.

On the coastal prairies, water is a premium, especially with the absence of normally thousands of acres of second-cropped rice due to water constraints from LCRA. However, those who have access to prairie ponds are holding water black with ducks.

"We have lots of birds but not much water," said Mike Grigar of Johnny's Sport Shop in Eagle Lake. "It is sad to see all these fields that would normally be in rice and full of birds just plowed or fallow."

Drought in the Midwest and much of the middle of the Central Flyway probably has contributed to the early arrival of so many teal. There is not the available water in Kansas and Nebraska this year for birds to stop, take a break and stage for a few weeks before crossing the Red River.

Conditions in Texas have improved drastically from a year ago when we were suffering from a severe drought. Spring rains have freshened marsh ponds and allowed aquatic vegetation, burned up by hypersaline water last year, to thrive and blanket shallow tidal flats.

"Our wigeongrass is back," said guide Kirk Stansel of Hackberry Rod and Gun. "We haven't had duck food in two years, so I am excited."

The same holds true for just about every tidal marsh from Sabine to Port O'Connor.

Teal season runs Sept. 15 to 30 with a daily bag limit of 4 birds per man per day. Legal shooting hours are 30 minutes before sunrise to sunset.

Saturday can't get here too soon.

Bink Grimes is a freelance writer, photographer, author and licensed captain (binkgrimes@sbcglobal.net).

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