Wednesday, December 4, 2019

West Marsh Structure 2: Update #5 -- Almost Operational!

Structure 2, looking essentially "downstream" (north);
note the aluminum stoplogs (center/bottom) topped with
a carp/debris screen -- the gate (painted orange), guardrail,
and newly poured concrete crossing in the background
Steely-gray late autumn days have made for some tough conditions for photography -- not to mention for earthwork -- in the marsh as of late. But progress has most certainly continued at Structure 2 in spite of the unseasonably cool (sometimes downright cold) weather and a Thanksgiving holiday.

We're into those muddy months, it feels like a bit earlier than usual. We have had a decent number of mornings with solid ground frost, and at one point even went four consecutive days without getting above freezing.

So there have been some decent days for the contractor . .. . at least from an access perspective. But if you are not cold from the damp chill blowing off the bay, you are carrying two pounds of heavy mud on each boot from the periodic rains we have been getting. Everyone is getting antsy to officially put the 2019 construction/management season in the books. It's getting to be that time.

But we have a few to-dos left on the list before we can wrap up our second major GLRI-funded project, at for this calendar year. The "guts" of the new structure have now been installed. Steel and concrete are all in place.

We just have to oversee the removal of the earthen cofferdams so that we can let water pass through the new connection for the first time. Some grading and stonework should put us in good shape to address finishing touches (e.g., final grading, seeding, collateral damage repairs, etc.) next spring/early summer.

The "guts" of Structure 2 from above; flows will typically be from right to left
(over stoplogs and through a 36" screw gate); horizontal grating is to facilitate access for maintenance

The third week of November brought a much needed window of dry cold that allowed us to pour the crossing;
image above taken one day before the arrival of the concrete truck

The pour in action

Finished pour (facing south) just prior to installation of screw gate and stoplogs

Friday, November 15, 2019

West Marsh Structure 2: Update #4 -- Concrete Floor in Place

Structure 2, featuring a completed cap (and dry ground -- a rare occurrence over the last month) 

While progress has been steady on Structure 2, our new connection between the two major management units on our West Marsh, much of the last month hasn't been terribly photogenic. That's partly due to where we are in the construction process (several tedious steps that do not translate to big visual advances), and partly due to more than our fair share of cold, wet weather -- at least for early to mid-November.

Rebar in place on the bottom of the new structure
just prior to the arrival of concrete
The fabrication and placement of the rebar reinforcement structure that will serve as the backbone to the floor of the flume is case and point. Layout, wire wrapping, and welding are each methodical and inherently slow. But the devil's in these details in terms of long-term durability and structure longevity.

The guys were really got a workout slopping through the shin-high muck as they welded all the metal sheer studs and rebar lattice underlayment into place. Rainy days during the last week of October coupled with sensitivity for the start of the latter half of duck season (which officially opened on November 9th) presented an anticipated challenge in terms of finding the right window for the next major step in this process: the concrete pour for the structure's floor.

We really wanted to "rest" the marsh the last couple days before hunting resumed (meaning keep the construction crew -- and everyone else -- out of the marsh to allow the birds to acclimate and find regular refuge). We fortunately got the right weather window, and the pour went off without a hitch last Tuesday.

Slow and steady proved to be the name of the game when it came to prepping for the first of two concrete pours;
the structure's floor was poured last week and the bridge crossing is set for next week

Mixer truck in position to feed the concrete hopper

The concrete hopper being loaded prior to positioning within the structure's flume

Positioning of the concrete hopper once loaded

Field testing of wet concrete prior to placement

Once the wet concrete was roughly placed in the flume via the concrete hopper, it was floated and continuously shot
to confirm the targeted finish elevation

A finished view down the ~40' x 4.5' flume as the fresh concrete continues to cure

Fall turned to winter early this week when rain quickly transitioned to snow and overnight temperatures plummeted into the single digits. Afternoon highs barely got above freezing this week, insulated by the first accumulating snow (3-4") of the season. The marsh completely froze by Tuesday and we may have as much as 2-3" of ice cover in spots as of today.

That said progress continued at the project site this week. The guts of the structure (screw gate, aluminum stop logs, carp screen, etc.) have been delivered on site. Good headway was made on the fabrication to receive all these components, and if all goes well (and weather cooperates), the concrete crossing will be poured next week. If the marsh gods shine favorably down upon us, we could be operational by Thanksgiving. Call me a skeptic, but based on recent weather trends, I'm betting on early to mid-December. We'll see.

