Now's the time to "bag" ducks with binoculars and spotting scopes.
FOUNTAIN GROVE Mo. -- Missouri may appear to be in the grip of winter, but spring is here. Proof can be found at dozens of wetland areas across the state, where hundreds of thousands of ducks, geese, grebes, coots and other birds are arriving on their spring migration.
"Spring waterfowl watching is wonderful," said Ornithologist Jim D. Wilson with the Missouri Department of Conservation. "The birds are in their brilliant breeding plumage, and you can see lots of interesting behavior associated with courtship."
Wilson said the nesting urge keeps waterfowl moving through Missouri in the spring. The push usually begins in mid to late February. It usually peaks in mid-March, but waterfowl viewing can continue into April, depending on weather conditions.
During the spring migration hundreds of thousands of geese and ducks throng the state's wetland areas. Areas that often host large concentrations of waterfowl include Schell-Osage Conservation Area (CA) in Vernon and St. Clair counties, Bob Brown CA and nearby Squaw Creek National Wildlife Refuge (NWR) in Holt County, Duck Creek CA and adjacent Mingo NWR in Stoddard and Wayne counties. Keep in mind that rainfall can make road access to these areas difficult.
Diving ducks can be seen in huge rafts on large expanses of open water, while dabbling ducks prefer shallow, marshy areas. Flooded timber areas are good places to find wood ducks, one of the most beautiful waterfowl species. Geese often can be seen in pastures and crop fields.
Besides migrating waterfowl, a spring hike in the woods during March is likely to lead to sightings of brown creepers, kinglets, gnatcatchers, yellow-rumped warblers, towhees and other early-migrating perching birds. By late April, other warblers, vireos, tanagers and a rainbow of other small migrants reach Missouri to delight bird watchers.
Conservation areas aren't the only places where Missourians can see waterfowl. Wilson said lakes and even farm ponds attract their share of migrants looking for places to rest. The many lakes and ponds at August A. Busch Memorial Conservation Area in St. Charles County provide excellent waterfowl viewing opportunities. One lake even is equipped with viewing blinds.
"The appearance of migrating waterfowl in Missouri during March is always a heartening sight," said Wilson, "particularly when it comes on the heels of a hard winter. Looking at a calendar tells you that spring is near, but that's just ink on paper. The birds are tangible proof that we're almost done with winter."