Tuesday, October 9, 2018

West Marsh Water Conveyance: Project Update #5 (Finally Pounding Pile)

A bird's-eye view really shows the progress of the last week -- the sheet pile now extends about 20' toward the bay
(right side of photo); for reference, this image shows about half of what will be the final structure

Much of our contractor's last week was spent meticulously setting the "corners" of the sheet pile that now reside between the base of the temporary access ladder (above) and the precast concrete. With the corners set, they serve as the transition between the precast and the steel corridor to the bay. I was fortunate enough to get this perspective yesterday -- from about 40' above -- and it really helps to demonstrate what is taking shape to the north (right) of the newly installed concrete boxes.

Jason, suspended in a bucket truck, carefully adjusting the Vibro
to hammer one in a series of four discrete sheet pile sections;
Mike, in the background, controls the actual hammering
(click any image to enlarge)
As of early Monday afternoon, our three-man team had installed almost a third of the steel. With an orange chalk line set as a visual guide, each pair of sheets hammered (or "vibrated") into the depths gets us about four feet closer to the bay.

I continue to be impressed with the coordination that plays out when watching a competent crew. Whether spoken or not, it's choreographed.

Yesterday's sequence: Mike on the ground lassos a ~675-lb section of steel (30"W x 20'L); Scott in the crane gently swings it into approximate position; and then Jason in the bucket truck coordinates with his ground crew (largely through subtle hand gestures) to fine-tune adjust. By the time the "Vibro" (yellow hammer affixed to the top of the sheet pile) is actually engaged, the hard work is pretty much complete.

Despite its name and hulking size, the Vibro has proven to be surprisingly quiet,
especially when driving pile in our relatively soft clay -- the project noise
essentially blends into the subtle drone of SR 2, but we'll still be
suspending work in the next day or two to rest the marsh before
the start of duck season
I'm pretty confident that Scott, our crane operator, could do this in his sleep. I'm not sure what the Vibro weighs (a lot), but it is being suspended from maybe 70-feet of cable from the boom of a 35-ton crane. And he is putting this unwieldy appendage just where it needs to be  -- using only his fingers and someone else as his eyes -- to drive the individual pile sections straight and true.

Because the discrete sections are all linked together by a folded seam, a minor adjustment to a single section has repercussions not only to the adjacent section but to the entire wall as it takes shape. But yesterday, with all the moving parts, I witnessed the walls continue to extend right before my eyes. It's exciting -- and with the main duck season opening this coming Saturday, very timely.

Couldn't resist this view of the Rest Pond from the bucket truck -- amazing what getting 40' off the ground
does to change perspective

SIDEBAR: This past weekend, my kids and I had the distinct privilege to participate in a historic fish release on the Maumee River. While a couple watersheds away from the marsh, we are all working toward very similar ends. Congrats to the USFWS, the Toledo Zoo, our friend Dr. Jessica Collier, and everyone else involved in the lake sturgeon release at Walbridge Park. It was a highlight of the year! Truly an awesome project.

Two of our boys, poised to release "their sturgeon"
Our daughter, proudly showcasing her
"Maumee River Sturgeon Restoration" bucket
Our fourth, posed with a replica of what he hopes his release might someday become

Tuesday, October 2, 2018

West Marsh Water Conveyance: Project Update #4 (Bring on the Sheet Pile)

Sheet pile steel staged at the project site

Jason, fittingly, waterproofing between tiers
Never did I think 56 sections of steel could make me so happy. But the photo above, taken just before 5:00 pm last Friday afternoon, has been a LONG time coming. Grant writing, conceptual designing, permit applications, grant planning, RFP development, project advertising, budget revisions, contractor selection, grant administration, design modifications, project mobilization, old structure demolition, rain, heat, more rain, humidity, geotechnical analysis, structural engineering confirmation, precast concrete delivery . . . and this week, near completion of precast installation (see below). And finally, the steel has arrived at the project site.

#2 of 4 being lowered into place
It's already starting to "look like something." But over the next week or two, our new "water conveyance structure" should really start coming together visually.

