Monday, May 31, 2021

May: Sometimes Green Leads to Improved Water Quality

Beyond the characteristic influx of spring migrants passing through on the wing (see previous post), May was defined by an emphasis on water quality. 

Spring may be historically stubborn to yield new green growth in the marsh, but May's warm temps certainly got the bulrushes going (as evidenced by this dense stand of soft-stem emerging from the Rest Pond -- photo taken 5/50/21. 

One evolving project that we are extremely excited about brings many of our favorite things together: marsh restoration & management, water quality, interactive education, emerging technologies, and functional data collection & analysis. At the invitation of our friends from Toledo Public Schools, we have been asked to host a water quality data collecting buoy that is being developed by an incredibly gifted collection of scientific minds. This unique collaboration was conceived and is being spear-headed by a robotics and software engineer from the NASA Langley Research Center. You can read more about the early development of the project here. We are thrilled to be one of two locations in the country (the second being Yorktown, VA on the Chesapeake Bay) where prototypical equipment has been deployed.

Preliminary testing not only yielded real-time data collection on useful water quality parameters including temperature, pH, dissolved oxygen, and nitrates, it also provided high school students a glimpse into a wetland world that is often as foreign as outer space. We are flattered to be a part of this team and this worthwhile project, and we are excited that the first iteration prototype yielded enough positive feedback to prompt the development of a second generation. Wetland Buoy 2.0 is currently under development and should be ready to be deployed in the fall. Updates will follow.

Roy delivering real-time water quality data from Standing Rush to the classroom at Toledo Public School's Natural Science Technology Center (NSTC).

New signage marks the newly completed Structure 2 connection between the Main West Marsh (behind the camera) and the Rest Pond (pictured), the management unit where water quality data is being collected.

This open canopy of free-flowing water between the Main West Marsh (behind the camera) and the Rest Pond (top of image) was the primary impetus behind the construction of Structure 2. This dramatically increased exchange of water benefits not just water quality, but also all of the biodiversity (both plants and wildlife) that thrive in these recently restored habitats.

This Eastern Foxsnake (or Fox Snake) neonate (or hatchling) -- a Species of Concern only found in marsh habitats of the Western Basin of Lake Erie in Ohio -- fittingly made its presence known while we were deploying the water quality buoy.

This nearly 5' Eastern Foxsnake specimen (which greeted Roy at the container door to the shop) did a little growing up -- and demonstrates that the species is thriving at Standing Rush.

Another shot of the emerging sea of green, taken in the Rest Pond toward the end of this month.

Thursday, May 6, 2021

A Pandemic Salute to BWIAB

Because we will not be hosting tours as part of the Biggest Week in American Birding again this year due to the pandemic, I wanted to at least honor this remarkable event (which starts today) with some striking visuals, captured on the southern shore of our beloved Lake Erie by friend and renowned photographer Art Weber. 

Thank you, Art, for your friendship, your enduring mentorship, your unwavering support of our mission, and for gracious access to your unbelievable skills at capturing nature through your imagery. I light up literally every time I see your work!

An almost electric prothonotary warbler (one of my personal favorites) contemplates its next move
to take down an immobilized Bombus (would need help to ID to species).

The tail-wagging palm warbler is a welcomed guest to Standing Rush each spring.

An alert Swainson's thrush proves one does not need to be bright to be beautiful.

Green herons are common nesters at the marsh (and now that we've moved, in my backyard) and I enjoy seeing -- and hearing -- them,
particularly under the low-light of dawn and dusk.

Friday, April 30, 2021

April: Following Nature's Ups and Downs

April's annual weather roller coaster was marked with record highs -- with the better part of a week pushing into the 80s (even upper 80s) -- and then near record lows (with 6" of snowfall on April 20/21 in southern portions of Erie County). But things stayed plenty active on and around the marsh.

The stately parental pair of "our eagles" standing guard on their bayfront nest.

