Friday, August 18, 2017

Not Just Mentors, Salt of the Earth Good Folks

Ready for a tour with my aunt and uncle; call it a "bucket list" day for all of us!

A week ago this morning, I had the unique privilege to spend the better part of an entire day with a couple that I've admired all my life. My Uncle Dick and Aunt Fran raised their six children on the east side of a shared side yard. Their home is just down the bank of "Cat's Ass Lake" -- on the family farm where my parents built a home and raised the eight of us. This is the setting where my awareness of and passion for the outdoors first germinated. Deep roots were set there to support a lifetime of love for the natural world.

Adjectives like hardworking, passionate, focused, dedicated, tireless, philanthropic, and community-minded are all part of Dick and Fran's public identities . . . as individuals, as a couple, as parents, and as leaders in northwest Ohio and beyond. I can certainly vouch for all of these descriptors as accurate. But I might also add words like: humble, earthy, humorous, genuine, loving, and authentic. Bottom line: these are solid folks, and I've always felt honored to be in their presence.

I worked for and more importantly with my Uncle Dick through high school and into the first couple years of college, when I transitioned into seasonal work for the family business that he was leading as CEO. We poured building foundations, fenced pasture, shingled roofs, installed irrigation lines, rebuilt docks, stoned patios, planted countless trees and plants . . . the list goes on and on -- and this was all on their property and/or the family farm. It was all designed and orchestrated by my uncle. He showed me how. And we did it shoulder to shoulder, whenever he could be available.

Here I am on our beach at about age 7 with my brother;
I'm holding a bass that Uncle Dick stocked into our lake
(and that I probably caught a dozen times)
I obviously have learned a tremendous amount from Uncle Dick. And as I've gotten older, I've come to realize that while our interactions were of course different, I've learned plenty from my aunt as well. (She did introduce me to my wife, after all!) It's for this reason that I will truly cherish the opportunity I had last week. At no other time in my life have I had such dedicated time (without a nail apron at least). I picked them up at their home at 8:00AM, sharp (punctuality was a lesson), enjoyed an hour of drive time introducing our project, toured them around both the East and West marshes -- dodging lingering raindrops on the east side in my truck only to have the temperature moderate and the day evolve into a pleasant driving tour on the Mule on the West. They then treated me to lunch (of course) before we headed for home. The simple and easy conversation of the drive back (while Aunt Fran snuck in a few short naps in the back seat) was another highlight.

In the end, Uncle Dick and Aunt Fran were characteristically engaged and enthusiastic. On top of all Dick's lifetime of accomplishments, he and his brothers spent more than their fair share of time in a duck blind. He appreciated the tour with that context, but I think both of them enjoyed it for the wildlife, beauty, peacefulness, and overall breadth of our mission. Now flirting with his late 80s, Uncle Dick joked with me that visiting Standing Rush "someday" had become something that he put on his "bucket list." For me, having the two of them to myself for the day -- to show some of the results of their lessons being lived out through my work -- was just as satisfying.

P.S. I hope to add additional images from our tour at some point. They took some additional photos with their camera, but I was apparently too busy tour guiding! Appropriately, I think they marked the 299th and 300th visitor (family, friend, restoration partner, hunter, interested party) whom we've toured over the last 2.5 years. These numbers may be off by a few. I wasn't keeping good records early on. I have to commit to keeping a guest book. As with visits like the one above, it will be fun to look back.

Thursday, August 17, 2017

What a Difference a Rain Makes: The Dinky Track

The view looking south from the center of the 100-acre Dinky Track earlier this week

Barring a catastrophic dike failure (which we thankfully did not and should not experience), the thought that a single rain could cause flood damage to a wetland might sound strange. But the last line of my July 16, 2017 post (the day we flew seed over 50 acres of the Dinky Track) was pretty prophetic . . . to continue the biblical theme . . . "P.S. Thunderstorms are in the forecast again for this afternoon."

