Tuesday, October 17, 2017

A Successful First Weekend

While I wasn't able to be at the marsh for opening weekend this year, I still really enjoyed getting the intermittent updates from happy hunters and satisfied punters. Despite a warm weekend with plenty of swirling southerly winds, many limits were taken. And yet again, my phone was barraged with encouraging texts and photos with full grins.

The daily bag is six birds per hunter, but as the smiling faces above demonstrate, it's not about the numbers. The only number important to these three hunters was one -- as in the first. Two of these three are lease holders, a father/son duo who have plenty of history with our specific marsh; the third -- their 11-year old son/grandson -- was just indoctrinated with his first duck (or ducks, to be more accurate). Cool to have three generations in one photo; even cooler to know that if the stars align they could have four generations hunting together this year.

We ask each lease holder to inventory what was harvested with each hunt -- e.g. species, gender, and quantity -- on what we call our Waterfowl Volunteer Survey. We fully understand that this information gathering is biased and incomplete, but it at least offers us a snap shot.

While I haven't seen much of the data yet, my hunch is that most of the weekend harvest was made up of mallards, blue-winged teal, wood ducks, and maybe a few of a few other species (e.g. pintail, green wings, wigeon, and gadwall).
A pretty solid weather front Sunday afternoon has ushered in cool, dry air with overnight lows these last couple nights flirty with 40 degrees. This is the coldest weather we've seen this season, so it will be interesting to see and hear how that alters what's flying.

A couple more happy hunters (and limits); one of the things I love most
about waterfowl hunting is that it brings friends and family together outside

Friday, October 13, 2017

Opener Eve

Weathered but ready for action: a punt boat full of decoys seemed like the perfect still life primer for the
excitement and enthusiasm that goes into duck hunting preparation

I don't feel like I'm a procrastinator, and Roy and I pride ourselves on planning ahead. But somehow, the last few days before the main duck season opens always feels like I'm running with my hair on fire. Tomorrow's the day.

The reality is we are and have been in pretty good shape. All of our major projects should be behind us -- barring something truly unforeseen. Roy is a master at anticipating the unexpected. He's been down this road a few times.

And the punters (particularly Jimmy) really make preparation for hunting itself pretty painless for the rest of us. He handles all the eager phone calls from adrenaline-infused lease holders on the West Marsh. And my guys leasing the East are very self-sufficient. Once we get the water levels where they need to be -- to facilitate access by both the hunters and the ducks, a task that is now just about complete -- punters and hunters put the finishing touches on blinds, insure access lanes are trimmed, and get the dogs and decoys ready. It's quite a ritual. But after decades and decades of fine-tuning, it's a pretty well-oiled (albeit unconventional) machine. People know what they need to do. And some of the fun of pushing finishing touches to the end is that it just builds excitement. For an avid duck hunter, the year really boils down to these few months.

The table is set. All we need now is for the weather -- and the birds -- to cooperate. Should be fun.

Much of yesterday was spent installing this 20' dock in the access to the Tower Marsh; I rebuilt itin two sections a year ago,
so I've been waiting a while to get this photo -- project completed

Our pedestaled boat blind as it is getting "grassed" (camouflaged with clumps of Phragmites and willow limbs);
the beauty of this system is the combination of mobility (it floats and pulls easily) and stability (the corner posts drop to
the bottom and make it as fixed as walking in your living room) -- it is as comfortable as anything I've ever duck hunted in 

"New #16" -- a modest 2-3 person fixed blind, now in place and ready to go near the footprint of its legendary predecessor
("Old #16"); the colors will blend as the temps drop and the surrounding vegetation continues to brown 

Wednesday, October 11, 2017

Walking the West Marsh

Grasshoppers, crickets, katydids, and others with six legs continue to be having a field day with these prolonged warm temps;
I don't know my insects very well, so I could use some help on this ID -- seemed to be a cricket (making noise with its legs
rather than wings, as hoppers do), probably 1-1/4" long, big jumper
With the sun shining (for a few hours at least) yesterday, I took the opportunity to photo monitor the West side of the property. I'm taking over 120 landscape images (monthly) for historical reference over there, but again, I could't resist capturing critters as they presented themselves. I thought I'd share a few of my favorite photos from the day.