We only ended up loosing one day to weather in the last week (Tuesday). And considering the forecast at the start, that wasn't too bad. We might have gotten 0.75" over 24 hours, but the way the clima-terrorists started talking, we could have gotten 3"+. Some did around us, so they were right and we felt fortunate to have dodged a bullet. Weather can never be taken for granted, especially this time of year.

Fittingly, much of the week focused on the placement and waterproofing of the four precast concrete structures. They need to be able to hold water so that they don't destabilize the substrate around them. They need to be waterproofed top to bottom. This is accomplished with two beads of tar tape between (above and left) and a finish wrap of tar around the exterior (below). This week, they will also be waterproofed (more or less) in between with the final addition of some filler grout. Roy and I have been very impressed by our contractor's attention to detail thus far. From measuring and remeasuring to checking and rechecking to confirm all is plumb and level, they should have a solid and accurate reference point from which they can build out the sheet pile. Hopefully by this time next week, I'll be able to document the build-out in another photo update.

Finish tar seal being placed around seam between #1 and #2

#3 of 4 being lowered into place
#4 of 4 in place (yet to be finish sealed to allow for final settling as #4 compresses tar on top of #3)

Tuesday, September 25, 2018

West Marsh Water Conveyance: Project Update #3 (Prepping for Precast Concrete)

A shot from above for scale -- Jason and Mike are setting pins to establish the bottom elevation of the new structure

Much of this past week at the project site has involved clean-up of the demolition debris, hauling to an off-site recycling center, and preparation for the precast concrete structures that will serve as housing for many of the water management components featured in our new design.

A few yards of concrete below the precast structures
are extra insurance for long-term stability
While work at the site never stopped, we also spent a good part of the week waiting for final confirmation from the geotechnical and structural engineering team to be sure that the soils could support (a) more than 70,000-lbs of precast concrete over a ~10 x 12' area, and (b) our associated sheet pile "flume" design -- which will extend from the precast on the marsh side of the structure, more or less north to the Bay.

The sheet pile component is further complicated by the fact that we need to design for a dike crossing that typically will only need to accommodate a pickup truck (or MULE), but periodically will need to accommodate a tri-axle dump truck loaded to 75,000-lbs large limestone (for protection from the destructive forces of wind and waves on the bay).

Mud on mud -- the mud mat from above
While deemed to be marginal based on soil borings and related geotechnical analysis (not a huge shocker), the substrate was ultimately determined to be suitable. A big relief.

Our contractor still decided to add extra insurance and install a 5-6" thick "mudmat" of concrete to serve as a stabilizing foundation beneath the precast. Four discrete concrete segments will be installed as two stacks of two structures -- tied together to form one large rectangle that is split into two chambers.

This is really the heart of the new design. Not only will it house a new pump, it will also be equipped with screw gates, flap screw gates, stop logs, and debris/carp screens. I will get further into what all of these components are and what they are designed to do later, but for now, suffice it to say we're laying the groundwork for increased water conveyance between the bay and the marsh, with much more capacity to provide that connection in a fish and wildlife-friendly way. In many ways, the new system will act much like the old. But our new design will be much wider, much more attractive to migratory fish, and generally much more versatile from a water management perspective. It's really exciting.

The reinforced and reinforcing "mud mat" being poured and leveled in place

A 35-ton crane set to position the first of four precast segments

The first precast segment in place; the next will rest along side it (where Jason is standing) -- the third and fourth
will be stacked on the bottom two, tied, and sealed together

Weather kept us on our toes yesterday and kept us from working today. We probably picked up 3/4" of rain so far -- not ideal when working in these conditions. We're keeping our fingers crossed that we'll weather the next 12 hours or so without too much more rain because we are forecast to dry out tomorrow and remain dry for the balance of the week. If everything plays out as we hope, we may have the precast all in place by the end of the week. Then it's on to the sheet pile steel!

Thursday, September 20, 2018

Aerial Spraying: A Critical Tool in Our Toolbox

A "bluebird sky" and next to no wind made for pretty much ideal spraying conditions

Earlier this week Standing Rush was visited by the single most important tool in our fight against Phragmites australis: a specialized helicopter equipped to mist low concentrations of herbicide onto dense stands of the noxious, invasive plant. In less than an hour we were able to effectively treat more than 90 acres of Phragmites monoculture. Because the reed grows so aggressively ("mono" = one; "culture" = plant), we can efficiently target the "bad" (invasive species) with minimal collateral damage to the "good" (desirable native plants).