Just a few short hours after the seed rained down out of that plane, the actual rain came down. And it came down in big drops, close together. The thunderstorm was sustained and within a few short hours more than 2" of water fell. Usually, this wouldn't cause major problems with a millet seeding when water can be taken off a unit. But because we were just on the jagged edge of "dry" enough and because we couldn't get it dry quickly enough (in part due to extremely soft sediment holding moisture), we've now come to discover that much of the seed rotted. The landing strip of relatively bare mud above is a testament to too much water at just the wrong time.

Per usual in marsh management, one has to take some
bad (e.g. Swamp Loosestrife, above) with the good;
such is life in a world riddled by invasive species
But as is so often the case in nature, there is a silver lining. We had a hunch that the Dinky would respond differently to a late drawdown as compared to the adjacent Tower Marsh. That's why we flew millet onto 50% of the Dinky versus more like 15% of the Tower. What we didn't anticipate is that both units would show positive responses from the seedbed (the seeds naturally residing in the shallow soil).

Based on our hike earlier this week, the Dinky has much of the same nut sedge that we are observing next door (a good thing). Where the millet is lacking, we are also seeing other good pushes of smartweed and beggerstick (more good news). There are also some hints at some desirable perennials -- most notably soft-stem bulrush (again, a good thing).

We knew we were going to be dealing with some invasive loosestrife, both purple (below) and swamp (left, and in isolated stalks to the right above). As we discussed from early on, the purple is largely being held in check by a friendly beetle. There are a couple initially daunting stands in the Dinky now, but as the photo below illustrates well, the beetles are doing their jobs. And as for the swamp loosestrife, they are really only prevalent on the very tops of old, rotting root clumps (on "high ground" islands no more than 18"x 18"). We are scratching our heads a bit as to the best management approach with these buggers (no, the beetles have no appetite for swamp loosestrife), but the good news is, they don't tend to spread overly quickly, and they are really only sporadically present in most of the unit.

A fairly sizable (~1 acre) stand of purple loosestrife trying to establish within Phragmites that was sprayed in 2015;
note browning and highly stressed plants in middle of frame (being attacked by the Galerucella beetle) and the
bright-colored plants behind -- in the cue to be consumed/killed

Bidens, or beggersticks, can be a bit of a nuisance when wearing fleece or neoprene (seeds stick to everything) --
but the ducks happily feed on them come fall, so we welcome their presence in the natural succession plan

Roy estimates he saw as many as 1,000 shorebirds (big numbers but not huge diversity) earlier this week;
rain in today's forecast might make Friday's viewing worth breaking out the field guide and camera -- to be continued
I could go on and on cataloging the plants we are seeing now and the various outcomes that could evolve. But as Roy keeps saying, "This is a one week at a time proposition." We watch the weather, watch the response, and adapt accordingly.

Wednesday, August 16, 2017

Dry Enough for a Walking Tour: The Tower Marsh

Changes are literally visible by the day when it comes to what is growing in the Tower Marsh at present; and the tiny seedling starts in the foreground are a surprisingly positive indicator of what might be to come (click to enlarge)

The Tower Marsh, an 85+ acre expanse that hasn't been much but shallow water (12-30" deep) ringed in Phragmites since we took possession of the property, is in the midst of a change that hasn't been witnessed in decades . . . like maybe three. For the first time since the '80s (we think), this management unit is dry enough to walk on foot.

Periodic (~weekly) rains over the last couple/few weeks have saturated the mud on at least a couple occasions. Last Friday, for example, a 0.5"+ of rain covered the expanse shown above with skim water in the morning, only to see it evaporated and/or absorbed by afternoon. This makes for some sticky walking in places, but it is the perfect incubator for a late season drawdown.

As I've written about in the past, we seeded the eastern ~10 acres of the unit with millet just a short month ago (a few weeks later than we had originally intended). The result of that seeding appears as the very light green in the background of the photo above. A shot "from the weeds" is included below. This introduction of millet was intended to create desirable cover along the Phragmites-dominated eastern dike, while leaving the majority of the new exposure prone to whatever resides in the seedbed. Our fingers have been crossed and based on our initial discoveries, we're excited!