We've had nearly four inches of rain in under a week with more unseasonably warm weather, so duck activity is still modest at best. But winds just shifted northeast, and we are supposed to cool off quite a bit -- at least for a day or two. By the time I drove home, the cloud cover had built up again and the temps were dropping. Afternoon highs reached the low to mid-seventies, but it was probably more like 62 by the time I got home about 6:00 last evening. That should usher some new birds down. And that's a good thing; the natives (duck hunters) are getting restless -- Opener is Saturday!

This parent trumpeter and its mate were accompanying four cygnets (young) through our newly emerging cattails in what
was millet last year; they were a ways away (~75 yards) when I took this shot, but both adults kept standing up
on muskrat hutches to keep an eye on me (Note the capture of water droplets from its bill . . . at 75+ yards!)

I like this photo because it shows several steps in restoration progress; from left to right: the water is up against the newly
installed stone protection in preparation for duck season; the middle of the image not only shows the heart of the new dike
(last year's effort), but newly emerging grass -- finally popping after all this water; and the right side shows the reds of a
bumper crop of smartweed -- a fowl-friendly food source that pioneered after the millet and will further 
encourage the proliferation of sustaining perennials like bulrush and cattail

Friday, October 6, 2017

Sights and Sounds of the Season

Two of the eleven trumpeter swans I got to watch as I worked my way around our eastern-most unit yesterday
(click to enlarge and enjoy the detail)

I love days like yesterday. After I assisted with the breakfast and day prep routine, my wife and kids were on the road to school. I got through my emails, ran through the snail mail, paid a couple bills, and was out the door not long after. A couple quick errands (to buy grass seed and pick up a trimmer part) prolonged my commute to work by a few minutes each, but by just after 9:00, I was at our field office.

The color pallet of sumac is typically an early indicator that more
leaf change is not far off
The day started with a Mule tour on the west side. I was pleased because I was finally able to show a friend from our church around the property a bit. Our schedules kept conflicting, so it was good to make it happen. While the cloud cover held on longer than had been forecast, and despite the fact that wildlife viewing was very modest (because we had punters prepping duck blinds in the marsh), he really seemed to enjoy himself.

After a little tire kicking around the bunkhouse, he was on his way home, and I was on to an afternoon of photodocumentation on the East Marsh. Besides the primary objective of gathering regular reference photos from the exact same vantage points and orientations at dozens of locations around the property, this discipline also affords me the unique opportunity to walk portions of the marsh with a camera in my hand -- and if I'm lucky, with very little distraction.

Black-legged Meadow Katydid;
sound familiar?
The photos included here were all taken as part of my broader efforts with the camera. So in addition to gathering great reference imagery on a landscape scale (for comparison through time as the habitat evolves), this monthly exercise has served as an informal way to build a timely photo journal.

From the changing leaves of staghorn sumac (above) to the intricate detail and familiar sounds of autumn insects (left and below), there is no doubt that we are once again in the midst of a major transition. Temperatures (70s and even 80s) have been summer-like, but the evidence of a new season is everywhere.

An additional fringe benefit of a few dedicated hours with a camera is that I can take reference photos of native plants. This time of year, I'm particularly interested in those that flower -- and eventually go to seed. If the plant is something that we see benefit in having more of on the property, I will often capture a GPS location of larger stands (both on-site and at other locations regionally). Assuming permission, I can then come back and collect seed that can be redistributed for our project.

The asters below are good examples both of a sign of the times (flowering asters in Ohio = autumn) and of native species that are desirable -- in this case, in the sense that they attract pollinators (not to mention they are beautiful). SIDEBARS: (1) I love how I can be taking a closeup photo of a plant or animal, and then find that I was inadvertently capturing other plants or animals in the frame (see below); (2) Asters can actually get pretty aggressive/invasive, so introduce them into a landscape with caution.