Roy witnessed a very unusual drama playing out at our eagle nest on our Sandusky Bay shoreline. It all started the afternoon after an arctic blast interrupted what was starting to feel like early summer. While the marsh itself did not get any accumulating snow (due to the lake and bay warming into the 50s), the abrupt change may have upset the balance at the eagle nursery in the sky. 

An unexpected intruder to the nest on April 21.

Even if it wasn't the weather, it was a third eagle (above) that tipped us off that something was amiss. While the proud parents were reluctant to do so, Roy watched as they relented to the persistent intruder, ultimately giving up their rightful spots on the nest to take up agitated perches on a nearby cottonwood tree. Roy's first instinct was that he might be witnessing a rare golden eagle predating on fledgling bald eagle chicks.

A close-up of the intruder's heavy bill helped to confirm its identity.

But with the help of a telephoto lens (even in strong bayside winds) we could confirm that Roy was looking at a two- or maybe more likely three-year-old immature baldie. And its presence did not bode well for the welfare of the young eaglets.

While it is difficult to make out what the immature eagle was scavenging on, we feared the worst for the success of the eagle nest -- one of three at the marsh at present.

A lack of activity on the nest since a day or two after the "invasion" makes it clear that this particular brood was unsuccessful. Since bald eagles aren't known (to our knowledge) to predate on their own nests, its our hunch that the eaglets simply perished, perhaps due to bad timing of weather extremes. And is nature is prone to do, the immature eagle (very possibly the offspring of the nesting adults) was just making sure nothing went to waste.

More green in the Rest Pond -- largely broadleaf cattail and soft-stemmed bulrush -- is an indication that things are at least
trending toward warmer and brighter.

New growth through last year's decay.

Roy could only manage to scramble for his smartphone to capture this passing group of nearly three dozen American white pelicans.
Since I first wrote about them in May of 2017, we've seen them sporadically, each spring. It's fun every time.

April wasn't all just wildlife watching -- it also marked the beginning of Roy's labor intensive and relentless annual assault on invasive species.
First target victim: poison hemlock.

Thursday, April 22, 2021

Happy Earth Day: Where Did the Last 447 Days Go?

One little hint as to why there haven't been
regular updates at . . . 

Happy Earth Day! I'm embarrassed to say it's been going on 15 MONTHS since I last posted an update to the website. As with so many aspects of life throughout 2020 and into 2021, routines have been turned upside down. But my day-to-day existence has been flipped on its axis by more than a global pandemic. 

The photo above, like my publishing over the last year+, is already outdated. But #5 (or "Go-go" as we affectionately refer to her) was added to our family almost a full year ago now (!) and her presence begins to explain why I didn't have that extra hour at the end of each night to work on a blog post.

2020 was most certainly one for the history books in our family. The time that has elapsed since my last writing has brought about incredible change -- beyond the familiarity of terms like COVID, social distancing, quarantine, masking, etc., etc., etc. Four became five which is huge in its own right. But we also lost a family member to the pandemic, moved my mom out of my childhood home (down the road to my brother's), fully rehabbed that childhood home, said farewell to lifelong friends in Perrysburg, and moved into the house that without question shaped the trajectory of my life as a biologist -- not to mention as a person.

Wow, it's been a crazy stretch. But now that the highest priority boxes are unpacked and the new office space is more or less set up, it's time to circle back and offer updates on all that went on at Standing Rush since my last official post (1/31/2020) -- inexplicably 447 days ago! Not surprisingly, life did anything but stand still.

The (7!) Krauses in front of the original Kraus Haus -- our new home
(Photo courtesy of my sweet niece, Ellen Dziubek,

ASIDE: I did write one complete post that was set to publish on 3/26/2020. I can't explain why, but I never made it go live (until just prior to publishing this post). I also started a half dozen other articles on the computer -- and literally dozens in my head -- that never made it onto the site, at least as they were originally conceived. I just could never find the bandwidth to bring them to satisfactory completion. 