The eastern end of the Tower is now a far cry from bare mud; it has been exposed the longest and is now dominated by a nice mix of millet (flown in), nut sedge, and soft-stem bulrush (seedbed generated) -- these areas are now supporting plants 12-18" tall

A closeup of the area above shows just what we were hoping for -- a healthy mix of "fruit"-bearing annuals (nudge sedge, pictured to the left) and even some desirable perennial species.

If you click on the image to the left to enlarge, you may be able to make out the rounded, darker stems of soft-stemmed bulrush. The largest of these plants are getting close to a foot and a half, but most are <12" and can be quickly covered in the more aggressive annuals. The good news is they are there, and they are taking root.
The other good news is that even on bare mud, the bulrush is present. In fact, it really seems to be the dominant plant in areas where water has just receded. Seedlings that are <3" tall can be difficult to identify to species, but with some experience and a good camera, you can train your eye to ID the usual suspects.

Below, I have included just a few select photos from of the other discoveries from our hot walk onto the mud. I'll try to detail what we found on the far east unit (the "Dinky Track") soon. While we implemented a similar management tactic, things are looking markedly different over there.

Demonstrating its propensity to germinate about anywhere that it can find a foothold, these two individual Japanese 
millet seedlings are joining a handful of bulrush on the inside curve of a decaying snapping turtle shell

Even one of my favorite wetland plants, arrowhead, is showing itself in very isolated clusters in the Tower
This perspective is most striking because two seasons ago it was a sea of Phragmites 10-feet tall or more; the sun-faded sticks and one isolated plant are all that remain after an aerial herbicide treatment (late August 2015); with the water now down, we are seeing the immensely positive response from the millet, nut sedge, and bulrush

Thursday, August 10, 2017

Did Someone Say Mud?

My post from earlier in the week set the stage for what we are experiencing now in on the East Marsh. All our water management over the last several months has finally allowed us to reach our goals, and we are experiencing the extensive "late season drawdown" that we established as our primary 2017 restoration objective for nearly 200+ acres of marsh.

The vegetative response will be very interesting to watch. If we like what we see, we let it ride. If we don't, we always have the option of re-flooding one or more of the management units and essentially starting over.

But one thing we definitely can see is that the timing of our newly exposed mud is setting the stage for what we hope will be a bonanza of shorebirds. Dozens of species like the one pictured to the left are specifically adapted to capitalize on these situations. Their feet are typically long and well suited for "snowshoeing" through the wet mud, and long legs don't hurt anything when the mud is soft and the bugs are plentiful.

What amazes me most about this group of birds? (1) Their diversity [I have a lot to learn to differentiate all the subtleties that differentiate the species]; (2) Their ability to find and exploit new mud [they seem to appear out of nowhere the instant water goes away]; and, (3) Their metabolism [most of these species seem to never stop moving!]. Identification is tough (I'm always looking for positive id's from those who know more than me), but photography can be even more challenging. We hope to spend more time in the marsh with a camera over the days and weeks to come.

This medium-sized hunter of the shallows let me get pretty close yesterday while I was photo monitoring.
Can anyone ID?

Just like shorebirds, bird watchers seem to appear out of no where as soon as new opportunities arrive. I witnessed six vehicles and nearly a dozen individuals armed with scopes and telephoto lenses on the roadside to the west of our East Marsh late on Wednesday afternoon. Word is out that we have "fresh mud." Seasoned birders are well aware that the shorebirds are sure to follow.

For perspective, here are some comparison photos from the same vantage points: June versus August. The "after" shots were just taken yesterday.

BEFORE: Very sparse emergent vegetation and turbid water dominate in the Tower Marsh; June, 2017

AFTER: Millet and other annuals are beginning to fill in opportunistically thanks to the dry conditions that are conducive
to germination; August, 2017
BEFORE: Broad expanses of shallow water dominate the 100-acre Dinky Track, leaving little but dead and decaying
loosestrife clumps in the background; June, 2017

AFTER: The same perspective following drawdown -- shorebird activity is picking up and so is the germination of new
annuals in the mud; August, 2017

Tuesday, August 8, 2017

Clean Slate, Fingers Crossed

After months of effort, we have finally accomplished a full drawdown on the main Tower Marsh.
This image shows the ~half of the ~80-acres that we hope will evolve into a broad diversity of desirable wetland
vegetation. It's been decades since this has been done though, so it's a "fingers crossed" experiment.