This image is like a Where's Waldo for insects -- can you find three?
Click to enlarge for a closer look

This little pollinator, which I believe is some type of hover fly, was kind
enough to pose again on a choice backdrop

I'll close this post with a vibrant image of a Differential Grasshopper -- a common species that was literally about
everywhere in the tall grasses yesterday; per usual, I love how this camera can capture the detail -- in this case,
not just of the insect, but also of the burdock leaf he is loafing on

Wednesday, October 4, 2017

Water (Intentionally) Flowing Back into the Marsh (Finally!)

This half-day project included the removal of an old, rusty metal pipe with a nice, durable plastic one; as you can see in the
photo below, it was capped with a brand new screw gate on the bay-front side to accommodate the strategic addition
of water into the main South Unit of the West Marsh, directly from the bay -- this will only be feasible when bay levels
are high like they are at present 

With "big duck" season set to open in under two weeks (October 14), it's getting down to the nitty-gritty in terms of time for larger-scale projects in the marsh. Unseasonably warm, dry weather has made for ideal earthwork -- and as such, Buehlers (our loyal excavating contractor) "made hay" while the sun shined.

Buehlers even gave us a make-shift stairway to our new screw gate!
Between last Thursday and this Monday morning, we successfully (a) installed two replacement pipes with screw gates where old infrastructure was no longer functional, (b) extended a third pipe on a similar replacement project that we started last fall (we were waiting for low water and other projects to bundle in to get the job completed cost-effectively), and (c) got a stone boat launch installed off of one of our dikes.

That may not sound like a lot, but trust me, it's a lot of moving parts. And now, the good news is we should be about finished with "major projects" for the 2017 field season and we are back to moving water back into the marsh -- in a systematic and strategic way.
Classic Roy Kroll

Speaking of adding water, the photo at right (taken yesterday) was classic Roy. While it's somewhat difficult to see, he is standing in `12" of water on top of a 36" diameter pipe, juggling two heavy tools in his hands while balancing the three others that I passed him on surrounding surfaces (all precariously perched over the water).

While this is another one of those proverbial "five minute jobs" in the marsh, it really is more of a circus exercise. The only certainly in an effort like this is you are going to get wet one way or the other, from sweat, the marsh, or both. And chances are good you'll get cut, scratched, and/or bruised, too.

The goal is to carefully force a narrow pry bar into the seam between the end of the pipe and the flap gate so that another (wider) implement can be worked in to gradually (and forcefully) "break the seal" -- which is caused by the four feet of head pressure, the foot over the pipe and the three feet on the pipe itself. The ultimate outcome, if successful, is to work the pipe open to the point that it can be lodged ajar to allow for a desired flow rate. In this particular case, we are trying to add up to a couple inches a day over 75+ acres, so one well-placed 2x4 provides all the volume we need.

Since spring and into mid-summer, I've spent a lot of time writing about moving water out of the marsh to achieve desired management goals. For as much as I wrote, our entire team spent that much more effort actually making it happen. Water going back in at this time of year is a meaningful milestone; it allows us to look back on the season's successes and means duck season will soon be upon us!

The pipe extension on the left of this image marks the completion of a pipe replacement that we started last fall;
this effort was conducted in conjunction with the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service and was critical to our
management efforts this past year

Monday, October 2, 2017

The Hits Just Keep on Comin'

Kimberly Kaufman (in green) and her support staff following a morning in the marsh; July 20, 2017

One steamy summer morning this past July, I had the privilege of guiding a handful of staff members and a handful of board members and volunteers from the Black Swamp Bird Observatory (BSBO) along portions of our interior dike system to take in the sites and sounds and to talk conservation and restoration. I say "portions" of the marsh because for those of you who are or who know birders, you can appreciate that tours tend to move at their own (slow) walking pace!

I really enjoyed our time together. It is always fun to see a group taken aback by a solitary bald eagle resting at close range on the dike. I got a real kick out of watching synchronized binoculars race to catch up with a young sandpiper scurrying across the path and hearing the collective "ooohhh!" as a black-crowned night heron banked overhead. Even though we didn't see anything especially "rare" -- particularly to a group of seasoned bird watchers -- everything seemed to be enthusiastically perceived as special.