Unless framed by a dark background (e.g., trees above), it is often very hard to even see the herbicide as it is being applied

Lots of research has gone into what and when to spray for maximum efficacy. A generic cocktail of Rodeo® herbicide (a commonly utilized glyphosphate used in aquatic settings) and water is applied at a 5% solution. While this mix could be considered relatively "hot" (concentrated), the combination of the misting applicator and the circulation of the helicopter blades allows for effective treatment at surprisingly low total volumes. 

Late summer/early fall spraying has proven to be the most effective time of year when targeting Phragmites. There are a couple key benefits to this timing:
(1) the target plants are actively pulling moisture from their above-ground stems and leaves in preparation for winter dormancy (thereby effectively transporting the herbicide throughout the plant and roots), and
(2) if sprayed late enough in the season (as we hope to have this year) any desirable, native vegetation -- on the fringes of spray zones or when less frequently interspersed within the Phrag -- can either be given time to drop viable seed (for future colonization) or be spared completely (due to earlier dormancy).

Most of the work on our end ties back to preparation for spraying day. While we weren't able to fully implement our drone reconnaissance this year, we did manage to establish detailed maps for the pilot to direct both he and his aircraft to the specific areas we wanted sprayed. We ended up reviewing last year's aerial imagery and then ground-truthed and refined our guestimates to establish several dozen discrete "polygons" -- or shapes formed by actual GPS coordinates. By downloading the shape files, the pilot can then let his instrumentation dictate when and where to spray. And all we have to do is sit back and watch!

More Phragmites can get sprayed in this ~30 second video (and often with better accuracy) 
than we could possibly hope to accomplish in an entire day spraying from the ground

Special thanks to a collaboration between the USFWS, the Ohio Division of Wildlife, and Winous Point Marsh Conservancy for allowing this important work to get accomplished. Standing Rush was one of just a handful of properties selected for spraying through the program this year. Not only did we benefit from cost-sharing to defray management costs, the spraying also helped to set the stage for a healthier vegetative community next season and for years to come.

Monday, September 17, 2018

West Marsh Water Conveyance: Project Update #2 (Demolition)

Muddy demolition: The early phases of the removal of the old water conveyance structure

It took until Wednesday of this past week before we could get back after things at the project site. The remnants of Tropical Storm Gordon didn't shut off until late Monday and we needed all of Tuesday to even begin drying out. Despite temperatures in the 70s and 80s all week, humidity remained very high. It didn't dry out much, but progress was certainly made . . .

Demolition involved excavation along either side of the 65'-long concrete structure before the concrete sidewalls
and "floor" could be broken and removed; the area impacted in this image was the widest point of the excavation
(because the footer the entire structure rested on was broad and painfully thick)
A 10-12' segment of the old structure's floor is jackhammered into smaller, more manageable pieces
(after being pulled out of and alongside the excavated channel)
The "more manageable pieces" of concrete (from the photo above) being loaded into a haul truck;
final destination: a local concrete recycling plant

The channel as of mid-afternoon today -- all of the concrete has now been removed; the last steps of demolition
will include final jackhammering, hauling, and site clean-up in preparation for the arrival of new infrastructure
(slated to begin arriving this week)
Unseasonably hot, humid, and calm conditions weren't always comfortable over this last week, but they have allowed a good deal of work to get done. We are now trying to finalize some structural engineering before we jump into the actual construction phase of this project. What's left of the devastation from Hurricane Florence is slated to stay east of us, and a largely underwhelming teal season is behind us, too (early season closed yesterday without me even getting out once), so hopefully we can make some significant headway between now and the opening of "big duck" season on October 13th. As with everything with this effort, ONE DAY AT A TIME.

