Friday, May 17, 2019

A Week in Review: Historic High Water & A Marathon Mow

The west roadside ditch along SR 269 (right) as it overtook the road last Thursday afternoon; eventually, high water
backed up from a rising Sandusky Bay closed the road in two places between that night and last Sunday afternoon

It has been a volatile (and stressful) week along the lakefront. My post from early March regarding a consistent uptick in water levels over the last few years and particularly over the last few months -- not just on Lake Erie but throughout the Great Lakes -- provides some context . . . and in hindsight, some foreshadowing. Historically high water levels are now front page news locally, regionally, and even nationally.

I feel like I could write a book on the complexity of the situation: not just the variety of environmental factors that directly impact these vast watersheds, but on the layers of scientific research that are grappling with how to make accurate near-term and long-range forecasts. Chapters could also be written on the far-reaching impacts to all those who live and work on or near the lakeshore. These are macro-level forces. They're big, they're vast, and when they are trending into the "uncharted waters" (pun intended) that we find ourselves in now, they are scary.

A shallow excavation reveals the source
of our most pressing issue -- dike breaches
from burrowing muskrats & groundhogs
Roy spent most all of his Mother's Day weekend readying us for the worst and scrambling to react to what Mother Nature was throwing at us. The bayfront stone fortification we did back in March has already proven to be crucial in protecting the main West Marsh, but historically high water levels are now putting physical stress -- in the form of new head pressures -- on portions of the property that would have seemed out of reach just three or four years ago.

We are in the permitting process to rehab the dike that serves as our southern boundary on the west marsh. It is really our last area of significant vulnerability unless water levels just continue to march up (which would have huge impacts not just on marshes but on communities all up and down the southern lakeshore of Lake Erie). This rehab project moved to the top of the priority list about a year ago, as we continued to see water levels and projections tip ever-higher. But until we can get the green light from a regulatory standpoint, we are forced to patch problems as they arise.

High water has caused thousands of dollars in unforeseen damages on this dike in the last twelve months (a few thousand dollars just in the last week). The good news is, we do set aside a "contingency budget" each year because we know to expect the unexpected. The bad news is, we've already about surpassed out budget and it is only May. As water levels surged with three days of sustained east/northeast wind last weekend, we witnessed new leaks forming about as fast as we could repair them. We are holding on -- hopefully until the permits come through and the water starts to recede for the summer. Historically, that trend starts sometime about mid-June. It can't happen soon enough.

The main culprit of our leaks right now (other than the water itself)? Our good friend the muskrat. Because we need to maintain higher water levels within the marsh (to reduce head pressure from rising water outside the marsh), muskrats are given access to new soil within which to dig. And these furry, little excavators are pretty darn adept at digging -- especially when the soils are soft and saturated.

Rats: they can look so "cute" and harmless when basking in the afternoon sun of a dry dike

Sheri Amsel does a nice job depicting what a conventional muskrat "hutch" would look like, say in a pile of decaying cattails. As I wrote on very early on, these water-loving rodents play a vital role in the health of coastal wetlands. However, as they make Swiss cheese of our aging south dike, they risk compromising the very habitat that they depend on -- because if we loose our dike (via a major breach), the water levels within the marsh will surge, the rooted vegetation will be lost, and the muskrat's habitat will go with it. As with so many things in the natural world (especially when human intervention has become complexly intertwined), the balance can be tenuous.

ASIDE: One other side effect of the high water is that we are reluctant to bring a heavy tractor onto our earthen berms to mow. This meant that I got to burn off some of my high-water stress walking behind the 30" deck of our brush mower these last couple days. About eight hours and ~26 miles of walking later, the entire East Marsh has been mowed. I'm a bit sore today, but it feels really good to have this project behind us . . . at least for another few weeks.

Before (left) and after (right) mowing our eastern-most dike. The "before" photo features poison hemlock that was about sternum high.
Now at least we can see if muskrats create any new issues.


Friday, May 10, 2019

One BIG Week

Green heron in full spring splendor
(just outside our field office)
As our official involvement in this year's Biggest Week in American Birding draws to a close, I'd like to again thank the Black Swamp Bird Observatory for its tireless energy and passion, remarkable organizational skills and event choreography, and general professionalism. What has been built in the last ten years is truly something remarkable, and the benefits extend WAY beyond just our feathered friends (not just to other groups of animals [including humans] but to the root of conservation itself).

I'd also like to thank all those who attended Standing Rush's presentation at Maumee Bay State Park and those who took the time to come see us in person. Guests this year again represented a staggering spread geographically (Michigan, Indiana, Louisiana, Oregon, Texas, Oklahoma, Minnesota, Colorado, and even Ecuador -- just to name some off the top of my head). It was also really gratifying to have a decent number of true locals join our tours this year. As we've experienced in the past, it is a real shot in the arm to realize that people are paying attention to our efforts and that people are genuinely thrilled to see the progress first-hand.