The morning was particularly special for me and for Standing Rush. Of course, I loved the time together on the tour. But as the sun gained height and intensity, and as we sought refuge in the shade of some towering cottonwood trees before going our separate ways, BSBO's Executive Director Kimberly Kaufman made an informal presentation of sorts that really left me humbled.

This BSBO thank you note from our July field trip together
sits on my office window sill as a reminder and motivation
I've come to learn that $5 of every online registration for BSBO's stunning Biggest Week in American Birding is pooled into a collective "conservation fund." And each year the staff, board, and supporting committees vote on recipients to be stewards of these funds. Under the shade of those quaking leaves, Kim announced to me and to the group that Standing Rush would be this year's unanimous and sole recipient.

To say that I was (and am) flattered would be a gross understatement. It was a surreal moment in the life of this project -- and a tough secret to keep until Kim could make this announcement public.

Kim presenting me with an unrestricted gift of $8,000
to be used for on-the-ground restoration efforts
at Standing Rush
My wife and I were again flattered, this time as guests of BSBO's 25th anniversary gathering this past Saturday evening at Maumee Bay State Park. A packed tent braved crisp autumn temps to take in this historic milestone for the non-profit and to hear Kim's remarks (which she echoed in her notes that prefaced the organization's recently released newsletter, see page 2).

We were truly honored to be a part of the night. And I appreciated the opportunity (1) to tell all those in attendance that each dollar of their collective gift would be put to good use -- and (2) to reciprocate a thank you!

ASIDE: As another incredible example of the serendipity of this project, I recently found that all of our unanticipated costs incurred because of challenges associated with this year's historically high water (dike damage, extra water conveyance, etc.) ultimately tallied to a now familiar dollar amount: $8,000. (See photo at right.) Unbelievable.

P.S. Whether you are a birder or not, if you have an interest in or passion for the environment, do yourself a favor and learn more about BSBO -- maybe even consider becoming a member. While birds reign supreme, there is a lot more to their organization than beaks and feathers!

Friday, September 29, 2017

More Really Exciting News

Priority One on the West Marsh
Over the last two weeks we have been engaged in some really intriguing conversations relating to major restoration priorities on the West Marsh. This past spring, we were asked to submit project proposals that could augment the newly established Sandusky Bay Initiative -- a multi-agency collaboration intended to focus resources on improved water quality on Sandusky Bay and Lake Erie.

We have now received confirmation that we have been selected as a project site to receive funding through the Great Lakes Restoration Initiative (GLRI) to informally kick-start these planning efforts with on-the-ground improvement projects. This work is being spearheaded by the ODNR's Office of Coastal Management Program, but other key players include the Division of Wildlife, and the Erie County Conservation District.

Recent meetings have confirmed that our primary focus will be the replacement of our aging sluiceway -- the 65' concrete structure that serves as the direct conduit between our West Marsh and Sandusky Bay. At more than 50 years old, the existing infrastructure has served the site well. But as you can see from the photo at left, time hasn't been gentle on this important site of water connectivity.

Final designs for the new structure will be completed over this fall/winter. The way it is sounding, we may be able to more than double the width (to 6') and increase the free exchange of water by 400%+. This will have far-reaching positive impact not only on water movement between the marsh and bay, but also on the contents of the water -- maybe most notably the nutrients and fish.

We are excited to share the designs as they unfold. Likely features include sheet-pile side walls (to replace cracked and bowing concrete), aluminum stop logs (to replace custom-cut treated lumber), multiple screw gates (to vastly improve management capabilities), and fabricated "carp grates" (built to allow desirable fish through while preventing too many breeding carp from entering the system).

We are extremely grateful for our local partners

While we hope to have the new sluiceway completed by this time next year, we are very much encouraged by our partners' collective interest in discussing and exploring subsequent projects that could serve as future improvement efforts under the project umbrella. This is a huge opportunity for improvement -- not only for the site, but for the surrounding landscape. We are thrilled to be involved!