One additional (visual) footnote: I was able to tour my three best friends (all college buddies from Minnesota) through the property on Saturday afternoon. I've been waiting for that day for a long time. It was an introduction for all three -- each of whom made big sacrifices on the home front to leave wives and kids to spend the weekend with me and my family. They are all avid outdoors guys, so the original hope was to teal hunt. But with very few birds flying and temperatures and humidity sky-high, we opted to spend a half-day on Lake Erie instead. I haven't been on a chartered boat since I was 11 years old (and that was in the ocean), but a dear friend tipped me off to Captain Chris Clemons of Lakeland Charters, and we decided to play the odds and go with someone whose business depends on staying over fish every day. We put in at nearby Catawba Landings and fished nearshore water around the Islands. Not only did he offer an incredibly clean and stable boat, he also brought professionalism, experience, and a great introduction to Erie fishing for the guys.

We boated a decent number of solid "eaters," but also enjoyed a dozen or so bulldog sheephead along with a couple bruiser
channel cats. It was a great way to spend a morning
Thanks again for a memorable morning on the water Steve and Captain Chris!

Monday, September 10, 2018

West Marsh Water Conveyance: Project Update #1 (Site Prep)

The first sign of activity: the first dump truck arrives at the project site

About a year ago, I introduced a project that would evolve to become our top priority for the 2018 construction season. All of our other management priorities had to be maintained, but this project quickly became our fundamental goal for this year's management season.

At long last, the replacement of our aging infrastructure that connects the marsh to Sandusky Bay is finally underway! It's been a very busy couple weeks -- and I've spared readers of a lot of the months-long backstory in navigating the administrative and contractual hurdles that got us to "Mobilization Day" -- but we're finally making progress on the ground.

[IMPORTANT NOTE: Our plan all along was to target July/August for the heavy lifting on this project -- namely, the removal of the old concrete structure and the installation of a new "hybrid" structure, which is designed to integrate a much more versatile precast concrete pump/gate station with a wider, much more fish-friendly sheet pile steel water conveyance to the Bay. Unfortunately, bidding and contracting delays have put us where we are: starting the project just as early waterfowl seasons (teal and early goose) got underway. Fortunately, we have (1) duck hunting lease holders who appreciate our restoration efforts and the immense improvement this new "plumbing" will offer to the site, and (2) a contractor who will do everything in their power to minimize their disturbance during the most important times in the hunting season. If we can get the major commotion (and noise) behind us prior to "big duck" season in October, we should be able to be more discrete to complete the project either in the last quarter of 2018, or -- worst case, Q1 of 2019.]

I will do my best to provide regular updates along the way, but I can already see that it is going to be challenging. We have been and will be very busy. Here's a quick overview of the first week or so of work on the ground:

Amazing what an excavator and dozer can do in two short (and extremely HOT) days -- mobilization has included
not just this "yellow metal" but also dump trucks, a smaller skidsteerer, a work trailer, and even a porta-potty
-- it's a lot of stuff to fit in pretty tight quarters

"Old Reliable" (our old pump) being lifted from the pump pit for the last time -- after more than 50 years of service;
note temporary sheet pile bulkhead being driven into the bay side of the project site (background) in preparation
for the removal of the old, all-concrete water conveyance structure

The old pump being "laid to rest," quite literally, on a trailer; the future of this hulking contraption is uncertain --
its modest 10HP motor may be laughably large and heavy by today's standards, but it ran reliably and pumped
unbelievably efficiently . . . we may need to find a way to resurrect it for additional use somewhere else on the marsh 

A closer look at the protective temporary bulkhead being installed
on the bay-side of the project area
(in preparation for its first test -- a forecast that included 4-6"
of rain and E/NE winds in excess of 30 knots)

Soil boring is a geotechnical engineering step
(completed last Friday)
that will help confirm final designs

Early excavation in preparation for demolition of the existing concrete structure (slated for next week)

In summary, the first six days at the project site were highlighted by: vegetation clearing and site prep (including installation of erosion control); temporary bulkhead construction (on both the bay-side and marsh-side); exploratory excavating; soil boring; and elevation survey confirmation. Conditions ranged from blazing sun with tropical humidity, 90+ degree temps, and heat indexes over 100-degrees to cloudy, cool, and comfortable. We had to brace for the remnants of a tropical storm that had weatherpeople warning of the potential for 7-10' waves on the lake and  5-7" of rain in 48 hours in the marsh (over this past weekend). Fortunately, while we are sitting today out to let the system clear, we were largely spared: the wind most certainly blew and the rain most certainly came and outstayed its welcome. But we didn't get stuck under the heavy cells, and it looks like we managed to escape with more like 1.5" of new water from Saturday morning through early this morning. We're all breathing a lot easier with a dry forecast ahead. Now, if we could just get a few more teal flying . . . 