We also received some satisfying confirmation that at least some people find our online ramblings to be not just informative but entertaining. In fact, I was introduced to the term "binge reading" as it relates to this online journal. Again, this is both flattering and a motivation to keep up the good fight.

One of our furthest human "migrants" to visit Standing Rush this week (from Ecuador), chasing swallows on the wing
with his camera when he wasn't helping to guide the group
In our interaction with Biggest Week, tour participants are highly motivated to visit Standing Rush for a unique encounter that's a little different than the traditional bird watching tour: to learn from on-the-ground restoration by experiencing it first-hand. That said it never hurts to have some decent bird activity. Yesterday, in particular, offered that perfect combination. Participants were very much engaged in the restoration stories, but they were equally enthralled by a stunning variety of birds brought in by Wednesday night's south wind (a rare occurrence thus far this spring).

I haven't seen the final list, but our talented guides tallied somewhere on the order of eighty (that's 8-0!) species of birds on the property in under four hours of touring. They were quick to underscore that "it's not about the numbers," but at the same time, we were all in awe that we surpassed 20 species before we even left the area around our field office. If you do the math, a handful of birders witnessed a new species about every 3 minutes for the entire morning on the property. I'll try to post more specifics at some point, but here are some of the highlights that I was able to capture with my own camera. I'm really hoping our guests contribute some of their favorites from their own cameras so that I can share those, too.

Yesterday marked the first time this year that we witnessed the striking Blackburnian warbler; the first three we saw eluded
my camera, but I caught this one, the fourth -- literally minutes before I left for the day (and the rains came)
This northern parula (another warbler) seemed as happy as we were to be out of the wind and in the sun;
I love photographing in soft willows and newly budding trees this time of year
White-crowned sparrows were a dime a dozen, particularly along stone-covered paths yesterday; but it's still pretty
hard to take this elegant "little brown bird" for granted when you get him magnified and in focus
This blue-gray gnatcatcher literally refused to sit still long enough to pose for the camera; we just lucked out and
captured perpetual motion in this fun still
Yellow warblers remain the dominant warbler species on the property (we literally witnessed hundreds yesterday alone),
but this singing female made for a pose I couldn't resist
Speaking of poses, this American tree swallow sat with a companion bird (on the dead-fall in the background) and
just waited for us to get our fill with our cameras
For every one decent image, there were probably a dozen subjects that just never cooperated, as this black-and-white warbler
demonstrates (that said sometimes out of focus can still make for a neat shot)

Sora, typically pretty secretive rails, have been both very reliable to find on and around our southern boundary and
quite cooperative in posing for the camera these last few days
This single row of dogwoods and willows could have kept us entertained all day

Standing Rush on display at Maumee Bay State Park -- thanks, as always, to the growing list of individuals
who are helping to support our mission

P.S. Just because the festival is wrapping up this weekend, the spring migration is FAR from over. In fact, with all the wind and cool weather we've had over the last several weeks, the best could still be yet to come! If you can't get out right away, make sure you check out the newly released documentary on the importance of our region and the coastal marshes along Lake Erie as they relate to bird migrations. As of this morning, it is now available any time from just about anywhere (free) at https://www.wgte.org/tv/programs/flight-path-world-migratory-birds-0. Thank you public media!


Wednesday, May 8, 2019

Tune In -- FLIGHT PATH: The World of Migratory Birds

Last evening I was able to participate in the private viewing of a new documentary produced locally -- but quite literally filmed internationally -- that showcases the tremendous importance of northwest Ohio as a stopover for neotropical bird migrants who are currently making their way north from their "wintering grounds" in Central America, the Caribbean, and even as far away as South America to their "breeding grounds" in the northern U.S. and Canada.

As I find myself smack dab in the middle of "The Biggest Week in American Birding," I quite simply don't have the time to elaborate much right now. I had about a 16-hour day yesterday and I have to get back in the truck to get to the marsh now.

What I will say is that this one-hour production is the first of what we hope could be as much as a 13-part series. It lays the groundwork for a much broader curriculum that a whole host of talented contributors envision will ultimately educate both the general public and more specifically targeted youth demographics (through companion teaching tools that will be made available for schools).

Episode one will be released locally tomorrow evening (Thursday, May 9th) -- airing on WGTE at 8:00 p.m. It will be available online starting Friday morning and then will be released statewide in the coming weeks. The ultimate goal is to have this first episode, and ultimately the entire series, "picked up" nationally by national public media. This is a story not only worth telling, but worth sharing with the rest of the country (and the world).