For two years now, Roy and I have been using the term "clean slate" to describe the starting point that we face -- or in some cases strife for -- with our management units when we contemplate restoration activities. While it seems somewhat counterintuitive, the broad expanse of mud depicted in the image above is about as "clean" of a slate as we can get on our property.

In reality, we don't ever have the luxury of starting fresh. All of the land targeted for restoration has a history, and each individual target area confined by earthen dikes ("management unit") has its own specific past, present, and future. Our goal is to help provide environmental circumstances that promote the most ecologically desirable future. And it all starts with water (or in some cases, the lack thereof) and plants. As I've discussed in previous posts, many of our units were dominated by invasive species at one time or another over the last several decades. Some were dominated when we took possession of the property in 2015.

Others, like the "South Tower" unit pictured above have had enough water on them long enough that there isn't much growing. Two to three feet of standing water tends to limit emergent vegetation, especially if the water levels are sustained. And if the water tends to be murky (like ours was), even submergent vegetation (below the water level) tends to be limited.

But every unit has a "seed bed," a residual reservoir of plant seeds made up of several to many species -- deposited over years and even decades -- that resides in the shallow surface "mud" that in several cases, we have now exposed. The gamble is what is that seed composition, and what can we trigger to germinate?

In the case of last year's effort in the West Rest Pond, we weren't confident that we'd like what we'd see in the seed bed, so we flew in millet to help promote desirable plants (read more here, if you haven't already, to better understand how we try to stack the deck using millet). We are implementing a similar tactic on the far East Dinky Marsh because we are concerned there may be high percentages of Phragmites and loosestrife seed (reminder: both "bad guys").

But the Tower is a roll of the dice we are willing to entertain. Only time will tell if the gamble will pay off. I'll get more into the impacts of drawdown as we witness what unfolds.

P.S. The only plant material visible in the image above is a small amount of aquatic smartweed in the foreground, the ring of Phragmites that we are allowing to grow on the far dikes to help keep soils stabilized (dark green plant in the background), and the bright green millet (background, but in front of Phrag) that we flew in a few weeks back to try to minimize the spread of Phragmites from the surrounding dikes. It is still short, but it is coming on well.

Friday, August 4, 2017

Summer Marches On

A healthy mix of perennials (cattails, soft-stemmed bulrush, etc.) are now making their presence known
among a good crop of annuals (largely millet, smartweed, and nut sedge) in our 40-acre "Rest Pond"
-- Roy shared this photo while I was away

I thought I'd better check-in just to confirm that I hadn't sunk into the muck in some quiet corner of the marsh somewhere! Two bouts with a bad back sandwiched between an eight-day road trip to Florida and Virginia have somehow allowed two weeks to pass since I've been able to be on-site in Erie County. Hard to believe.

Roy and Nate have stayed plenty busy, so their hasn't been too much time with the camera. We have a family reunion weekend starting today, but I plan to be back at it next week. I'll not only dust off the camera, but backfill on some of the recent events from the second half of July. Per usual, there are tons of irons in the fire . . .

Saturday, July 22, 2017

Attracted to the Colors of Summer

Despite an atypically mild winter and early spring, it seems like it took longer this year to find color;
but as this pickerelweed demonstrates, the summer colors of the marsh have arrived

As promised, here are some additional shots of color from my photo-monitoring this past week. The theme seemed to be bright blooms, deep greens, and vibrant pollinators. This little camera is pretty good at catching about everything but the sometimes oppressive heat and humidity!