Tuesday, October 29, 2019

A Lesson in Geology: Soil Sampling at Standing Rush

Soil color chart in hand, science in action at Standing Rush -- today marked the first time in our tenure
that formal soil science was conducted on the property

Early this week, I received a phone call from ODNR's Office of Coastal Management asking if Standing Rush would be willing to participate in an evolving project that will be conducted in collaboration with the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers (USACE) in Vicksburg, Mississippi. As it turns out, discussions had been underway for some time, and the window of opportunity had arisen to host two research scientists from the Corps' ERDC Environmental Laboratory -- one a soil scientist and the other a wetland ecologist -- to do sampling throughout northwest Ohio this week.

A core being collected from a vegetated
region of our Rest Pond (West Marsh)
Both arrived in Ohio last night and I accompanied them into the marsh first thing this morning. While we will be learning more about this collaboration as it evolves, the basic premise seems to hinge on a better understanding of baseline concentrations of fundamental nutrients (primarily phosphorus and nitrogen derivatives) and several elemental trace metals with the goal of developing a predictive model as to how much "capacity" wetland soils/sediments can house and ultimately prevent from entering into adjacent waterways -- particularly (in our case) Lake Erie.

So said more simply, if we know how much "bad stuff" is in the soil around and under the water of the marsh today, we may be able to better predict how much more "bad stuff" it can "absorb" (again, keeping it in layman's terms) before excess nutrients just bypass the system and enter the lake. Obviously, there are a lot of complicating factors -- e.g., one big one: what plants might be living in those soils and at what densities -- but this is the heart of the research. If a basic premise is that wetlands serve as kidneys ("filtering out" what we don't want to end up in the lake), it makes sense to build confirmation of this capability quantitatively.

The sample tube being analyzed just after extraction
As with about every aspect of the marsh -- or any wetland, for that matter -- there is a lot more going on below the surface than meets the eye. The field crew was efficient, energetic and enthusiastic in their approach and within minutes of sharing a boat, I was learning. [I actually assisted with sediment sampling early in my career when I worked for a civil engineering firm, but the motivations for those sampling efforts were quite different from today's.)

I had to smile as my guests scrambled across the deck of the jon boat to take measurements, record data, and even capture pictures. Because Standing Rush hosts some pretty unique geology, their sampling produced some pretty "funky" cores (contents of each clear tube pushed into the bottom substrate to allow for sample collection). I was reminded of fishermen at a landing net each time the sample tube was extracted -- eyes would light up in anticipation and then broad smiles would emerge each time the contents became visible above the water. "Clean" marl (almost snow-white and often seemingly free of imperfections), waxy clays in blues and grays, and discrete layering of mineralogy and organics were the highlights of the day. Such diversity is a hallmark of lake front property where deposition is directly impacted by varying water levels, wind, and wave energy. Change is the only constant through time.

Bright marl sandwiched between layers of
organic deposition (dark brown) and mineral-rich
clays (grays on top and bottom of core)
Our guests appreciated the crisp, dry fall air and autumn colors -- as well as the unique and varied composition of the substrates in our marsh. With LOTS of rain in the forecast for the balance of the week, I hope they can keep their positive momentum going. Tomorrow they head to Ottawa National Wildlife Refuge and Maumee Bay State Park. They will then turn their attention upstream -- sampling soils in the headwaters of some of the Western Basin's largest tributaries. Makes sense: when working to understand nutrient transport into Lake Erie, one can't limit the discovery to the lake shore . . . best to include the farm fields themselves as well.

NOTE: It is a complete oversight that after more than 18 months of journal entries about Standing Rush, I have yet to write about marl and the importance this strange calcium-rich "mud" has played on the history of the property. I promise to circle back and tell the tale of the Sandusky Portland Cement Company and Medusa Cement very soon. As we have come to understand it, if these industrial endeavors of the late 1800s and early 1900s would not have discovered rich deposits of these chalky-white deposits between what is now Standing Rush and Cleveland, our marsh may have been lost to other uses a long time ago. Again, more on this interesting history lesson soon.

