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WOODS, WINGS & WATER: Texas bluewings arrive just in time

Sept. 23, 2013 at 4:23 a.m.

Texas teal hunters are hoping the cooler temperatures will prompt birds migrate from the north.

The outdoors section of the Houston Chronicle, a barometer for many coastal hunters and fishers, painted a bleak picture for opening day teal prospects.

Severe drought, decreasing rice acreage and no available "duck water" as a result of the Lower Colorado River Authority (LCRA) decrees, not to mention few signs of blue-winged teal anywhere in Texas, doesn't bode well for Lone Star waterfowlers.

What a difference a day makes.

Light north winds Friday and a moon becoming brighter by the day sparked something in these majestic acrobats to catch the red-eye from the north, cross the Red River and arrive just in time for opening day.

"These birds literally got here overnight," said veteran waterfowl outfitter Bill Sherrill, of Wharton. "Just shows you how cool teal are."

Sherrill normally relies on LCRA water to pump 30 to 40 ponds on the Pierce Ranch and prairie ponds near Hungerford, but with water restrictions, he was forced to fork over five times the normal price tag on water to pump from ground wells running on diesel.

"What are you going to do?" he asked. "You have to have water for the birds. Sure, it hurts to spend that kind of money, but the birds need it."

Sherrill, along with the dwindling number of other outfitters in the area who could afford the water, were rewarded for their efforts.

"There were some guides who never saw a teal when they scouted Friday," said Mike Grigar, owner of Johnny's Sport Shop in Eagle Lake. "Those same guides came in my store after the hunt and said they shot limits."

Solid hunts were posted in marsh east of Houston near Anahuac and Winnie, while Jefferson and Orange county hunters saw steady action in the marsh surrounding Sabine Lake.

Most teal in the North Zone are holding in wet rice fields, just north of the dividing zone line of Interstate 10. Northeast Texas hunters saw birds holding on shallow flats or reservoirs, but most hunters in this part of Texas do not get too excited about teal hunting because the birds are here today and gone tomorrow en route to the coast.

"A day before the opener, there were more teal on Toledo Bend Reservoir than most of the locals had ever seen," said avid waterfowler Chuck Uzzle, of Orange. "We felt pretty good knowing they would probably show up in our marsh the next morning, especially with a north wind blowing all day."

Texas Parks and Wildlife Department estimates about 30,000 hunters participate in the 16-day season; and, with an increase in the daily bag limit to six, shotgunners are jazzed at the possibilities.

"Inland, on the rice prairies, it is pretty dry," said Dr. Todd Merendino, Ducks Unlimited biologist. "There's not much water on the ground other than second-cropped rice, and there's not much of that. I would say the marshes are in pretty good shape."

Typically, the blue-winged teal migration occurs in three stages.

First are the adult drakes, which normally fill the bag on opening day. Then, depending on moon phases and cold fronts, hens that did not raise a brood along with straggling drakes arrive.

Finally, hens with their young-of-the-year, first-time flyers arrive last.

Most bluewings are in drab plumage, but hens and drakes can be distinguished by their chevrons (wingpatches). Males have a solid white chevron while females have broken blotches of brown that break up the white on the wing.

Unofficial observations from hunters across the coast indicated about 80 percent drakes in the opening day bag, giving rise to the notion there are more birds to come. And, the cool front that arrived this weekend coupled with a bright moon should only push more birds to Texas.

Teal season ends at sunset Sunday.

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

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