Standing Rush has been honored to be involved in this very worthwhile project. Whether your interests lie in birds and birding specifically, or conservation in general, this is a program that will provide new insights and a renewed hope. If you are new to the subject entirely, please consider tuning in to learn just how important our very own backyards are to this incredible story.

UPDATE #1: Initial air times on WGTE --

Thursday, May 9 at 8:00 p.m.
Friday, May 10 at 2:00 a.m.
Friday, May 10 at 1:00 p.m.
Sunday, May 12 at 12:00 a.m.
Sunday, May 12 at 10:00 a.m.

UPDATE #2: Information for those outside of NW Ohio interested in watching should check in on WGTE's website to stream the documentary online. As of today (5/9/19), it is available here.


Sunday, May 5, 2019

Moment(s) in the Marsh -- Snippets from a Neglected Trailcam


Check out a new video that we just posted to our YouTube channel -- we just made updates to make it more publically available


When I first contemplated how to begin this blog project over two years ago, one of my first challenges was to come up with a fitting name. Moment in the Marsh came to me pretty quickly actually because I wanted something that would communicate my most fundamental goal -- giving any and all readers the chance to be transported from wherever they viewed their screen to give them a sense, even for a moment, for what it would be like to be in the field that day.

A somewhat rare glimpse of a coyote during full daylight, blurred by hasty
movement across the camera's view (click to enlarge)
My writing offers some additional opportunity to inform readers with context. The written word provides a venue to communicate challenges and lessons learned and/or simply allows me to journal (something I hope I can look back on years from now to appreciate even more). But it became pretty clear pretty fast that what readers really want to see -- understandably -- are the photographs. Short of being there in person, they really are indispensable as a means to communicate current conditions. Plus, they just convey life in their own unique way, especially when plants and animals are involved.

That's what makes this post so fun. Late last week, I came across a trail camera in our West Marsh that had a memory card that hadn't been fully downloaded in a while -- as it turns out, a long while. The files that I accessed this past fall where in one folder, but there was another folder with a mysterious name. When I clicked it open a couple days ago, I discovered that it had several THOUSAND images from the same vantage point, dating from just before Christmas 2017 through late May 2018. That's several thousand moments; and they all help tell a story.

One of my favorites of a doe in early spring light;
note that she's not alone
(click to enlarge)
A snapshot of nearly every day was photo-documented over this ~five month season. Not surprisingly, many of the stills are simply shots of passing deer, solitary birds flitting past, or grasses blowing in the wind. In all, the list of mammals included not just whitetails, but coyotes, red fox, raccoons, opossums, mink, squirrels, mice, and even a feral cat. Bird species included cardinals, blue jays, red-bellied woodpeckers, song sparrows, marsh sparrows, red-winged blackbirds, grackles, catbirds, and yellow-rumped warblers. The cattails, reed canary grass, dogwoods, and lesser-dominant plant species transitioned from snow-covered and dormant to lush and green.

None on this list is particularly noteworthy. Most sightings are actually fairly common. The collage above was assembled for a different reason: I was drawn by the tremendous diversity of visible life that was attracted to one solitary downed limb (toppled by wind and then cut by chainsaw). Starting with a common fox squirrel, I counted twelve species of birds and mammals perched on this woody lookout over just five months. In fact, I counted a fox squirrel -- maybe the same fox squirrel -- on 46 days out of roughly 150. Seems this little critter likes the view at Standing Rush as much as I do.

Even by early July, the familiar vantage point looks pretty markedly different than it did back in December (or any time in
the winter or spring, for that matter); the max temp (in the direct sunlight) is also a pretty sharp contrast from the lowest
recorded temp on this camera series (-12 degrees F) on a snappy overnight in late January


Wednesday, May 1, 2019

Success! 205 Acres of Coastal Habitat Protected -- Forever

This aerial overview depicts major expanses of the ~205 acres now permanently protected at Standing Rush
thanks to the USDA/NRCS' Wetland Reserve Easement (WRE) program; the area directly below the drone totals 
almost exactly 100 acres and is completely protected -- the largely open water expanse just above the center
of the image (above the narrow tree line) is ~75 acres in size and is also fully included in the protection

Late yesterday afternoon, it became official: just over 205 acres (or roughly 155 football fields) -- virtually all of our "East Marsh" and its watery connection to Sandusky Bay -- is now permanently protected wetland habitat through formal acceptance and completed enrollment into the U.S. Department of Agriculture's Wetland Reserve Easement (WRE) program. This is a very significant step, a crucial part of the most foundational "pillar" of our project mission: long-term habitat protection and conservation.