Monday, October 21, 2019

Oh, What a Night -- Sharing a Blind with the Kids

Nothing like a duck blind selfie!

Two happy spotters
Conditions were just too ideal not to get out in the marsh last night. Truthfully, it was even more ideal for the hunters than it was for the birds. Temps were in the low 50s, the sun was shining bright, and the colors were rich and vibrant in the marsh -- plus, our guys don't have school today, so a little later Sunday night was no problem.

This was literally just my second time out (regretfully) thus far this season. Not a single outing during teal season. Life has just been TOO CRAZY.

The good news: The kids and I enjoyed birds in the air more or less all night, and there definitely seemed to be a shift to more mallards flying than woodies (as compared to a week ago). Ducks are using the marsh. We always had something to watch, be it waterfowl, heron, eagle, or "Tweety bird" (anything that isn't a duck when we are duck hunting).

The bad news (at least from a hunting perspective): Very few individuals or groups responded to my calls or really decoyed in the slightest. I took one shot at a big greenhead that came in from directly behind us. One of those shots where you find yourself laughing as you pull the trigger because you know you don't have a snowball's chance. But man, was it a nice way to spend an evening. Lots of smiles, lots of laughs, tons of fun. Need to find more time for nights like last night. So blessed.

A decoy round-up is always a great way to wrap up a great evening in the marsh

Friday, October 11, 2019

West Marsh Structure 2: Update #3 (& Duck Opener!)

Woodies should be part of mixed bags this
coming weekend
The only day without progress on the job site this past week was on Friday (today) -- the eve of this year's duck opener. We asked that the guys move the construction trailer and relocate the larger equipment in preparation for what we hope will be a fun weekend for our hunters.

So Friday was all quiet in the marsh -- at least from a construction standpoint. But as the photos below will show, the crew made hay in nice weather Monday - Thursday and got a lot of welding accomplished. We'll have to feel our way through the next couple weeks (first split of the waterfowl season closes October 27th), and then hopefully the weather will cooperate to really push toward completion during the break (which runs October 28 - November 8th this year).

Our lease groups recognize that restoration activities have to be priority number one, especially while pressures from high lake levels are so acute. But we still want to do all that we can to encourage waterfowl activity and successful hunting. As I've written about several times before, responsible hunting is just too much a part of this amazing place's heritage.

I stuck around past sunset one evening mid-week and saw a decent number of birds "working" the marsh -- preparing to settle in for a restful overnight. Our punters had some similarly encouraging reports. It is supposed to drop from the mid-70s (this afternoon) to the mid-30s (by sunrise tomorrow). We'll see how it goes!

Structure 2 at the end of the work day on Thursday

Cross braces and angle steel, mid-installation

Once plate steel is added to the top of this angle, the crew will move on to prep for the floor and dike crossing

Friday, October 4, 2019

West Marsh Structure 2: Update #2 -- And Then There Was Sheet Pile

The drone was literally in the air for under 60 seconds before the first large rain drops started to fall late Wednesday
afternoon -- but the very brief window of opportunity afforded the chance for a good overview perspective of progress

Despite a couple rain-out days over the last week and a half, the project site has transformed pretty significantly since the last update. Where there was just a hole in the ground (or more technically a long, deep trench) during the last few days of September, there is now a complete channel of sheet pile connecting the "Main West Marsh" to the south (left in the photo above) to the "Rest Pond" to the north (right above).

This juvenile Pied-billed Grebe offered
some distraction while I was photo-
documenting progress at the project site
Earthen cofferdams still hold water back from both sides. This will remain the case until construction is about complete. The next steps are to 1) add a steel "cap" (upper frame of welded plate metal) to the top profile of the sheet pile walls; (2) add horizontal bracing at the top of each wall; (3) prep the bottom of the channel for the concrete floor; (4) prep the top of the cap for the eventual crossing; and, (5) backfill around the outside of each wall to add stability and to further prepare for the two concrete pours (channel floor and crossing deck).

It's our hope that much of this work will happen over the next week or two. With opening weekend of the main duck season set for Saturday, October 12th, the goal is to have the heaviest lifting behind us. By getting the largest machinery off the dike, we should be able to minimize the disturbance to the immediate area and the marsh in general.