If this doesn't scream summer, I don't know what does -- a monarch on (swamp) milkweed;
sadly, this is getting to be a much less common sight; monarch numbers are down as much as 90% globally

This butterfly -- the red admiral -- is one of Ohio's most common; while conservation strives to improve the plight of endangered and threatened species, it also needs to provide safe havens to keep "common" species common

I don't know my bumblebees, but I do know that even they are starting to receive attention due to new research that shows
dramatic declines in many populations regionally, nationally, and globally -- never underestimate the importance
of our pollinators (this one finds a home on chicory, a Mediterranean relative of the dandelion) 

I need help identifying this water lily; I'm confident that it is an introduced species, but the good news is
(1) it is isolated to a small area on one of our ponds adjacent to the marsh (it doesn't seem aggressive),
(2) it is beautiful, and (3) the bees seemed to be loving it in the heat of the afternoon sunshine

As this great golden digger wasp demonstrates, it's not just monarch butterflies
that are attracted to milkweed; this docile and vibrant critter seemed
to prefer the underside of every cluster of blooms

Wednesday, July 19, 2017

Photo Monitoring with the Critter Getter

My nine year old son was so inspired by Rare (see July 11th) that we decided we need to start putting together our own
"photo ark" of unique species for the property; he helped me capture this image of a Wandering Glider
Yesterday proved to be one of -- if not the -- most satisfying days I've had in the field so far this field season. Practically speaking, I was able to complete my newly established photo-monitoring on the eastern half of the property effectively and efficiently (in about four hours) to visually capture changes related to our drawdown. But personally, I had the satisfaction of sharing the time with my nine-year-old son, Anderson.

Despite 85+ degrees and plenty of intense and sustained sunshine, my faithful companion did not miss a beat. He had the option of staying in town for a pool party with a good group of friends, or putting on jeans and work cloths for a day at the marsh. He didn't hesitate -- when given the option to come, or when shown what the day's project would entail. He was all in.

Anderson is what I call a "critter getter," meaning he is always game to chase whatever there is to pursue. Whether it be frogs (perhaps his favorite pursuit), turtles, minnows, butterflies, or lizards (on trips south), Anderson tends to have a bit of a one-track mind. Like father, like son, I guess.

Yesterday, we both had the distinct pleasure of witnessing an explosion of life from a fascinating group I've had my mind on a lot lately -- Odonata. Odonates are an order of carnivorous insects, encompassing the dragonflies and the damselflies. With informal grouping names like dancers, skimmers, cruisers, darners, bluets, spreadwings, forktails and clubtails, meadowhawks and pondhawks, it's hard not to be intrigued.

I am a complete rookie when it comes to identifying this general taxon. I'm already anticipating a new passion/obsession because chasing these guys with a decent camera is kind of like pursuing songbirds for the first time with a good pair of binocs. The Canon was a window into a whole new world, and Anderson and I found ourselves routinely interrupted from our landscape monitoring in pursuit of the perfect insect photo. Many "got away," but as the images here demonstrate, we "caught" a fair number on camera, too. Anderson routinely corralled the fast-fliers toward me, served as my spotter as they jumped from stem to leaf, and then highfived me in congratulations each time I got the shot.

We ended up with about sixty wildlife images to go with the 59 monitoring photos we needed. I obviously don't have space to show them all (even the best of them all) here, so I'll try to post again later this week with some more cool plants and insects. I postulate that our drawdown coupled with recent high temps has lead to a proliferation of "dragons" and damselflies, so I'll try to get back out soon to capture more. Based on preliminary reading, it looks like 160+ species live in or migrate through Ohio . . . and not surprisingly, wetlands along the Lake Erie coast tend to be a hotbed. I'm pretty familiar with their complex life cycles (mostly spent in water), but I have a lot to learn in terms of diversity. I'm hoping it's something the kids and I can learn together.

We enjoyed watching these Eastern Pondhawks all day long

Need some help identifying this one; wasn't common during yesterday's time in the field, but we saw a few;
the yellow is even more gold (and even more striking) in person

Pretty sure this is a Orange Bluet; they may be small, but their color packs a punch

I spent a good deal of time yesterday trying to get classic poses for identification and reference, but in some (rare) cases, the subjects were so cooperative, that I had to try to get in for a closer look. Make sure you click on the images below to appreciate some of the detail. And trust me, there are images out there that make these look like finger paintings. Still, these macro shots really have me curious to observe, photograph, and learn more.