Tuesday, September 26, 2017

Big Day for Standing Rush

The WRE easement would protect just over 200 acres of our East Marsh; the image above shows most of the easement area
-- the 100-acre "Dinky Track" in the foreground, the ~75-acre "Tower Marsh" in the center of the image,
and the estuary that connects both units to Sandusky Bay (in the far background)

Yesterday marked another milestone for this restoration and conservation project -- and it's arguably the most significant to date. For the last twenty-one months, we have been actively pursuing enrollment into what is formally called the Wetland Reserve Easement (WRE) program. It is funded through the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA), specifically through the Natural Resource Conservation Service (NRCS) and more specifically through the Agricultural Conservation Easement Program (ACEP).

A new collaborative partner in conservation
and preservation of the marsh
Wow . . . that's a lot of acronyms! But what does it mean? Essentially, the WRE program is a federal means by which private landowners can work cooperatively with the federal government to formally (legally) protect high quality and/or highly restorable wetland habitat for a predetermined duration (30 years) or, as is the case with our pursuit, forever (protection "in perpetuity").

In our situation, Standing Rush was invited to vie for funds within Ohio's competitive program to enroll a finite number of acres into a perpetual conservation easement. This is essentially a legally binding agreement whereby a landowner is incentivized -- often through compensation on a per acre basis -- in exchange for forfeiting or significantly restricting the ability to develop the land (or water) in conventional ways. The ultimate goal is to protect conservation values. Ownership of the land itself does not change (i.e., the land is not sold); but the residential and/or commercial development rights on the land are relinquished.

While we have carefully considered multiple programs that can achieve similar outcomes, we decided to apply for an easement on ~205 acres of our East Marsh through WRE. We feel that this program's motives can be consistent with our long-term vision for the habitat. We can continue to manage the property as we have, and can continue to utilize the property recreationally. Even the hunting heritage on the site can be preserved. As the timeline (21 months and counting!) makes clear, this is a painstaking process. But yesterday, we cleared several major hurdles: (1) we were formally accepted into the program, (2) we received a formal offer for the easement, and (3) we signed and received signatures formally approving the offer.

These are very big steps toward the permanent protection of more than a third of our marsh, but we still have a ways to go. Now that we are legally under contract with the USDA, the funds have been set aside, but we still have to provide a clear title, complete a survey and related due diligence (largely the USDA's effort), and close on the easement. These steps could take as little as 6-12 months or as much as two more years. This is much like any other real estate transaction -- it can get complicated, and the path can often be full of twists and turns. But this is a step in a very positive direction, and we are excited about all that lies ahead!

This overview shows the area west of the highway (above) that would be under easement to protect the connection between
the marsh and the open bay -- protecting the narrow "South Estuary" (center, left of image) insures preservation of the source water

NOTE: As the summary above makes clear, we will continue to have plenty to chew on to move this specific conservation effort to completion. One of our priorities, however, will need to be continuing to assess all conservation tools to determine how to best legally protect the balance of this precious wetland habitat.

Sunday, September 24, 2017

Top Ten

The Mallard or "Greenhead" is perhaps the most identifiable duck, and it has served as the foundation for waterfowl
hunting for generations

Considering recent posts and repeated reference to teal and "big ducks," I thought it would make sense to provide some visual context. We've already seen more than twenty-five species of waterfowl (ducks, geese, swans) on the property, but those included here probably represent the ten most common duck species.

All but the teal (top right and middle right below) are what we would consider "big ducks." I am collecting a growing portfolio of reference photos, but for consistency, I created this page from stock images available through www.allaboutbirds.org, an incredible online tool produced by the Cornell Lab of Ornithology. If you like (or love) birds and are unfamiliar or haven't spent much time on this website, you need to get acquainted. It's a treasure trove of information.

Friday, September 22, 2017

Night Show

100-150 ducks making their way back into the food and refuge of the West Rest Pond just before sunset
(click to enlarge)

People will often ask, what is your favorite time of year in the marsh? That's a difficult question to answer, because I genuinely love all four seasons. Yes, even winter! In fact, I love all different times of day (and night) within each season. [Sure, I could do without high noon on the 100 degree days with 98% humidity without a hint of a breeze to ease the relentless mugginess . . . but this is <1% of the experience.]