Temps are FINALLY starting to normalize. After days of recording-breaking heat to end September and begin October, I dusted off the winter coat for the first time this morning when I went to take the dog for her morning run. We see a pattern of 60s/40s setting up in the 7-10 day forecast with more dry than rain. This should help move ducks and also should continue to help move the project along.

The crew setting one of the last "sticks" of steel on the southwest corner of what will become Structure 2

Another perspective of the newly constructed connection between our West Marsh management units;
this ~5'-wide channel will be a big improvement over the 18" pipe that currently serves as our only conduit

I never got a clear image, but I spent a good half hour trying -- this striking female Common Yellowthroat was seemingly
curious to monitor progress at the project site as well; despite fresh raindrops and this little warbler never holding still for more than a second, I couldn't help but try to capture a clear view before she continues on her migration south

Wednesday, September 25, 2019

Here We Go Again -- Structure 2 Underway! (Update #1)

Site overview for Structure 2, looking west/southwest in Standing Rush's West Marsh;
40-acre Rest Pond in the foreground, 145-acre Main Marsh in middle, and Sandusky Bay in background

While equipment and building materials have been mobilizing on-site for going on three weeks now, our second new "water conveyance structure" (a.k.a. "Structure 2") is finally starting to look like something. "Structure 1" -- completed this past January -- connects Sandusky Bay to our West Marsh. The challenge is that it only provides ideal connectivity to the most adjacent management unit.

While we received the official green light on Structure 2 about a month ago,
the last few weeks have focused on mobilizing equipment and raw materials
(above: steel sheet piling being off-loaded from flatbed along highway)
When complete, Structure 2 will be an approximately 6' wide x 8' deep x 45' long steel and concrete, open-topped conduit (essentially, a simplified version of Structure 1) that will serve as connection between our 40-acre "Rest Pond" (adjacent to the bay) and the 145-acre "Main Marsh" on west side. As it stands today, any water exchange between these two units is limited to passage within 40-feet of 18-inch PVC pipe.

This immensely improved connection will encourage much broader access and use by a diverse population of fish species that benefit from moving in and out of the marsh. It will also allow us to convey much larger volumes of water across the entire site as we work to tie agricultural and surface water runoff (from the south) into the marsh.

Steel sheet piling lying in wait (Rest Pond to left; Main Marsh to right); Structure 2 will be built through this earthen
berm that was completely reconstructed by Standing Rush in 2016
With modest coffer dams in place and surveying complete, the trench within which Structure 2 will be built was cut
late last week (Rest Pond in background)
Temporary steel H-pile was placed last Friday as a guide
for the placement of the sheet-pile walls
(click here for a visual of  how it will eventually look)
Think improved water quality. Typical flows are south to north at the site, So Structure 2 will complete the structural infrastructure needed to "fully reconnect the kidneys." To complete the metaphor, as water from fields and ditches can be diverted into the upstream (south) end of the marsh, it can now gradually work its way downstream (north) through nearly 200-acres of wetland and near-shore estuary before entering the open bay. This significantly increased natural filtration area will provide dramatically  increased residence time, giving time for solids and particulates (which add to turbidity) an opportunity to settle out. Flow-through will also subject macronutrients like derivatives of both phosphorus and nitrogen (the biggest contributors to algae issues in the open bay and lake) to ideal conditions for uptake within the wetland footprint. Our mantra is we would rather "grow bigger cattails" than have those otherwise available fertilizers/nutrients bypass the marsh and enter directly into Lake Erie (to grow algae).

This project was originally conceived and proposed for funding in the spring of 2017. Funds were secured through GLRI (federal dollars) and ODNR (state dollars) for Structure 1 just over a year ago and construction took about five months (September - January). We kept at it over this past winter, resubmitted for Structure 2, and received confirmation this past spring of a second round of funding (utilizing the same awesome team of collaborators) that will allow us to complete Structure 2. Our goal -- especially consider this simplified design involves no pump, no electricity, and significantly fewer parts -- is to have this project buttoned up well before the snow flies. With temps continuing to bounce from the 50s or 60s at night into the 70s, 80s, and even the 90s, that seems a long ways away. But as we know too well, you can never count on the weather.