Monday, August 27, 2018

Pre-Construction Fish Sampling

Terrain alone makes fish sampling in these environments complicated

Fish collecting in wetland environments is notoriously difficult. Gathering representative data on the species diversity and relative abundance of each type of fish present at any given time presents major challenges. Water levels vary (and are often too shallow for sampling using traditional boat-mounted methods). Obstacles are abundant (whether in the form of diverse islands of vegetation, submerged woody debris, and/or soft sediments). Generally, sampler access is rarely easy and opportunities for refuge and sampling evasion are immense.

Fyke net setup just inside the marsh at the
soon-to-be-replaced pump structure
But on the eve of equipment mobilization for our much anticipated "Water Conveyance Replacement Project" in our West Marsh (our biggest restoration activity of the 2018 field season), we had to give it "the old college try" -- quite literally. Yesterday, one day before the start of their fall semester, three graduate students from the Bowling Green State University's Aquatic Ecology & Fisheries Laboratory volunteered to join us for a long, sweaty, and -- for a self-proclaimed "fish freak" like myself -- very FUN day in the marsh.

The goal: Utilize multiple sampling techniques to gather a pre-construction "snapshot in time" as to what fish are currently utilizing the West Marsh and the bayside communities immediately adjacent to the structure that will soon be replaced.

So, it made sense to start at what will become the construction zone. The first Fyke nets were set on either side of the soon-to-be demolished concrete structure -- one on the marsh side and one on the bay side. We then spent the balance of our first hour setting three more trap nets at other strategic locations within the West "Rest Pond" and the "Main Marsh," immediately adjacent to the south.

Fyke net setup just outside the marsh and soon-to-be-replaced
structure, extending into the estuary to Sandusky Bay
Because we were trying to accomplish our sampling blitz all within one field day (and because we also wanted to reduce the probability of turtle mortality in the hoop nets), we opted to shoot to soak the stationary traps for approximately four hours each. While there is always eager anticipation built into this waiting period, we didn't have time to dwell on the waiting game. We spent any "down time" actively sampling a handful of interior locations by pulling a 3-meter seine with an oversized collection bag. This method most certainly has its limitations (we could literally see certain species like carp and largemouth bass swimming out in front of us), but it definitely produced some unique findings.

In my experience, I've found it is a lot more gratifying to frame fish sampling in terms of what you capture (and learn) rather than what you don't. Every sampling event is another learning experience. Time of year, time of day, weather conditions, sampling methods, access capabilities -- they all play major roles. Of course, we would have loved to see more yesterday. But we caught fish!

A pile of young of year sunfish -- predominantly bluegill, pumpkinseeds, orangspotted sunfish, green sunfish,
black crappies and white crappies collected in one Fyke net haul --
nearly every one of these fish was born either this year or last

We have been waiting for a day like yesterday for a long time (for me personally, since day one). So it is normal to wish you could record every last species -- heck, every last fish -- swimming in the marsh! But yesterday was just our first effort. It was the proverbial "snapshot in time." Our human resources were limited (though highly motivated); our methods were limited (we didn't even get to backpack or boat-mounted electrofishing); and, our time was finite (although we busted a lot out between 9AM and 6PM on one humid, 90-degree late summer day).