This habitat is about as dynamic as it gets. I always tell people how difficult it is to give one tour of the property. How do you best convey something that is ever-changing and so full of life in a single day -- much less in a single window of an hour or two? The marsh is different today than it was yesterday; different this evening than it was this morning. All I can share is a snapshot in time.

But if I had to choose one single shutter capture, we might be getting close to when I'd choose to have my camera ready. As September transitions to October, day length shortens (always a bummer), but I rarely feel more alive. Low to mid-70s in the dry sunshine still feels warm -- even hot -- on the skin, but a touch of shade (even from a passing cloud), an otherwise inconsequential breeze, and/or a low sun in the sky all hint at the cold to come.

Beyond general comfort of classic autumn, I'm always inspired by the wildlife. Seasons -- particularly spring and fall -- are about transitions. And we see so many alive in the marsh. Each evening this time of year, just as the sun is loosing its punch for the day, we can sit back and enjoy what Roy likes to call the "night show" -- a daily routine in the fall (and to a certain extent, the spring) that has become increasingly awe-inspiring over these last few years on this property.

If you have a ticket for the "show," you should be in your seats (in our case right now, somewhere on a West dike) at least an hour before sunset. Plan on it lasting till dark, and be prepared to see birds -- lots of birds. I've experienced a good number of recent viewings while working and playing in the marsh. I'm struck that even a person like Roy (who has seen a heck of a lot of ducks in his lifetime) is compelled to be in attendance. The fact is, he -- and often his wife -- are apt to take in the show multiple times per week.

But again, its almost a spiritual experience. Seeing hundreds, sometimes thousands, of ducks of a variety of makes and models all somewhat predictably descending on the same specific area of land and water at the same time -- it's just special. My hope is that if you haven't already, you get the chance to experience it yourself.

Thursday, September 21, 2017

Close Encounter (Good Karma)

Another reminder of what a good purchase our Canon has proven to be
(click to enlarge to check out the detail; tongue is particularly striking)

Roy got up close and personal with a juvenile Red-tailed Hawk during a recent drive around the marsh. When I saw the photos that showed just how close, I thought it definitely warranted a share. 

The story started while Roy was checking on a pump. As he dropped a foot out of the truck, he noticed the nearby raptor struggling to gather a recent kill -- some type of a decent-sized snake. As the bird awkwardly lifted off the dike, prize "in hand," the snake slipped from its talons and fell into the nearby vegetation. Several quick attempts to right the ship (while simultaneously trying to rebound the juggled prize) resulted in the hawk on its back in a few feet of dense plant material . . . and in a few inches of water.

The thick mass of hibiscus, smartweed, and beggars tick may have provided a soft landing, but the young hawk
almost looked sheepish trying to regain its balance, its composure, and its meal

The plant growth was so dense that the bird literally couldn't get air under its wings; its posture suggests it was
feeling pretty threatened as Roy approached to try to help

Roy gave the hawk a couple minutes to find its footing. But with the snake now abandoned, the bird became more preoccupied with its own safety than its meal. Feeling bad that he disturbed an afternoon snack and that the hawk couldn't seem to get back on the wing, Roy gently extended the tines of a garden rake (protected by some rubber that he had just modified to slip over the end of the tool). The bird readily accepted the helping hand, and Roy was able to easily transfer the bird from the end of the rake to the end of a nearby cottonwood limb.

After another minute of sizing each other up at close range, Roy went back to his work. When he came back to check on his new friend a few minutes later, the hawk was gone. The bird may have lost some dignity, but the good news was (1) it seemed no worse for the wear, and (2) there are plenty more snakes in the marsh where that one came from!

Sunday, September 17, 2017

Hunting in the Context of Conservation

This "punt gun" (photographed in July 1923), used in the United States to harvest ducks and geese into the 1920s, demonstrates how far conservation has come in the U.S. in 100 years
Photo courtesy of the Library of Congress

As we close out the first chapter of this year's waterfowl season on the marsh (teal season expired in Ohio tonight), I think it's worth dedicating a post to the general topic of hunting . . . and more pointedly, the topic of waterfowl hunting within the context of wetland conservation. [I'm taking a chance doing this late on a Sunday evening, as this is a topic that can quickly get controversial. Stick with me. I promise to add more of my personal commentary as the season progresses.]