Monday, September 23, 2019

A Story that Needs to Be Told (and Retold) . . . to Initiate Action

Black-crowned Night Herons are fairly consistent inhabitants at several locations at Standing Rush; a couple have been lurking on an island of woody debris in the West Marsh lately, so I was somewhat prepared -- this individual posed
long enough late last Thursday afternoon for two images: this one and a second (better composed, but very blurry)

Last week (Thursday), an article just published in the journal Science spilled almost redundantly into the mainstream media. Unlike so many biological or environmental subjects which are so often relegated to subtle margins of second sections and/or carried only by "niche" publications, news coverage of this story seemed as sweeping as the original title was bold: Billions of North American birds have vanished.

Greater Yellowlegs in last Thursday's late afternoon sun 
In literally a minute of web searching, here are a handful of some of the largest outlets' respective renditions:

This list could (and does) go on . . . and on. If you haven't caught up with specifics of these findings, pick your poison. No matter the source, the numbers are same: an exhaustive study recently completed concludes that nearly 30% of the entire population of birds (all environments, across all species) have disappeared from the skies over North America in under five decades. That means that in my lifetime, where there would have been four birds -- say in 1975 -- there are now fewer than three (see my caption on the top photo from my most recent post below).

American Bittern -- camouflaging as brown
cattails -- stands in vertical attention in
Standing Rush sun 
I stumbled onto the abstract of the primary source to this media blitz on my phone last Thursday afternoon following a full day in the marsh (escorting surveyors as we gathered site-wide elevation data). I have to admit, it really took the wind out of my sails. I had already slipped off my stealtoes and changed into tennis shoes for the drive home, but I felt compelled to make one more lap around the West Marsh, specifically to seek out anything and everything I could find on the wing.

The images herein capture the diversity that I could gather (in focus) with my camera in one 45 minute shotgun tour on the MULE. I needed the reassurance of seeing some birds, but I also still needed to get home in time for dinner!

Here are the other birds that I witnessed, but did not photograph (with estimated quantities in parentheses): Brown-headed Cowbird (200); Red-winged Blackbird (150); Great Egret (20); Morning Dove (20); Mallard (20); Wood Duck (16); Great Blue Heron (10); Blue-winged Teal (7); Blue Jay (7); Double-crested Cormorant (6); Bald Eagle (5); Trumpeter Swan (5); Common Gallinule (5); American Coot (4); Black-crowned Night Heron (4); Killdeer (4); Greater Yellowlegs (3); Lesser Yellowlegs (2); Green Heron (2); Caspian Tern (2); American Bittern (1); Belted Kingfisher (1); Red-tailed Hawk (1); Marsh Wren (1).

Trumpeter Swans -- once completely eliminated from Ohio
-- are now a common site at Standing Rush
So, if my math is on-point, that breaks down to twenty-three species and approximately 496 individuals. I can never help but wonder what I didn't see on a quick pass like this. My routine when time is limited is to drive for 30 seconds and then sit for 10 minutes. I have a fairly trained eye, but I would not put myself in the "avid" category. Plus, my ear is really untrained (that is, I can't ID much by vocalization like the true birders can).

On one hand, this is a lot of birds. But dare to imagine if there were another 30% or even 50% more? -- even if not in terms of species diversity but in relative abundance?

Three BILLION birds lost?! That's a staggering number. That's more than 5-times the human population of all of North America. And based on the findings, it's not just the uncommon birds that are struggling. Or the birds that rely on forests. Or grasslands. Or big birds or small birds. This mass extraction of life is broad and sweeping and seems to have no prejudice.

Three (not four) Great Blue Herons keeping vigilant watch on muskrat hutches Thursday afternoon

From my perspective, the primary questions introduced through this scientific revelation should be: How do we, as individuals and as a society, respond to stressors on our planet and its resources? Do we resign ourselves to denial or maybe as dangerously to acceptance and complacency ('the world is just changing' . . . 'numbers naturally ebb and flow' . . . 'this is just part of the natural process')? Do we simply allow this to be a headline in a single day's news cycle? Or do we recognize that the power of positive change truly is in our hands?

This scientific research and the systematically vetted conclusions it draws provide an incredible opportunity -- or perhaps more accurately, billions and billions of opportunities to alter countless decisions made each day. Rather than discard these troubling trends as myth or slip into a state of despair, consider what individual steps we can take to collectively reverse a trend. (We have bald eagles and trumpeter swans as feathered success stories.) But ultimately, this story has to do with a lot more than birds.