Identifying and counting sunfish
as they are removed from the net
and released
In the end, our sampling yielded 14 species, most certainly dominated by the Centrarchid Family (the "Sunfishes"):

Bluegill (Lepomis macrochirus)
Pumpkinseed (Lepomis gibbosus)*
Black Crappie (Pomoxis nigromaculatus)
White Crappie (Pomoxis annularis)
Green Sunfish (Lepomis cyanellus)*
Orangespotted Sunfish (Lepomis humilis)
Largemouth Bass (Micropterus salmoides)

Others included:

Gizzard Shad (Dorosoma cepedianum)
Brook Silverside (Labidesthes sicculus)*
Western Mosquitofish (Gambusia affinis)
Common Carp (Cyprinus carpio)
Goldfish (Carassius auratus)
Golden Shiner (Notemigonus crysoleucas)
White Bass (Morone chrysops) -- estuary only

I maintain a master list of species that we have observed since we first started work on the property. My list of fish species is now up to 26 after yesterday's efforts. Those starred above were new finds yesterday. Those that we did not see yesterday that we have seen before on the property include: Channel Catfish, Black Bullhead, Brown Bullhead, Yellow Bullhead, Bowfin, Freshwater Drum, Emerald Shiner, Yellow Perch, White Perch, Smallmouth Bass, Northern Pike, and Steelhead (Rainbow Trout).

It would have been super cool to recapture one or more of the northerns that we stocked in conjunction with TPS this past spring. Nate, one of the BGSU masters students, is actually working on his doctoral degree on how northern pike utilize coastal habitats on Lake Erie. Sounds to me like a reason to keep sampling at Standing Rush!

Here are a few more of my favorite photos from yesterday's efforts. I'll try to post some of the individual fish species that we collected soon.

Deploying, retrieving, processing, and recovering Fyke nets -- like all fish sampling -- is best accomplished as a team
This little guy stuck with us and was completely hands-on for a full twelve hours; I woke him just before 7 AM
and we got home just before 7 PM -- we might possibly have a scientist in the making; he was in hog heaven
Our dedicated crew from BGSU -- they definitely reinforced a common student mantra: "We'll work for food!"
And they did it with smiles and enthusiasm -- appreciate it, guys; hope it can be the start of a continuing collaboration

Friday, August 24, 2018

That Time of Year Again (Somehow)

Jim navigating our new brush mower over the aftermath of a 4" rain from a week ago;
this season has definitely been loyal to the old adage, "when it rains, it pours"

Somehow, we're in the midst of the annual scramble to ready the marsh for another year of duck hunting. Leases are squared away, and the heavy lifting (the actual habitat management) is an ongoing effort that continues to "trend in the right direction" (as Roy likes to say), but the latter half of August has customarily brought a flurry of hunting-specific activity. Teal season (one of my favorites) opens September 1 -- that's a week from tomorrow!

Jim mowing down a heavily overgrown
spur dike looks more like a game
of Where's Waldo
The punters (remember, those are duck hunting guides) and, to a lesser extent, the hunters have done most of the heavy lifting (literally) over the last few years in this capacity. Prepping blinds is one major project. Structural repairs must inevitably be done. (It's a tough environment for wood construction.) Grasses and cover vegetation ("grassing") needs to be shored up. Some creature-comfort accessories are often added. And typically, some unwanted guests -- e.g., muskrats, hornets, etc. -- must be "discouraged" from continuing to set up shop. Nothing beats sharing a blind with good friends, but long-toothed rodents and paper wasps don't qualify.

Often, there is a desire to improve "shooting holes" (open water expanses intended to draw ducks). Sometimes, these efforts involve manual cutting and clearing of small areas of emergent plants -- in our case, typically cattails. But because we have been holding water high (historically high, actually), that won't be necessary this year.

There is also the matter of prepping punt boats and decoy skiffs . . . varnishing punt poles . . . organizing and tending to decoys. These are fun things that add to the custom, ritual, and the anticipation. But make no mistake: they are work.

Yesterday, we had the opportunity to get after another annual right of passage -- "mowing" (trailblazing) paths to each of the blind access locations. As you can see in the photos above/right, we now have an incredible tool for the job -- thanks to the initiative and generosity of one of our faithful lease holders (THANKS, JOE!). This brush mower is an absolute beast! And while it's hard not to work up a sweat any time this project is on the docket, the right tool makes it so much simpler, safer, and effective.

There are -- and have been -- a ton of projects picking up momentum in the marsh. I'll be elaborating on each of them (e.g., a pending conservation easement, a pending real estate sale, a pending water conveyance improvement project) individually over weeks and months ahead. But yesterday afternoon, it was fun to get a good sweat going and just think about the ducks that should soon be overhead.