In an effort to expedite updates to the site, you'll see I've taken a slightly different tack than I had grown accustom to over the first almost three years of writing. Updates over the last ~15 months largely take the form of chronologically displayed photos, with the goal of using captions to at least provide some context. We'll see how it goes. Hopefully my retroactively posted monthly updates hit many of the highs (and lows) and allow additional opportunity to follow this breathtaking environment through its natural, seasonal cycles. My hope is this format will be sustainable, useful, and an enjoyable way to get back to much needed Moment(s) in the Marsh. Most would likely agree, we probably need them now more than ever.

Wednesday, March 31, 2021

March 2021: Thawing Out (Fast)

As abruptly as "real winter" came, it went. We went from 6-8" of solid ice on Sandusky Bay in late February (with some starting to venture out onto the hardwater of the big lake) to completely open water in a matter of a week. All 31 days of the month held highs above freezing and temps soared into the 70s on a couple occasions. 

Nate's research has transitioned from trapping/tagging northern pike (2020) to tracking them (2021) using a portable receiver and multiple receivers scattered throughout the nearshore waters of the Western Basin. 

We are fortunate to have helped secure funding for three submerged tag receivers at Standing Rush (thank you, Office of Coastal Management!): one in the estuary (behind Nate in the image above), one in our Rest Pond (just on the marsh side of Structure 1), and one in our main West Marsh ("upstream" of Structure 2). These devices were deployed ahead of active spawning (late February) and will monitor and record any pike that swims by with an implanted tag. Each tag is fish-specific, so Nate will be able to see who swam by, when, and how often. 

This data will not be available until he retrieves the receivers in May, but his handheld unit gives him a glimpse into what may be going on beneath the surface of the water. It was a thrilling day in March when he detected a very large, tagged female that had made her way through Structure 1 and into the Rest Pond. Based on her movements, it was highly probable that she was spawning -- a practical victory that helps to justify all our efforts to get this new and improved water control structure installed.

It will be very interesting to see the balance of Nate's data and to continue to watch his research evolve. The plan is to deploy the receivers again next year, at least, so we will be able to continue to watch how northern pike are utilizing Standing Rush in the spring.

The spring thaw couldn't be all fun (chasing fish); but my hunch is Roy gets some annual satisfaction out of our selective prescribed burns -- nothing like watching a mass of invasive species disappear before your very eyes. (NOTE: We are very proactive with our local fire departments. They are always informed before we plan to burn, and they are generally very supportive of our efforts.)

A decent "before" (right) and "after" (left) showing the instant impact of burning the narrow ribbons of Phragmites that grow along many of our dikes. Again, we do this selectively, mainly to assess the condition of the dike slope and to improve visibility within and across management units.

Burning Phrag looks dramatic, but it tends to burn itself out fast, particularly when there is only one year's worth of "fuel" (dead stalks and stems). The key is picking the day when the humidity, ground moisture, and wind are all right. Clearly, this is not to be attempted without training and experience.

Sunday, February 28, 2021

February 2021: A Shot of Real Cold

A new month meant sustained cold. Only 10 of the 28 days got above freezing and most of those were on the front end of February. Lows were routinely in the teens or single digits, and we even dipped below zero on a few occasions. While we speculated whether we'd even get "walking ice" or a sustained stretch of "real winter," both ultimately came -- and in earnest.

Toledo tied an all-time record with 19 inches of snow on the ground on February 18, 2021. Most of that was thanks to a single event that brought more accumulation in a single snowfall than any other in my life's history (even more than the fabled "Blizzard of '78").

Most of our attention turned to planning for the upcoming field season. But even as the marsh froze solid, there were tons of opportunities to see the strong pulse of life alive amongst a persistent blanket of snow and ice.

Big ducks (mainly mallards with a few pintails) rise above a mostly frozen early February marsh to a rising sun and a setting moon.