While this herculean effort (which started way back in December 2015) culminated in a real estate closing, this is not a land sale. Standing Rush still owns the property; it remains privately held. And we can essentially continue to do most all of the things that we originally set out to do to carry out the mission of our broader project.

However, under this critically important arrangement, we -- or any other individual or entity that owns the easement area moving forward [forever] -- are bound by a perpetual pact with the United States government, specifically the Natural Resource Conservation Service (NRCS, which is managed through the USDA). This legal agreement, known as a conservation easement, essentially forfeits most traditional development rights. So we didn't sell the property, we just sold the legal right to do many of the things that our societal structures traditionally grant us, as landowners, the right to do.


Another vantage point showing habitat now permanently protected by WRE; special thanks to everyone at NRCS
and all the affiliated agencies and collaborators who helped make this day possible -- now we are on to finding
ways to protect the rest of Standing Rush!

By entering into this conservation easement, we forfeit our right to do things like build structures within the easement area, grow cash crops, harvest timber, etc. in exchange for a one-time monetary payment and the promise that our federal government will serve as watch-dog and protector of this unique habitat . . . forever. We also enter into what is called a "compatible use agreement" with the NRCS. It is tied to a living land management plan, so that again, we can continue to advance the stability and ecological function of the property within the confines of the broader easement. We will continue to focus on restoration opportunities within the easement area. Historical recreational uses (e.g., hunting, trapping, fishing, birding, wildlife viewing, etc.) are considered "compatible uses" as long as they are carried out legally and responsibly.

So in many ways, this is an ideal situation for all involved. Standing Rush gets the benefit of a financial infusion to help off-set significant carrying costs and management expenses and is provided the assurance that no matter who owns the property in the future, the natural resources will be protected. The U.S. government secures and protects the diverse and crucially important functions and values of critically scarce wetland habitat at a fraction of the price of buying the property outright, and the legal owners of the property continue to be responsible for its care and maintenance. And the general public gets the broad benefit that the government has secured (e.g., improved water quality, ground water recharge, flood protection, wildlife diversity, etc., etc.), and in some cases, still has access to the protected property.

Permanently Protected

As a bit of an aside, the future of public access on Standing Rush property remains a bit of an unknown -- or at least a to-be-determined. As of now, we plan to continue as we have, inviting targeted groups and individuals on-site to witness and experience the wonder of the coastal wetland environment and to continue to research and learn from every square inch of this incredible natural resource that we have left.


Tuesday, April 30, 2019

Standing Rush Custom Graphic T-Shirts Now In-Stock -- Buy and Win!

Come springtime, you gotta look your best . . . just ask this drake Ruddy duck that Roy caught preening

After several months of preparation and design, we are thrilled to finally be holding physical inventory of our very own custom-screened Standing Rush graphic t-shirts. Thanks to nearly 50 pre-orders, we took the plunge and put a full run into production last week. I am proud to say that all the artwork and printing is local. The shirts are incredibly soft, and yet from our experience, they are also extremely durable. Plus, all four colors are super cool!

One of four sleeve designs we affectionately
refer to as our "sleeve critters" --
this one, the charismatic marsh wren
The goal here was to create an introductory line of shirts that is unlike anything else out there. The underlying message in what we hope to be inaugural designs -- "Stand for Clean Water," "Stand for Critical Habitat," "Stand for Wetland Wildlife," and "Stand for Lake Erie" -- is that we have something pretty special in our Great Lake. We want to build awareness and pride for Lake Erie . . . and for all the incredible resources that are associated with it. What better way than to (quite literally) where that message on your sleeve?

Please note that absolutely all proceeds from all of our "Marsh Merch" will get plowed directly right back into on-the-ground restoration at Standing Rush. By purchasing merchandise from our Marsh Mercantile at standingrushshop.org, you can rest well knowing you are Standing for Something Great!

P.S. Please be sure to check out a new contest that we are kicking off to celebrate these cool, new shirts. Details are now posted HERE. 

If you buy -- or already bought -- one (or even a decal from the Marsh Mercantile), you can be entered to win your very own, private sunset tour of Standing Rush! Think Mother's Day, Father's Day, birthdays, anniversaries, or even make it a gift to yourself. Each purchase helps spread the word and in so doing helps to allow us to continue to do our work. As always, thank you for the interest and the support.