One of my projects yesterday was adding the 10" board on the far left (above) to one of our existing hunter boardwalks;
it's only about 30' long, but until the end of the day yesterday, it was only about 26" wide -- the increased
width makes taking the new mower across much less stressful

Thursday, August 9, 2018

A Different Type of "Quad" (This Ain't No MULE!)

Pause the video above a few times as the drone gains elevation (particularly between 0:07 and 0:37). The color contrast in the vegetation below is not only neat to see, it's valuable from a management perspective.

Since very early on in this restoration project, I saw the value of a bird's eye perspective on the marsh. All the way back in July 2015 -- just after taking possession of the property -- a friend and neighbor of one of my brothers (who happens to be a professional videographer and drone enthusiast) offered to come "fly the property." The fifty or so photos and couple dozen short videos that we captured that calm Saturday morning were eye-popping then . . . and have been unbelievably useful ever since.

The raw footage above is one of my favorites. I particularly love the ~30 seconds of footage that starts at or about 0:07. Not only is the marsh incredibly beautiful when looking straight down starting from about 25-feet, the story that unfolds is extremely useful from a technical perspective. If you pause the video at 0:10, you start to see why I get so excited.

Bryan Ellis of TPS getting acclimated on our main West dike
(pun very much intended) with the school's drone --
equipped with a thermal imaging camera
The individual sprig of mint green among the sea of dark green is a hint. (Sorry, I'm a guy, so my color palette is a bit more limited than an Eddie Bauer catalog. I digress . . .)

As the drone gains elevation and the color contrast becomes more apparent, a trained eye can not only easily differentiate the color, it can also identify the plants! In this simplified case: dark green = broadleaf cattail (a desirable cornerstone plant in our region) and mint green = Phragmites (a monstrous invasive we are tirelessly trying to fight back). So in one ~1:30 video, we confirmed an initial hunch: drones can help confirm what we are seeing on the ground and offer a unique perspective to provide valuable management direction.

All of this makes a lot more sense when you realize that one of our primary tasks each summer is to "map" vegetative cover -- essentially, determine what's growing, where. This is important for a whole host of reasons. It can be done (and very effectively, I might add) the old fashion ways -- in the brain (through on-the-ground, in the wader, or in the punt boat) observation . . . that can then be transcribed to crude pencil sketches and field notes. And it can also be done in much more technical ways.

Yesterday, I hosted an instructor and friend from Toledo Public School's Natural Science Technology Center -- an established component of the new Aerospace & Natural Science Academy of Toledo (ANSAT). First and foremost, Bryan is an extremely passionate and enthusiastic person (which I love). He is also extremely talented and knowledgeable in a wide array of subjects that are very relevant to what we do at the marsh. One of his many talents: a drone pilot. So yesterday, we set two goals. First, we wanted to give Bryan a basic tour (somehow, this was the first time we were able to lure him out!), and secondly, we wanted to get the bugs worked out so that we could try using their program's extremely hi-tech "quad" to prepare a thermal fingerprint of the entire property. Each color will theoretically help us map individual plant species.

Vegetative polygons overlayed atop an aerial of the marsh;
in this case, red would mean spray and green would mean don't spray
I am running low on steam myself right now, so I'll have to elaborate on this on a future post. But the punchline is we need to prepare a visual similar to the one above within the next few weeks. Each shaded "polygon" will correlate to a unique string of coordinates that can then be uploaded into an on-board computer to guide a helicopter as it systematically sprays only the areas we shade and tell the computer (and linked sprayer) to mist with herbicide. The areas could be a couple hundred square feet up to several acres in size over the 500+ acre site.

We did this back in 2015 (combining my brother's friend's traditional drone images and the old fashion ground-truthing techniques) and it worked pretty darn well. We're going to see if we can improve on things with this fall's spraying campaign via our collaboration with TPS. Thank you, Bryan! Should be fun!!

Monday, July 23, 2018

Back to Business

Other than lots of leaves, an electrical mess, an empty gas tank, and a bunch of bird poop, the MULE
wasn't too much worse for the wear -- it's now back in business

Miraculously, our Kawasaki MULE has been recovered . . . and only ~1,000' from where it was brazenly hot-wired and stolen from our shop a month or so ago! "Good neighbor" vigilance lead to an early morning text to Roy -- the UTV had been spotted in a neighboring woodlot, driven (or perhaps pushed) into a thick tangle of dogwood and wild grape less than a quarter mile from our shop. After a call to the sheriff, it was ours to tow home.