Individual Decisions that Help Birds (Other Wildlife, and the Planet)
  • Make windows safer (consider decals or contrasting tape);
  • Keep cats indoors (free-range domestic felines account for an amazing amount of mortality);
  • Look for habitat improvement opportunities (literally) in your yard -- plant native plants;
  • Reduce -- or wherever feasible, eliminate -- chemicals on your yard;
  • Drink shade-grown coffee (helps protect critical forest habitat);
  • Introduce someone new to the magic of birds and birding -- especially kids;
  • Support local conservation initiatives taking place at the community level;
  • Reduce consumption and waste wherever and whenever feasible -- use less plastic;
  • Don't be overwhelmed that it all has to happen all at once -- every step in a positive direction is positive . . . simple steps can become habits;
  • Click here for a more exhaustive list, not only to help the birds but to generally be better stewards of our planet . . . as has been said, "There is no Plan B."

Friday, September 20, 2019

Plenty of Welcomed Visitors

Seeing these three trumpeter swans make themselves at home in our Rest Pond these last few days has been a treat; but after
reading of the most recent findings on the precipitous decline in bird numbers in North America over the last 50 years
(more on this in the next post), it was hard not to think: wouldn't this scene be that much better with a fourth swan?

This week was marked by plenty of visitors at the marsh. With the seasonal calendar poised to flip, some of our guests arrived on the wing as our march into autumn continues. But several discrete groups made their way to us by car, by truck, by van, or by bus.

Nothing like getting to play naturalist
interpreter with a whole group of
naturalist interpreters!
(photo courtesy of Toledo Metroparks)
Tuesday, I accompanied seven naturalists from Toledo Metroparks on a morning walking tour of the West Marsh. Cloud cover was low, but enthusiasm was high for this group of dedicated interpretive scientists. As much as we truly revel in the opportunity to introduce the marsh to those totally unfamiliar, it is also always fun for me to share our mission and our restoration efforts with a group that really understands and appreciates the complexities and the magic of what is happening around our project.

But this group was especially special in that it included both a grade school classmate and friend (whose visit was LONG overdue) and two individuals who served as mentors when I interned for Metroparks all the way back in high school. It's always fun to be with old friends and have the opportunity to meet new ones.

I'm often struck by how different the marsh experience is depending on how you see it (e.g., on foot, by punt boat, by kayak, by power boat, by MULE, by truck, by helicopter or plane, etc.). We walked on Tuesday, and I realized that I don't take the time to do that enough. Wildlife activity was modest (relatively speaking), but we did get decent looks at black-crowned night herons, northern harrier, and an eagle "pre-building" a prospective nest for next spring. The gathering was an opportunity to enjoy the sites and sounds, but it was also a chance to compare notes: what can Standing Rush learn from Metroparks and vice versa? Especially with the Park's recent and significant investment in regionally and nationally acclaimed Howard Marsh -- about 30 miles west of Standing Rush, down the lakeshore -- there is no doubt they are upping their investment in coastal habitats. There's also little doubt that we'll find some way to actively collaborate from a programs perspective moving forward.

I hosted a couple more friends for a late afternoon driving tour in the MULE on Tuesday. The sun had broken through and 75 degrees again felt like 85. That only made the eagle viewing and the intermittent sorties of wood ducks splashing in and out of sun-drenched cover that much more enjoyable to take in. Tuesday was a lot of talking though (even for me), and I must admit I was ready for bed.

The group was all smiles as we pulled back to the bunkhouse; it definitely seemed to help the Conservation District
board members to see our projects first-hand

Wednesday offered another opportunity for a beautiful, dare I say, early autumn sunset driving tour, this time accompanied by select members of the staff and Board of Supervisors for the Erie County Conservation District. This dedicated bunch has served as a critical local conduit, offering both technical expertise and financial/administrative support for the important work we are doing in cooperation with ODNR's Office of Coastal Management, ODOW, and the U.S. EPA.

