Thursday, June 6, 2019

Not Just a "Fish Collection" -- A Lesson In the Importance of Conservation & Biodiversity

Two breeding male sunfish, both less than 4" long, collected
right off our main dock -- the smaller is definitely an
Orangespotted Sunfish; the second, is perhaps less clear
(*see bottom photo; be sure to click to enlarge)
Earlier in the week, I started contemplating what I thought would be a straight-forward information share to explain another neat collaboration between Standing Rush, Toledo Public Schools, and Bowling Green State University. Essentially, I'm replicating an effort that I executed in the summer of 1997 with my undergraduate institution (St. John's, MN), the University of Minnesota, and the MN DNR -- embarking on what I called a "scavenger hunt" of freshwater fish biodiversity.

Twenty years ago, my target was fish of the "Land of 10,000 Lakes." Today, through the cooperation and permitting oversight of the Ohio DNR Division of Wildlife, we are building a collection of the fish of Ohio. With all the rain we continue to get, people might start calling me Noah . . . but in our particular case, we're not looking to collect mating pairs -- we are actually shooting to gather between one and ten individuals of as many different species of fish as possible. Each "specimen" (individual of a given species) needs to be in good condition, show characteristic physical attributes of the species, be of a target size, and be from Ohio waters.

Once collected (by net, trap, electrofishing, or even hook and line) and deemed appropriate, the particulars of the sampling location and sampling method are carefully recorded, and then the individual fish are euthanized and placed in a bath of diluted formaldehyde for 10-14 days. Each will then go through a series of water rinses over another 7-10 days before they are placed in lab-grade ethanol (rubbing alcohol) and stored in either glassware or plastic jars.

Brook Silverside (an elegant insectivore with an up-turned "beak" perfectly
evolved to target larval, terrestrial, and flying insects) are another
relatively common species in Standing Rush waters
According to A Naturalist's Guide to the Fishes of Ohio, a timely field guide packed with incredible reference photos and meticulously researched and well-organized species detail, Ohio boasts of some 187 species of freshwater fish (17 of which are either hybrids or invasive species). Our goal is not to collect them all, but instead to build a physical "library" of the most common 40-60 species that are encountered in the state.

These types of collections serve two primary functions: (1) They provide another form of hands-on learning so that students can physically touch and see the dizzying array of species that live and fight for survival in the waters we see around us; and, (2) because these collections can last literally decades, they can provide valuable insights to both students and researchers years and years down the road.
Either Black Bullhead or Brown Bullhead
(very difficult to distinguish & commonly hybridize)
 photographed along our new water control structure,
using a GoPro

As I've mentioned several times before, I am a self-proclaimed "fish freak" -- I can (and do) sit with child-like curiosity every time I get to intimately observe another species. From colors to textures, fin structures to body adaptations, I always marvel at how evolution and ecology intertwine.

Sure, it's my hope that several dozen specimen jars -- and the process by which the collection is assembled -- will spark more fish enthusiasts. But I am perhaps even more hopeful that it will get the gears turning for even more people about how our actions impact our landscapes and how our landscapes impact the life that can be supported.

Unless you are living under a rock, you've likely heard that a recent UN report suggests over 1-million (that's 1,000,000!) species of plants and animals are at risk of extinction -- that's permanent elimination from the planet Earth. Just today, I read of how this loss of biodiversity draws sobering parallels to the 'Great Dying' -- the global extinction of life of some 250 million years ago. (Please consider taking the time to read the two articles linked above for broader context.)

A recent article published in the journal Science also shines light on another sobering (and related) trend, the national and global reduction of protected lands, particularly since the year 2000. These forces are big, they're complex, and frankly, they're scary. At times, they can feel insurmountable. They also strike right at the core of Standing Rush's primary mission. So, in my mind, I have two choices: (1) stick my head in the sand and act like there is nothing wrong, or (2) fight for the mission of Standing Rush while helping to shine light on the broader challenges facing our world. To us, there really is only once choice.