Monday, April 29, 2019

1,200 More Reasons to be Excited About Restoration & Scientific Research

Nate Stott of BGSU and Laura Kubiak of TPS prep to release bags of ~300 early fingerling northern pike into a 1,200-gal
aquaculture tank that was generously donated to Toledo Public Schools and Laura's lab by Castalia Trout Club;
Standing Rush facilitated a site visit to tour the Club's hatchery and rearing house last fall so students could better
appreciate the operation and where their new aquaculture system was coming from

Call it foreshadowing, but the cover article of the most recent Ohio Outdoor News that Standing Rush was featured in (see below) was entitled "Spring Prime Time for Pike" -- we couldn't agree more. That's why we are once again teaming with Toledo Public Schools NSTC (Natural Science Technology Center), the ODNR Division of Wildlife, and the NJDEP Division of Fish & Wildlife to raise fingerling northern pike for release into the marsh.

One of ~1,200 four-week-old northern pike hatched in
Hackettstown, NJ and delivered to TPS'
Natural Science Technology Center last Thursday
You can read all about last year's inaugural efforts by visiting historical posts. While last spring was a resounding success in its own right, we felt compelled to make a few noteworthy modifications to this year's methodology. The first, and the most significant, is the addition of another foundational partner: Bowling Green State University's Department of Biological Sciences.

As it so happens, BGSU's fisheries lab (which I was a participant in 20 years ago) has a graduate student by the name of Nate Stott who happens to be concentrating his research on the reproduction and early stage development of northern pike in the Western Basin of Lake Erie. He is through his Master's but as we've gotten to know each other more, we've mutually determined that it makes sense to utilize Standing Rush for his doctoral research over the next two to three years.

A related modification from last year is that Nate plans to tag each individual pike (a process that does not harm the fish in any way) in the hope that a subset can be recaptured in the marsh after they are released into the wild. This will both further Nate's research and give us a better understanding of broader fish usage (beyond this single species) on the property. All involved are excited about what can be learned from these future field efforts. (I plan to elaborate on Nate's research in a future post.)

A final key modification from last year is the quantity of fish we plan to raise for release. In 2018, we started with ~225 individuals with a goal of releasing at least 100 advanced fingerlings (5-6" in length). In 2019, we are starting with more like 1,200 individuals with a lofty goal of releasing as close to 1,000 fish as possible. Not only are we starting with significantly MORE fish as compared to last year, we are also starting with significantly SMALLER fish . . . ~2" on average as opposed to ~4" on average. (Much of this size disparity has to do with a delayed spring in New Jersey this past February/March.) The goal will again be to "grow" these tiny predatory fish as much as possible between now and late May/early June -- getting them to eat as much as possible without eating each other! This year, both Nate and I will be interacting closely with the high school students. The idea is to have them take ownership in the project so that it really means something to them when they see the fish released into the wild.

An overview of the young northern pikes' new home -- at least for the next month or so -- at TPS' NSTC lab/classroom

Approximately 300 fingerling northern pike being moved from their transport cooler
(where they spent about 10 hours in the bed of a truck); aeration kept the small fish
healthy until they could be acclimated and released into their new home in TPS' lab



Completion of a critical first step -- the last of the newly arrived northern pike are added to their new surroundings at TPS


Friday, April 26, 2019

If You Build It, They Will Come (Ohio Outdoor News)

Look what appeared on the center spread of the most recent edition of Ohio Outdoor News -- special thanks to editor Mike Moore and his talented
staff for taking the time to help tell our story; I've been a subscriber since they started the paper (13 years ago now, I think), and I firmly
believe in what they are doing to help encourage responsible outdoor recreation

P.S. Truth be told, that great photo of Roy was taken by my good friend Art Weber -- sorry to miss the credit, Art!

Wednesday, April 24, 2019

Two Hours of Walking

Even though mink are a relatively common sight at the marsh,
seeing them through a camera, in focus (without Phrag right
in their face) has proven to be another humbling pursuit
Temperatures climbed well beyond the forecasted high yesterday afternoon (probably approaching 70 degrees), but unfortunately, so did the wind velocity (sustained 25+ mph out of the west with gusts probably well over 40). I scrapped plans for an inaugural paddle in new kayaks (more on that to come) and decided to scout for drain tiles to better understand runoff coming from the farm fields to our south. This audible offered the opportunity to carry the camera for a couple hours.

After clicking a few landscape shots for future reference, I got my first chance at wildlife images as one of the parent bald eagles from one of our nests made its presence known. Its shrill call was enough to get my attention -- even over the howling wind -- so I knew it was close. I spent 15 minutes chasing it in the air with the camera, a humbling experience for sure. It then maneuvered itself through bud-laden cottonwood branches before perching back on its two-year-old nest.

The unrelenting wind constantly tested the huge bird's balance. The feathers on its head and back pulsed "against the grain" every time the wind surged, making him look a little like my boys when they get out of the bed in the morning. While I was 50 yards or more away from the base of the tree, he (or she? -- hard to tell without a mate for comparison) seemed unaffected by my presence. But the shot below was the only time the bird presented its head for a photo. (I could have taken dozens of images of its posterior, however.) This again got me thinking about how everything has to work out just right for photography of wildlife to work out.