Note remnant of an insect meal on the front, left leg -- hopefully what's
left of a mosquito!

Anderson at work in the East Marsh

Sunday, July 16, 2017

The seed that falls on good ground will yield a fruitful harvest (Lk 8:8)

If you haven't already, take a peek back at posts from the last two weeks and you'll better appreciate the significance
of this image; the millet was flown in this morning by the good folks at Gibbs Aero Spray

Thought I'd just provide some visual confirmation. The balance of this season's millet seed order -- all 1,500-lbs of 2,500-lbs total -- was dropped over a 50 acre area of newly exposed mudflat this morning. One major management goal for this year officially completed. We targeted about 40 acres in our eastern-most "Dinky Track" unit and then put the balance over about 10-acres of the east side of the Tower Marsh (although there may have been twice as much mud showing in this unit by the time the plane arrived).

Our primary focus with the millet is in the ~100-acre Dinky Marsh. This morning's seeding in the Tower was more to augment natural annual and perennial plant growth in what we anticipate to be a more fertile seed bed. Time will tell whether our hunch is accurate. If it is, we'll continue to let it grow; if it isn't we can isolate the Tower and re-flood.

I didn't actually make it out to the property this morning. I was out last night to survey the situation, and I opted to join the family at church just as the plane was doing its work. I had to smile when I heard this morning's readings:

Is 55:10-11
Ps 65:10, 11, 12-13, 14
Mt 13:1-9

Pretty apropos.

P.S. Thunderstorms are in the forecast again for this afternoon.

Friday, July 14, 2017

We Finally Have Mud Showing; It's Millet Time

I don't know what I like most about this image from Nate: the expanding exposed mud, the hundred or-so egrets
happily feeding in the receding water, or the dragonfly that got caught flying away from the camera lens (click image to zoom)
-- today, I think I have to vote for the mud

Well, we reached two important milestones today: (1) we got to turn our air conditioning off in the house after what seemed like forever (I'm not a big fan of AC, but I have a low threshold for tropical humidity); and, (2) WE FINALLY GOT TO SHUT OFF THE DIESEL PUMP! That's right, the stars finally aligned. Because of truly tireless vigilance on the part of Roy . . . and Nate . . . & neighbors, as needed, the pumps kept running. And despite more than 6" of rain over an 18 day period, we finally brought water levels down enough to expose mud and aerially seed millet.

In truth, the millet won't be flown on till tomorrow or maybe even Sunday -- just because of scheduling conflicts with the pilot. And we may run the pumps (diesel and stationary electric) a bit more over the weekend, just for extra insurance. More thunderstorms are already on the horizon by the end of the weekend.

Twelve-spotted Skimmer, Libellula pulchella
But what we've pulled off thus far (literally, pulled off) is pretty amazing. I tracked rainfall and water levels very carefully since June 27th. This was the day that we could shift gears from about two months of effort on the neighboring marsh to our own water management. Even using conservative pumping rates (3,000-gal/min, average, combined between both pumps), we are looking at tens of millions of gallons of water moved from a ~140-acre area of our East Marsh in under three weeks. 

To put this volume in perspective, here's a visual. I was fortunate enough to grow up on a 10-acre lake/pond in south Toledo. While there are isolated areas of the pond that are 10-14' deep, most of the basin is more like 8' deep (excluding the side slopes to the bank). If we assume the basin averages 8' deep, which is probably about right, we just conveyed the equivalent of that entire pond, every last drop -- TWICE!

You may be able to sense the exuberance and relief I feel today. Why is this so important? How did two archaic pumps keep up with all this precipitation to set the stage for this? How do these management steps encourage natural processes? 

I go into decent detail in the recap of last year's efforts on a 40-acre unit on our West Marsh. But essentially, this allows for the introduction of a plant that can help reset the clock and re-calibrate a habitat. Because of decades (like 4-5 decades) of suffocating infestations of invasive plants, it will be a challenge. But the introduction of millet should help promptly create micro-habitats, provide a carbohydrate-rich food source, stabilize a water column, introduce a fresh layer of "clean" compost (once dead), and help introduce seeds of desirable aquatic plants (thanks to visitors on the wing) that will put these acres on a much more diverse and productive path moving forward.