At first blush, these two subjects -- hunting and conservation -- might seem diametrically opposed. Hunting undoubtedly serves as a flash point, conjuring debate relating to the ethical treatment of animals. "Why would you kill what you are trying to protect?" And while I would readily admit that there are those who pursue game merely as a sport with little regard for one's surroundings, there is a big distinction (in my mind, at least) between hunting and mere killing.

What began as a commercial pursuit to harvest food for the table
has evolved dramatically in the ~150 years since settlement in Ohio
Photo courtesy of York Museums Trust
In my mind, we owe the very existence to much of the wetland that remains on Lake Erie, the Great Lakes, and beyond to waterfowl hunting and waterfowl hunters. Like the native people before us, ducks and geese were first harvested on the Lake Erie shores (and elsewhere) based on a caloric need. That pursuit of course evolved with time, and in certain instances was reserved for those with a certain level of wealth and/or prestige.

Books can be and have been written about the history of waterfowling. But to me, at least as it relates to this specific project, the Bay View marshes would simply not exist if it were for the passion and dedication of specific individuals through the generations. And it is no coincidence that these individuals happen to all be duck hunting enthusiasts.

It all ties back to one of my favorite quotes of the modern environmental movement:

In the end we will conserve only what we love; we will love only what we understand; 
and we will understand only what we are taught. 
(Baba Dioum, 1968)

As I hope to portray in my writings here, duck hunting is much more than totting a shotgun into the cattails. It -- like most hunting pursuits -- is wrought with learning opportunities. It is experiential and often multi-generational. And when done with awareness and appreciation for all that surrounds the hunter, it can be conservation in the purest sense of the term.

One of last week's harvests
SIDE NOTE: Whether you choose to count yourself among the ranks as a waterfowler, you can support ducks, geese, and all related wetland conservation in Ohio by purchasing an Ohio Wetland Habitat Stamp each year. The $15 investment is a requirement for all duck hunters in the State, and coupled with the Federal Duck Stamp, helps duck hunters put some of their money where their mouth is.

POSTSCRIPT: Some of the punt guns like the ones shown here were known to harvest 75-100 birds in a single shot. Thankfully, techniques have become significantly more precise. We set property-specific rules for our hunters that are even more stringent than those established by our Federal and State governments. More on that later . . .

ONE FINAL POSTSCRIPT: Last Tuesday night, Roy and I enjoyed an impromptu teal hunt unlike any I've ever experienced. While humbled by dozens of passes at close range (for the first time in my life I went through an entire box of shells during one hunt!), I did manage to bag a handful of blue-wings.

Tuesday, September 12, 2017

Rest Pond Doing Its Job

Self-seeded millet in the foreground with desirable
perennials (dark green) dominating in the deeper water
I received one of those memorable messages on my phone on Friday. Roy let me know that he had just been out in the Rest Pond assessing how much flowering rush (a nasty invasive plant) we may have deal with out there. Back in June and July, we took several boat rides out for that same purpose, and the initial signs were ominous.

However, Roy's discovery late last week: what we thought were flowering rush starts a couple/few months ago (when only 4-10" long and largely submerged in a couple feet of water) proved to be almost all cattail. "I don't know what else to say other than this is as good as it gets.  I only found one plant of flowering rush . . . the amount of cattail & bulrush coming up through the millet and smartweed is outstanding. The millet is also putting out a second seed crop as the terminal heads get stripped."

The restoration of these 40 acres couldn't be coming much better. It comes down to a combination of planning, vision, existing site conditions, good fortune, favorable weather, and some dumb luck. We know a lot of it is out of our control, but especially when it progresses like it has here, we'll take it!