The eagle certainly had an easier time balancing itself than I did the camera in 25-40 mph winds

Three decent shots among three dozen bad ones -- gotta love digital technology; most of my images were out of focus,
very poorly framed, or both (click to enlarge)

My not-too-unusual finished product when attempting to take close-up photos of eagles (or any bird) in flight;
yesterday's wind actually helped because my subject tended to hold steady in one place longer than is typical
(not that you'd know it from this shot) . . . I just need to get a better monopod to help steady the camera


Bonaparte's Gull on the bayfront, taking on the black cap that is characteristic of spring breeding

Palm Warbler -- again in spring breeding plumage -- in a tangle of dogwood
One of dozens of Red Admiral butterflies that I witnessed either sipping early nectar or probing for minerals
(as this one is) in moist spring soil
I purposefully focused this shot on this Garter Snake's midsection; a recent meal made
for the easiest subject of the day -- dark soil, warming sunshine, and serious digestion
kept this typically slithery subject essentially motionless and clearly content

Monday, April 22, 2019

A Global Perspective

Somehow, Earth Day always makes me think of our little "blue marble" from the outside looking in --
how can something so vast and diverse from ground-level look so small and fragile? In the grand scheme, it is
(image provided by the SeaWiFS Project, NASA / Goddard Space Flight Center and ORBIMAGE)

As Earth Day approaches its 50th birthday (49 years today), a good number of people look at the modern environmental movement and think "it's a treehugger thing," or it is one day out of each 365 to "think green." Fore mainstream America, my fear is that it has become a day to contribute a few dollars to a tree planting or to peruse plans for building a bird box; to dust off the bike for a single day's commute or to opt for paper, not plastic.

None of these, of course, bad things . . . but are they enough?

The marshes that surround Bay View on Sandusky Bay
(located more or less at the red arrow) looking east,
as photographed from 204 miles above the earth
20 years ago this May
(photo made available by NASA)
Even the very word "environment" -- and perhaps even more "environmental" -- now carry certain baggage. Like so many things, they have become polarized and politicized.

So for many, expressing strong support for an environmental cause -- much less the ultimate environmental cause (the well-being of the planet) -- is just too risky. There are just too many strings attached.

But my simple hope is that these words, like Earth Day itself, can continue to evolve to elicit an open-minded, introspective, and lasting response not just from Americans but from the entire planet's population. The premise has almost become cliche, but ultimately we really do only get one chance (fortunately spread over many generations) to take care of our surroundings. And whether our immediate surroundings are the deck of a high-rise in one of our biggest cities, a suburban lawn, or an expansive rural homestead, all of us make decisions that impact everyone else.


Standing Rush is just one tiny pin point on an immensely rich and diverse global tapestry. But it's our hope that our efforts can help inspire others to "think big" and, at the same time, take the time to steward their own special, little corner of the planet. When you step back and take a fresh look, it is one magnificent place.


Wednesday, April 10, 2019

'There Must Be 1,000 Frogs and Toads Out There'

Camouflage is the name of the game if you are going to congregate in huge numbers and get noisy

Yesterday afternoon, as I took a breath from dragging downed tree limbs off one of the dikes on a remote corner of the West Marsh, I couldn't help but find myself looking for the source of a chorus of amphibian love songs. The sun was bright, the mercury was climbing, and love was most certainly in the air.

A second perspective on the long frog I could identify visually
-- a solitary Northern Leopard Frog
I grew up pursuing "pond frogs" -- mainly bullfrogs and green frogs (with the occasional leopard thrown in to really amp up the excitement) -- with reckless abandon. Much like my oldest son now, I love them and always have. And while I'm certainly not an expert, particularly in identifying Ohio's frogs and toads by call, I have to admit that I've become pretty adept at picking their earth-tone form out of a watery cattail or bulrush lineup.

That's what made yesterday's experience so awe-inspiring. What started as a casual gaze into shallow water eventually evolved into a 45-minute dedicated sit with the camera. I recall thinking to myself, "it sounds like there must be 1,000 frogs and toads out there," just based on the peeps and croaks vying for very species-specific attention within my earshot. As I've experienced many times before, the sounds were seemingly coming from everywhere, but when I focused on a specific area to try to identify the musicians, I was hard-pressed to find even a single source.