A large Bowfin, or "dogfish" patrolling the waters off our old pump station

Golden Shiner, a relatively "common" member of the family Cyprinidae (the largest group of Ohio fishes)
and an important food source for many larger, predatory game fish

Pumpkinseed Sunfish can easily be mistaken for Orangespotted Sunfish (see top image) and identification is further
complicated by the newly recognized Northern Sunfish (Lepomis peltastes) that just achieved species status in 2013;
all three appear to be present at Standing Rush

Monday, June 3, 2019

No Replacement for Hands-On Learning: #TPSProud

Students from Toledo Public School's Natural Science Technology Center (TPS-NSTC) help process the catch from a Fyke net
set at Standing Rush last Friday morning; a voluntary field trip to release fish provided the perfect opportunity to catch fish
(not to mention identify them, hold them, and marvel at their unique physical features and incredible diversity that can
best be appreciated through hands-on learning)

If the first half of May was dominated by birds at Standing Rush (and with the awesome diversity, it sure felt like it was), our migratory visitors on the wing were forced to share the stage with fish during the latter half of last month. Considering that the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers just recorded water levels on Lake Erie to be the highest ever recorded in the month of May, I guess it's fitting. Whether we like it or not, water, water (truly is) everywhere . . .

This year's northern pike release featured fingerlings
that started off smaller and ended up bigger
(on average) as compared to last year
But lucky for us, so are fish. And thanks to TPS's Natural Science Technology Center -- through an ongoing collaboration with Standing Rush and now Bowling Green State University -- we've just added more than 100 more healthy, happy northern pike fingerlings to the watery fray.

The release took place on a picture-perfect late spring morning late last week. But for the dozen or so students (and dozen or so parents, families, teachers, and adoring fans), it was actually one of the first days of summer vacation. That made the turn-out to Standing Rush even more impressive.

It was truly gratifying and awe-inspiring to witness the enthusiasm. And after another semester of working together, it was wholly satisfying to witness the attentiveness, genuine interest, and passion with which these kids experienced the marsh. Volunteers were eager to pull on hot neoprene waders to lend a hand, to get mud boots muddy, and to zip on life jackets to accompany there carefully nurtured foster fish to their new homes.

Roy returning with a couple happy students and an empty plastic bag, having released a couple dozen more
northern pike fingerlings into the West Marsh
Students were as eager to learn fish identification (as with
this black crappie) as they were to man the 15' seine net
used to catch 
And while releasing fish was the primary focus of the day, we wanted to make sure that we gave these students the hands-on opportunity to do some "sampling" as well. Fish sampling or monitoring goes way beyond capture by hook and line. It is important not only because it provides a glimpse into the diversity of fish species using a specific water resource, it also offers hints on population trends as well as how the environment can be augmented to support either higher numbers, use of the habitat by specific targeted species, or in some cases, both.

Sampling is also very important to this collaboration because (a) follow-up monitoring by BGSU with the hope of recapture of a subset of the released individuals will hopefully shed more light on the reproduction and early development of northern pike that is central to their specific research, (b) because fish monitoring in general can help us better understand how our newly improved connection to Sandusky Bay is improving fish stocks within our specific marsh [and shed light on how similar structures can help fish stocks in similar habitats on Lake Erie and beyond], and (c) because Standing Rush is assisting TPS in building a reference and teaching collection of the fish of Ohio -- I'll write more on this exciting project very soon.

A forth reason fish sampling is important is it's just plain fun. It gives people a unique glimpse into an underwater world that can be difficult to see and appreciate otherwise. And especially for young people, seeing and handling all the different shapes, sizes, and colors can ignite a spark of interest. In my particular case, that spark was fortunate enough to be nurtured into a lifetime flame -- a lasting passion for all things fish.

Here are some more photos from a great day in the field (and in the water) and from the final day in the lab leading up to the release.

Three students made hauling in the Fyke net a lot easier on Roy (foreground, left)
and me (center, top near float)
A captive audience taking in the details about another (temporarily) captive fish

Me with a couple of TPS's most devout fish enthusiasts (both holding nets) with their equally enthusiastic and devoted
instructor, Laura Schetter Kubiak [note all four of us are donning our Standing Rush graphic T's!]

Nate Stott, lead researcher from BGSU, tagging a fingerling northern pike in the TPS lab the day before release

An incoming TPS sophomore helping with fish "tattooing"in the TPS lab last Thursday morning

A newly "tattooed" northern pike at TPS (note florescent dye at base of anal fin)

One enthusiastic bunch -- smiles were broad and fresh stories were already being retold as the students loaded into their vehicles 
and caravaned the 50 or so miles back to their school . . . so close, but in some ways a world away from the marsh

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 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, 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