A 10 x 10' island of Walter's millet pioneering in the Rest Pond
It's extremely gratifying to see some predictability in nature's response. What is unfolding is really what we had hoped to see -- the residual seed from last year's millet crop has resulted in new plants this year that may dominate as much as 20 of the 40 acres; smartweed, another highly prized, seed-rich waterfowl forage, dominates maybe another 10 acres; and then the final 10 acres or so is transitioning to desirable perennial plants, most notably cattail and soft-stemmed bulrush. We are also starting to signs of other attractive plants like Walter's millet (right) and arrowhead interspersed within the annuals.

A punt boat "path" through smartweed on the west side of the Rest Pond; the transition to fall red means
flowers are evolving to edible seed -- this crop is every bit of 6' tall and should be a magnet for passing ducks and geese

While I didn't take any photos, I spent Sunday evening in the blind (#15) with my brother and nephew. It was another memorable night. The teal didn't cooperate, but I can honestly say I've never seen more wood ducks and mallards fly over my blind. We witnessed literally thousands of big ducks cascade into the evolving buffet between 5:00-8:00 PM and watched just as many pull out and fly south for the night -- with guts full of seed. The Rest Pond is doing its job.

I took this blurry image on my phone; click to enlarge to see what several hundred mallards look like
-- these were pushed out of the Rest Pond to the Tower Marsh late last week as we finished up seeding the dike
(it was the largest congregation I had seen on property this year; we saw multiple times more this past Sunday night) 

Friday, September 8, 2017

Keep the Teal Coming!

I'd estimate this flock at ~150 bluewings; it was part of a larger assemblage of maybe ~300 that have been
congregating this week in the millet that we seeded on the East Marsh 

If you've never seen teal fly, put it on your list. To me, it is a spiritual experience. All birds are fun to watch in flight if you really watch them, but these fast fliers take it to another level. Numbers have been building modestly over the last few days. But reports from the blinds this past weekend suggest we had enough to keep hunters alert and happy . . .

"I don't know if I can remember the last time we shot 14 teal in one morning from one blind."

"The teal were tons of fun, but I don't know if I've ever seen that many big ducks getting up from the Rest Pond at the same time." (A quote from a long-time lease holder just after opening morning)

We're a little anxious of cool-cold overnight lows forecast for the end of the week. While the Gulf Coast endorses a steady press from historic hurricanes, we have had incredible weather. Roy calls 75 degrees for a high and 55 for a low ideal -- especially if it is sustained. We have been hitting that about perfectly, but they are hinting at upper 40s for the weekend. Call them fare-weather, but historically, if the mercury dips below 50 degrees Fahrenheit, teal head south. We'll see . . .

These birds didn't know if they wanted to stay or go; fortunately for them, Roy was holding an I-phone and not a 12-gauge

I liked this crop because it literally gets my adrenaline pumping; so much fun to see them flying low over the marsh

Wednesday, September 6, 2017

Good Timing

Re-seeding of the main West Dike is complete; just in time for the rain

I wanted to post the image above just because it's a great testament to the importance of timing in this work (plus, I love the colors and the depth of the clouds in the sky). Roy convinced the Buehlers that they should come out this morning and seed the dike that they just stoned ahead of what forecasters are saying will be a steady and sustained rain that should last for the next day or so.

Until we heard from them this morning, they were planning to come out tomorrow (challenging the meteorologists' forecast). At the last minute, they called an audible in favor of today. Just as they pulled their dusty tractor back onto their trailer and got ready to head for home, the first rain drops hit my windshield. Ground is broken. Seed is in place. Fertilizer is in place. Hay is down. The forecast suggests good grass growing weather. Fingers crossed.

Wilson's Phalarope
I also just got word as to how the recent shorebird walk lead by the Black Swamp Bird Observatory went back on August 26th. About 15 birders from the Toledo Naturalists' Association spotted 59 species of birds (2,418 individuals) in just about 2.5 hours of walking around our East Marsh.

They recorded everything from American Bittern to Wilson's Phalarope (right), and just shared all the specific data with me. Again, timing was right. The mud was exposed and "fresh" from some recent light rains. So while diversity wasn't immense, they did record about 16 shorebird species. It seems fun was had by all.