This feels like the end of a chapter, and the beginning of another for much of the east side of the property. As with this entire project, time will tell how it is ultimately to be written.

SYRIAN BROWN BEAR -- Animal portraits © Joel Sartore

P.S. I participated in the first of two premiere showings of Rare last evening at Wildwood. My wife joined, and I couldn't agree more with her comment: This is not your typical nature show. It really raises awareness, and stirs a desire to do more for conservation.

We are doing another showing this Sunday afternoon at 2:00 at Wildwood Metropark. It's free and open to the public. See the post from earlier this week to learn more. I will also be participating again in a panel discussion on how to bring conservation to your own backyard. Whether you can make it Sunday or not, please check out the 3-part series on WGTE. You'll be glad you did.

Tuesday, July 11, 2017

Join Us at Wildwood! -- Collaboration with Public Television Continues

You've got to love YouTube . . . of hundreds of discrete images to choose from in a 4:00+ video segment, this is the one that is selected as a teaser to WGTE's recent production. I look like I've just gotten away with something, but in truth, this was just a candid interview through our UTV's rear view mirror. And it was just a small part of a very enjoyable evening we spent with the public television production crew back on June 15th.

As I explained then, the raw footage may serve a variety of functions. But for now, the several minute segment above will be one of three used to setup a speaking panel that I'll be a part of this Thursday and Sunday at Wildwood Metropark. It is all part of WGTE's premiere of Rare: Creatures of the Photo Ark. These are free events and are open to the public.

Here are some more details and a few of my favorite photos from this unique National Geographic project. Hope you can join us either Thursday night or Sunday afternoon!



Join WGTE for a special preview of the first episode of the three-part series Rare: Creatures of the Photo Ark, learn more from local experts about how you can create habitats to preserve and conserve our own endangered species, pick up a free packet of native plant seeds, win door prizes and more! Light refreshments will be provided.

Experts from the Black Swamp Bird Observatory, Standing Rush, and Metroparks Toledo will be hand to share tips on creating habitats and answer your questions.

Rare is on the mission to save the world, one species at a time, through the lens of renowned National Geographic photographer Joel Sartore. Joel captures intimate portraits of some of the world's most fascinating endangered animals - building a connection between these animals and the people who can save them.

NILE CROCODILE -- Animal portraits © Joel Sartore

Thu, July 13, 2017
6:30 PM – 8:30 PM EDT
Sun, July 16, 2017
2:00 PM – 4:00 PM EDT

TANZANIAN PINK LEGGED MILLIPEDE -- Animal portraits © Joel Sartore

Wildwood Park - Ward Pavilion
5100 W. Central Ave.
Toledo, OH 43615
Reservations (free)

PERSIAN LEOPARD -- Animal portraits © Joel Sartore

Rare: Creatures of the Photo Ark airs on WGTE HD July 18, July 25 and August 1 at 9 p.m.

Monday, July 10, 2017

Starting to Sound Like a Broken Record

Hard to figure out where to put the Standing Rush watermark on this image without covering up tools, pieces, and parts;
Roy is a miracle worker

A lot can happen in a few short days -- much less a few long, summer days. Roy returned from a week of vacation late last Thursday night to two pumps running, water levels continuing to drop, and a dry weekend forecast. The stars were finally seeming to align for our second round of millet seeding early this week.

But when he checked on the diesel pump early Friday morning, the motor was running but that was about it. We had thrown a main bearing sometime overnight and the results weren't pretty. Five broken belts lay strewn on the ground, and as a result, there was no water to be found running through the discharge pipe.

Roy and Nate spent all day and some of their evening on Friday taking things apart and tracking down parts. While some good luck and a few well-placed favors got us very close, they couldn't get things going before nightfall. The only good news was (1) that they were very close, and (2) that they had successfully opened a pipe on the other side of the East Marsh that had been stuck (closed) since we took over the property. This newly opened conduit allowed for a much more consistent feed of water to our electric pump, so at least we continued to head in the right direction -- albeit with one pump instead of two.