I'll spare you all the gory details, but suffice it to say we weren't expecting this. I had already settled with the insurance company, and was resigned to eating a few extra thousand dollars of losses, even after the "replacement" check had cleared. I spent the better part of three weeks scanning Craiglist, Ebay, and other online forums for resale -- both shopping for a replacement and holding out (fading) hope that I might stumble upon our beloved ride.

Even after the recovery (which happened a week ago now already), my communications with the sheriff's office continue -- as they press on to pursue other items that were stolen. Amazingly, the neighboring marsh was broken into just last week. A day or two later, nearly a half million dollars worth of similar equipment was just recovered in Wood County (none of it seems to be ours).

It's a sad state of affairs when you need to convert a conservation project into Fort Knox. But we've definitely had to change our tact. Motion lights are installed. Cameras are now in place. Alarm systems are poised, and locks are now fortified. Anyone highly motivated enough can get into about anything, but we now have a much tighter line of defense.

I feel like the UTV recovery has allowed me to turn the page a bit. It's been a rough month. But now, the insurance check has been returned. The minor damage to the vehicle has been repaired. We are back to management and back to tours. Thankfully, I'm feeling more ready to get back behind the camera . . . back to writing . . . back to business.

Monday, July 2, 2018

Tough Week

Dad surprised me the spring of my freshman year in college when he arrived to pick me up with his boat and motor in toe. We spent a week together fishing our way home, through Minnesota and Wisconsin. We caught a ton a fish, had a TON of laughs, and ate a ton of burgers and coleslaw. It will be a memory that I will hold with me forever.

Last week will be a memorable one: it started with the peaceful passing of my 85 year-old father -- a tremendously consistent and positive influence in my life -- and evolved into a blur of family gatherings, community outreach, laughter, and of course, tears. Many of my siblings, in-laws, and nieces and nephews were privileged to be with him or very nearby as he took his last breath.

A newly acquired Hospice bed allowed him to pass where and how he always wanted -- in his home, surrounded by family, overlooking his beloved backyard. Mom was at his side. Fittingly -- considering Dad was my introduction to my passion for fishing and my mentor in loving all things outdoors -- I was getting some fresh air and was taking a few quiet casts on the dock just below his window as he died.

It has been a roller coaster of emotion.

Two days later, as I was driving to the marsh for a couple important meetings with potential contractors for our collaboration with Coastal Management, I got more tough news. Our field office and adjacent shop were burglarized on Monday night (June 25) or early Tuesday morning (June 26). 

The loss of this vehicle goes beyond its monetary value;
if you know of anything that might be able to lead to its
recovery, please contact the Erie County Sheriff's Office
(all tips can be made anonymously)
The perpetrators did their dirty work sometime between 6PM and 8AM -- likely in the cover of darkness. They knew what they were after . . . not only did they hot-wire and steal our Kawasaki MULE (our four-wheeler), they took a smattering of power tools, hunting gear (decoys/waders), and other miscellaneous equipment. Tracks through our adjacent field showed that they drove the UTV south from the property, but where they ended up is anyone's guess.

It was a shot in the gut -- especially considering the timing. Of our tangible losses, losing the vehicle will be the hardest pill to swallow. Despite insurance, we will be out thousands of dollars . . . and the time and inconvenience to rebuild and refortify. Maybe the biggest bummer though is that our trust and security has been compromised. We will do all that we can to make sure this doesn't happen again.

[NOTE: The Erie County Sheriff's Office asked that we post about this break-in. If you are local and can pass along any tips -- either regarding this burglary or any other local criminal activity -- they will take your information seriously and pursue it to the fullest extent that they can.]

This morning, I have to admit, I am still feeling pretty numb. I feel like a dish rag that has been repeatedly dunked and squeezed almost to dry. It is tough to refocus, especially with a mid-week holiday, but I think I'm ready for something closer to routine. Life marches on.