Finally, I was able to make out the telltale, bulging-eyed silhouette of a solitary leopard frog who, like its counterparts, lay nearly motionless just twenty feet away. I stress nearly motionless because the only way I spotted it among last year's downed cattails and this year's emerging reed canary grass is that it couldn't help itself from flinching a time or two as tiny midges bumped clumsily over the warming water's surface. One flinch caught my attention and a second flinch (pictured above) was caught on camera.

The whole experience felt significant for a variety of reasons. (1) Hearing and seeing frogs and toads this time of year is a ritualistic symbol of the passage of time; it's spring once again. (2) Taking the time to slow down for just an hour or so paid dividends in getting to witness this frog just being a frog; I don't think he (or she?) had any idea of my presence. (3) True wildlife photography is tough. I certainly don't claim to be much beyond an amateur with a decent camera, but the effort it took to get a common photo of a common frog makes me appreciate that much more what the truly talented do "to get the shot." Wildlife doesn't commit to an agreed upon time or location for a photo shoot. The photographer has to work hard, be informed, be patient, and -- as the best one's will tell you -- get lucky.

(One final note: the 'there must be 1,000 frogs and toads' thought from yesterday proved to be prophetic in a way. I just checked our statistics for the blog, something I do in detail about once a month now, and we have just surpassed 1,000 email subscribers -- 1,028 to be exact. In just over two years of posting, we have attracted more than one thousand people who want to read about our adventures on a day-to-day basis. I am humbled and excited by that interest. It's my hope that we can keep building the curiosity and enthusiasm for these incredible corners of our earth. As a final postscript, if you are not a subscriber and/or if you want to invite a friend, simply enter a valid email address into the "Follow by Email" box on the right navigation bar and click "Submit" -- it's as simple as that!)


Friday, April 5, 2019

Another Reason to Smile: A Blanding's Turtle Research Collaboration Opportunity

The Blanding's Turtle may be happy to be getting the attention, but the truth is, research that Standing Rush
will get to participate in will add knowledge about the status of many of Ohio's turtle varieties
(photo credit: www.blandingsturtle.org)

Not sure who's more excited: me, my eldest son, or the turtles? Let me back up . . . I've had several correspondences (by email and by phone) this week with a long-time friend by the name of Greg Lipps. Greg and I met about 20 years ago now because of a shared passion in the preservation of northwest Ohio's very own Oak Openings region -- not just a really cool Metropark, but a truly globally distinct ecosystem.

My eldest son, a turtle lover,
proudly displaying
an Eastern Box Turtle
Greg is one of the most passionate ecologists who I know. His deepest love is for reptiles and amphibians, but it's not difficult to get him bouncing on his toes about a whole host of things that creep, crawl, or go bump in the night. His previous hat was a zookeeper in the department of herpetology at the highly venerated Toledo Zoo. But new opportunities landed him at the Ohio State University about five years ago now -- just about the time we were getting underway at Standing Rush.

We've been talking periodically ever since about opportunities to collaborate, and we now seem to have found our chance. Greg is not just a bundle of enthusiasm, he is also highly adept at building a team and executing on a vision. To that end, he has helped assemble not just the talent (via The Toledo Zoo, Ohio State, Indiana Purdue University Ft. Wayne, Ohio Division of Wildlife, and the Michigan Department of Natural Resources), but the funding (through a multi-state competitive State Wildlife Grant from the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service), and a network of landowners (private and public) willing to provide access to some of the most pristine and suitable habitats to conduct his important research. Standing Rush is flattered to be among those being asked to participate as a monitoring site.

As the research summary flier below can best communicate, the target species in this research is the Blanding's Turtle, a "semi-aquatic" herp that is commonly identified by its broadly arching, high-domed shell, yellow throat and chin, and "permagrin" . . . as I like to call it. This almost cartoonish character takes center stage because (a) targeted historical research on its ecology has been spotty, at best, and (2) because there is growing consensus that its populations are precarious and at risk of further decline -- possibly to the point of extinction. One driving force in Greg's research is to help provide regional data that can be interpreted in the context of somewhat similar work that has been conducted in New England. The outcome being to determine what protections, if any, might be best recommended for the species.

Monitoring, including both passive spotting and very intensive catch-and-release trapping and tagging, will take place over two discrete, one-week periods -- likely in May and June. Considering my son received two turtle traps for Christmas, something tells me he'll be there with mud boots ready and clipboard in hand!


Click to enlarge


Monday, April 1, 2019

Be Prepared for the Unexpected and Enjoy the Ride -- Ed Moxley

Ed Moxley
2/2/47 - 3/22/19
Another dear friend and local champion of wetland conservation passed -- almost fittingly -- while I was on my recent adventure to Manitoba (ice fishing). Ed Moxley was not only proud of his northern Ohio roots, he was also more than happy to pursue his #1 passion (duck hunting) both near and far-afield.