This sign was erected at the site of our first collaboration,
"Structure #1," completed in January; construction of
"Structure #2" began earlier this week
-- more on that very soon
As the light faded and the group departed for their scheduled board meeting, Roy and I leaned on tailgates and talked about (1) how sharp this group is, (2) how awesome it is to have local farmers and landowners taking a vested interested in all things conservation, (3) how important it is that they are willing and able to work closely with the District's technical staff, (4) how great it was to be able to show them our projects first-hand, and (5) how these types of collaboration are critical to the prospect of magnifying our collective efforts to preserve and protect wild places in harmony with other -- often competing -- land uses.

We could have kept talking. But ultimately, the short burst of evening mosquitoes that seem to be a hallmark of September on the marsh, forced us to call it a night.

Monday, September 16, 2019

Turning the Page to Autumn

The ever-striking Common Gallinule is becoming that much more common at Standing Rush thanks to expansion
of desirable vegetative habitat (and all the shelter and food options that come with a diversity of native plants)
Despite significantly shorter day length and considerably more hours of darkness in the evening, (candidly) it has still been a major challenge to regain the discipline of regular journal entries. Per usual, it's not for a lack of activity in and around the marsh. [More than at any time in this project's five years, I also continue to be very busy at my desk planning for future improvement opportunities.]

These types of distinctions, while always
appreciated, are a tangible reminder
of the importance of collaboration
-- no great work happens
in a vacuum
The images above and immediately below are in recognition and appreciation of an evening well-spent this past Saturday. I was invited as a guest of the Firelands Audubon Society to its Lake Erie Wing Watch banquet in Huron, Ohio to receive its conservation award on behalf of Standing Rush. A passionate ~125 attendees filled a room surrounded by exhibitors displaying all things birds. A very talented and articulate keynote gave an incredible talk about an entire year fully devoted to birding. But as I settled in to dig into my delicious meal (including homemade elderberry pie!), it became obvious that this group extends its enthusiasm not only to their ultimate pursuits -- the birds -- but to everything it takes to support their well-being.

It was an honor, of course, to be recognized for our efforts, but even more so, it was an honor to spend some time with this group. Our paths officially crossed when a couple of their active members -- Bill and Dorthy Baker -- took a tour of Standing Rush as part of the Biggest Week in American Birding this past spring. Their friendliness, enthusiasm, active curiosity, and professionalism all contributed to their instant appeal. And now we can hopefully add another talented group to a growing list of collaborators. We look forward to the opportunity to tour them on-site soon!

With so many projects going on simultaneously, we just haven't been as diligent about taking (and sharing) wildlife images;
that doesn't mean we haven't enjoyed watching broods like these gallinules grow up before our very eyes 

Other highlights over the last few weeks include:

  • Annual fish sampling in and adjacent to Standing Rush's West Marsh (once again in conjunction with BGSU's Fisheries & Aquatic Ecology lab and some scientists in-training);
  • installation of an initial pipe and screw gate to provide targeted connectivity between Standing Rush and an adjacent agricultural drainage ditch (to intercept storm water runoff before it enters Sandusky Bay);
  • berm rehabilitation on the interior of our West Marsh's bayfront dikes (including earthwork and seeding);
  • the start of another waterfowl season: with persistent hot and humid weather, teal and early goose season opened somewhat unceremoniously the weekend before last -- there have been a few mornings of activity (coinciding with brief cool-downs) thus far; we're optimistic that the best is yet to come . . . there's a lot of duck season ahead of us. 

The fish does not have to be big to capture one's attention; here we count rigid dorsal rays of a yearling crappie
to distinguish black from white

Fish sampling once again took the form of multiple, strategically placed Fyke nets and a good amount of seining;
plans to electrofish just outside our new water conveyance to the bay were scrapped due to high winds,
but the usual late-summer suspects were still identified, tallied, and released within the marsh

The nondescript pipe at the center of this image may look pretty uninspiring, but we hope it will be the start of some
really exciting water quality improvement opportunities at and around Standing Rush

This image was taken to document the amount of debris (mostly bladderwort and cattails) caught by the debris screen
in front of our new pump in just a few short hours, but the background is a good visual of the extra protection
provided by recent berm rehabilitation efforts (lower marsh water level to left; elevated bay water level to right)

Just like the early arrival of teal, seeding dikes is starting to feel like an annual right of passage;
like so many things that Roy does quietly and without fanfare around the marsh,
his careful attention now will bear dividends later