"Our eagles" start to show consistent nesting behaviors in the massive tangle they have carefully constructed in the cottonwood next to the estuary.

It must be even colder up there in that seemingly constant wind.

Pretty hard to miss the nest (or even the protruding head/s of eagles) from afar
(as always, click to enlarge).

Despite sometimes biting cold, Roy never misses the opportunity to take advantage of conditions to keep the place up. Here, brush mowing helps to maintain dikes and access while not interfering with nesting songbirds.

Even a stark haircut will grow back fast, but it keeps large, potentially destructive trees from getting established on dike slopes and it also gives visual evidence of spots that need special attention.

We were able to take advantage of a completely frozen dike and a few thousand residual dollars in an open grant to carry on the erosion protection we started last August.

This work took place to augment the installation and operation of Structure 2, could be squeezed in between major snowfalls, and can be tidied up as needed this coming summer (although something tells me Roy will find a way to get it done before then).

During the coldest of the cold, Roy spent a couple days exploring with his camera. His finds are worth highlighting here (including this active seep on the edge of the West Marsh, a groundwater spring that remained open all day and night despite temperatures well below zero).

Roy caught these candid shots of a coyote crossing over the south dike with a snowy package of mystery meat -- maybe a muskrat? -- being downwind with lots of fresh snow must have helped keep Roy "concealed" from the distracted canine. 

Coyotes are plentiful at Standing Rush (as evidence from our active trail cameras), but it's not very often we even catch a glimpse during broad daylight.

A couple cool shots of another common (but largely nocturnal) mammal of the marsh.

Even in bitter cold, moving water near Structure 1 kept small areas open with shad (in beak above) swimming beneath. This made for some distant (and therefore grainy) images of canvasbacks.

Speaking of grainy, we're still yet to get a good crisp image of one of my favorite marsh birds, the "marsh hawk" or northern harrier. Roy saw individuals scanning the fresh snow on several occasions. 

Unfortunately for this mouse, it was oblivious both of Roy and of the dangers lurking from above. Maybe it was distracted by the sub-zero temps that had it out feeding in the sun when this image was captured.

Roy's return to the same vicinity the next day gave evidence that the mouse (or at least a mouse) and the marsh hawk (or a marsh hawk) were "introduced." (Click to enlarge)

Sunday, January 31, 2021

January 2021: Turning the Page

While admittedly mostly a psychological victory, there definitely was a sense that a hurdle had been overcome by successfully closing the books on 2020 and welcoming a new year. 

Speaking of "eyes wide open," check out this stare . . . mink always look like they got caught with their paw in the cookie jar when you finally get them on film. This is one of the better ones we've been able to capture (credit: Roy)

It's not that last year was terrible from a professional perspective at the marsh (it could have been a whole lot worse), but the reverberations of the pandemic were (and are) certainly being felt at Standing Rush: understandable but still difficult uncertainty surrounding future funding opportunities; dramatically reduced visitation to the property; significantly less direct educational outreach (although there is definitely some neat stuff on the near-term horizon that was hatched during the current academic year); limited contractor interaction . . . the list could go on. 

But the bottom line is we continued to make progress, even if it was not at the pace we have grown accustom. And there are signs of light at the end of the public health tunnel. So we just need to keep the faith and keep trudging forward with our eyes wide open.

Skim ice was about as much as we could muster in January, with 26 of 31 daytime highs above freezing in Bay View; this made for good conditions for the "puddlers" to keep puddling.

Another typical early winter scene in the Rest Pond.

Gotta love this many swans -- probably a combination of trumpeters and tundras.

Partial evidence as to what continued to draw ducks, geese, and swans to the Rest Pond -- click to zoom in to see the mass of (nutritious) soft-stem bulrush seed, still floating on the water surface in January.

Not all photos have to be National Geographic quality to be cool -- six sandhill cranes stopped by to get in on the action.

Just to confirm Roy wasn't just having fun, dike maintenance continues

And just like that, Mr. Mink is gone again . . .