March a great time to observe migrating waterfowl

I’ve never put much faith in weather folklore, so I don’t recall if this month came in like a lion or lamb this year. March weather always tends to be fickle as winter wanes and then exerts itself again. Fortunately, spring is always the ultimate victor in this annual battle between the seasons.

In spite of its unpredictable weather patterns, March offers a great window of opportunity to watch many species of waterfowl not usually seen in our area as they wing their way northward on their annual spring migrations. Redheads, canvasbacks, ring-necked ducks, lesser scaup, buffleheads and hooded mergansers are just some of the ducks that use the lakes and rivers of this region as stopovers during their journey.

Most of these ducks, especially the drakes, are beautiful birds and can be easily viewed with a good pair of binoculars as drift about a body of water. The morning after squall or passing storm front will often produce a waterfowl-watching bonanza as the nasty weather drives large flocks of the birds to some sheltered waterway. In addition to a wide variety of ducks, loons, grebes, and tundra swans are some of the other waterfowl that frequently show up during March.

This month started on a gloomy note for area deer hunters, however, as the Pennsylvania Game Commission announced that two deer from Blair County and one from Bedford County taken by hunters last season have tested positive for Chronic Wasting Disease. I’ve researched and written about this disease since 2002 when it first appeared east of the Mississippi River in Wisconsin. CWD is a contagious disease that attacks the brain of members of the deer family. Once an animal is infected with CWD, the disease is always fatal, and there is no cure, no preventive vaccine or even a way to test live animals for it. At that time, I hoped CWD would not make its way to Pennsylvania anytime soon.

Those hopes were dashed in 2005 when CWD was found in New York and the eastern panhandle of West Virginia. Then in 2010, a deer killed in western Maryland just miles from the Pennsylvania border near Bedford County tested positive for CWD. At that point, it no longer seemed a question of if CWD would be found in Pennsylvania but rather when. That “when” came last October with the discovery of a captive deer in Adams County infected with CWD. And now we know that Blair and Bedford counties have the unenviable distinction of being Ground Zero for the first confirmed cases of CWD in free-ranging deer.

So what happens now? The Pennsylvania Game Commission will hold a public meeting on the CWD problem this Wednesday, March 20, beginning at 7 p.m., at the Spring Cove Middle School auditorium in Roaring Spring. Based on the official CWD response plan, however, those of us who hunt deer in many parts of Blair or Bedford counties will be facing a real mess. Among other sanctions, expect an executive order banning all feeding of deer and the possession of urine-based deer attractants in a designated disease management area (DMA). Hunters who harvest a deer in the DMA will be required to take the deer to a check station where samples will be taken to test for CWD. Moving certain parts of any deer carcass outside the DMA will also be prohibited.

There will likely be many more emergency measures imposed in the effort to contain the spread of CWD as much as possible, and I’ll pass on that information as it becomes available. For those who would like to learn more about CWD, there is a wealth of information on the websites of the Game Commission ( and the Chronic Wasting Disease Alliance (

One event I am looking forward to next week is the annual Landowner/Sportsman Banquet hosted by the Blair County Game, Fish and Forestry Association. This year, the banquet is on Thursday, March 21 at 6 p.m. in the club’s main lodge at 301 Riggles Gap Sportsmen Road, Altoona.

This traditional roast beef dinner is held each spring as a grassroots gesture to thank landowners who open their property to hunting and fishing. Following dinner, representatives of the Pennsylvania Game Commission will present a special program. Space is limited, however, and tickets are required. Sportsmen can obtain free tickets for a landowner guest. For more information or to obtain tickets, contact Sharon Merritts at 946-9315or Ashley Merritts at 814-944-2363.