Amazingly, Roy had the diesel going again by mid-morning on Saturday, and it's still going strong as of today. Unfortunately, so is the rain. After an absolutely picture-perfect weekend of dry, sunny weather, we have had near-constant rain since before sunrise this morning. A large cell of "torrential" rains just passed, with some areas receiving rain at a rate of more than 3" per hour. That's an absolute deluge! It looks like the rain is going to be with us for at least another few hours, so we'll just have to see how it all plays out.

As of this morning, Roy was finally seeing the mudflats we have been working toward for weeks (months). The plan as of 9:00 am was to call for the plane to fly in the millet tomorrow morning. With more than 1" on the ground thus far (according to the electronic rain gauge), I have my doubts . . .

(P.S. Truth be told, we expected this bearing to go out long ago. Roy thought it might only last a couple hours once we got the motor running for the first time. It lasted for a couple weeks. This will be another expensive setback, it time and in dollars. But such is life when operating equipment that has sat idle for years. We just have to keep pressing on.)

Friday, July 7, 2017

Good News for the Newly Rehabbed West Marsh Dike

West Marsh Photo Location #14A, facing northwest
(Click to enlarge and then click quickly through the series to gain a panoramic view)
West Marsh Photo Location #14B, facing northeast
West Marsh Photo Location #14C, facing east
West Marsh Photo Location #14D, facing southeast
West Marsh Photo Location #14E, facing southwest
West Marsh Photo Location #14F, facing northwest

The six images above represent a single photo location recently established on the West Marsh. This specific site is positioned on the center of the dike that was rehabilitated last summer. The best way to gain perspective is to click on the top image and then "scroll" through all six from left to right. If physically (or electronically) interwoven this provides a 360-degree view from the established vantage point.

I chose to post these particular images for a couple reasons. First, it offers an example of what I've been working on over several recent days in the marsh. Twenty-four similar photo locations have been established on the East Marsh, each marked with a hardwood stake driven into the ground. This way, we can return to the exact same locations at regular (e.g. monthly) intervals and capture photos of the exact same perspectives over time. Not all photo locations have a full 360-degree vista (in fact, very few do), so I think we have something like 60 discrete images captured as reference on the East Marsh. I am only about half way through the West Marsh, and the way it's looking we could have something more like forty photo locations and 100+ individual photo perspectives.

It's a lot of work, but I'm confident that gathering these "baseline" photos will be very valuable as the months and years pass. Whenever possible, I've established formal photo locations in spots where I've already been capturing photos over the last 2.5 field seasons. In many cases, the changes are profound even over a series of months. It's already amazing to compare 2015 to 2016 to 2017. That fun will continue into the future. It's very gratifying to see the positive physical changes through time.

The other reason that I chose to include the series above is that it is tied to some good news that we received yesterday. For the second year in a row, the Ohio Department of Natural Resources Division of Wildlife's Private Lands program has selected Standing Rush as the recipient of their largest restoration grant. We found out definitively yesterday that they are doubling down on the earthwork that they helped fund last year (the dike restoration in the images above) and are going to provide additional money so that we can armor and protect the investment. Their contribution will cover more than 50% of the total project cost.

Essentially, we will be placing "D-rock" (softball to melon-sized limestone) along as much as 3,500-linear feet of the new dike to protect against wind and wave erosion. Most of the work will take place along the ~3,000' south bank (the one that has standing water on it in the photos), but we may also choose to rip rap a small (400-500') segment of the north-facing slope (depending on how the work goes compared to the budget).

The south slope is the most critical because it will have standing water against it much more regularly as compared to the north slope, which should support vegetation right up from the toe (base) of the dike. This is a critical management step not only because it will protect the dike that allows for crucial water level manipulation. It will also allow us to hold more water in the main South Unit -- thus reducing the impact and prevalence of Phragmites and other invasive species.

We are very appreciative of Private Lands continued support and look forward to getting the project underway. If all goes well, we'll be protected by the end of next month!