For more than six decades, Ed pursued ducks and geese across the U.S. and Canada, in Mexico, Argentina, Colombia, and even Botswana -- just to name the regions he specifically spoke of to me. To say he was avid would be a woeful understatement. Ed beamed over ducks. And, especially over recent decades, he tirelessly advocated for their well-being and conservation.

How could someone who prided himself in being such a student of the sport (the sport of harvesting birds) love these animals, arguably to the point of an obsession? Ducks and duck hunting were not just a past-time to Ed, they were a way of life.

For more than four decades, Ed and his family owned and operated Moxley's Marsh, immediately to the east of Standing Rush. Ed lived and breathed his quiet corner of Sandusky Bay. He knew where the birds would be and when they would be there. He knew where they would fly and where to be to be in best position for the shot -- either with a shotgun, with a video camera, or with both. Sometimes "marsh management" took the form of single-elimination varmint control, as Ed crept along familiar two-tracks craftily wielding his .22 -- he was a dead-eye to put it mildly.

Ed and Roy initiated a long and lasting friendship -- and mutual respect -- back in the 1970s when Roy was formulating his duck nesting studies as a Master's student. Ed not only supported the work in principle, he offered his family's marsh as the epicenter for the research. I caught up with Ed a couple decades later, when he and his long-time shooting partner Dave Brunkhorst invited me out to test a product I was developing that held potential in remedying holes caused by problematic muskrats and groundhogs (at least those that somehow eluded Ed's crosshairs).

Six shots = six ducks for Ed
(photo from A Waterfowler's Scrapbook II, by Edward J. Moxley)
Roy and I have recently reminisced about how we were both instantly drawn to Ed's infectious enthusiasm and broad smile. We have fond memories of Ed's proclivity to scout for our vehicles, so he could catch up with us in the marsh to "chew the fat." Whether it was duck behavior, the controversies surrounding land conversion, or the next invasive species, Ed was always game to talk shop.

I'll have at least two lasting memories regarding Ed Moxley (and Dave Brunkhorst). The first is that if I was ever in a blind across the marsh from those two seasoned veterans and heard a quick volley of six shots, I knew they were already half-way to a two-man limit. These guys were "wetland assassins," and took modest pride in the fact that they dispatched their pursuits efficiently and humanely -- leaving time to sip coffee, watch the steam rise from the marsh, swap war stories, and then watch ensuing pods of birds land warily into shooting holes before the hunters called it a day.

Beyond Ed's marksmanship, I'll also never forget a bit of unsolicited advice he offered just a few weeks after I closed on the transaction to buy Standing Rush. He (and Dave) were visibly excited about Roy and me as new neighbors. The early spring air outside and the concrete on the floor of their makeshift duck shack were both cold and raw, but the radiator heat and the conversation in the room were both warm and inviting. "Marsh management is a marathon, Eric, not a sprint. Some people will think you're nuts. But it's magical. Be prepared for the unexpected, and enjoy the ride."

Thank you, Ed, for your optimism, your enthusiasm, your friendship, your wisdom, and your loyalty to conservation. You, like your longtime buddy in the blind, will be sorely missed.

Thanks, Ed Moxley, for helping to keep me from wading too long in the "Dark swamp of despair"
when this whole project seems too big, too crazy, too unorthodox
(click to enlarge)


Wednesday, March 20, 2019

A Ribbon of Limestone (From the Sky)

Newly placed limestone reinforces the main exterior dike (center) protecting the main West Marsh (left)
from the open bay (right) 
To close the loop on our most recent improvement project -- and to provide another perspective on the impact of historically high water on Lake Erie and Sandusky Bay -- I decided to get the drone in the air. [Call me a fair-weather pilot, but conditions were about perfect yesterday for a late morning flight in March!]

The image above does a nice job depicting the breadth of our recent stone work -- a little over 1,200 linear feet in all. And if you click on the image to enlarge you can also see how sustained high water and freeze/thaw cycles on the bay accelerated the erosion of the "barrier island" that (until very recently) seemed to provide real protection for the exterior dike. Ice came off the main bay just a few days ago -- probably once and for all for this season -- but the damage to the trees and shrubs that have been growing on the outer fringes for more than 25 years had already been done. Thank goodness we got that stone in place. The next few months of high water, which typically peak in early summer, are going to be interesting . . .

Modest waves are still relentless against what's left of our barrier island; the day the ice finally receded,
we could see that the damage had been done

Upturned root masses will not last long against high water and spring wave action; this portion of the barrier island would
have been two to three feet out of the water as recently as 2015 -- water levels are cyclical (and at times destructive)
on Lake Erie and the rest of the Great Lakes