Monday, January 14, 2019

West Marsh Water Conveyance: Project Update #13 (And the Joy of Daily Photographs)

It took Roy a 75-yard "military crawl" along a dike and a one hour sit in fading light to capture all these puddle ducks
at close enough range to yield decent photographs (as always, click to enlarge)

Last week marked another largely spent at my desk. End-of-year accounting, 2019 forecasting and planning, and some outings for and to Toledo Public Schools made for another "eye blink" Monday through Friday. The federal shutdown -- which probably justifies its own post because of how it is now impacting Standing Rush -- has added some unforeseen challenges to the New Year, but as the photos herein demonstrate, life most certainly goes on in the marsh.

A Cedar Waxwing conceals much of its vibrant
color behind the shadow of a dead ash tree;
even in the shade, an impressive bird
The daily phone call, email, and text updates that I receive from Roy are critical to my ability to stay connected, but the photos that he forwards have become not only a routine highlight of my day, but also a visual lifeline. Photos are certainly not the same thing as experiencing first-hand, but as this blog can hopefully attest, they really help offer a taste of all that is happening -- even as ice and snow wrestle to put the marsh into a state of relative dormancy.

Many of the common creatures of winter on the lakeshore -- from eagles and waterfowl to cardinals and white-tailed deer -- as well as some of the less common ones (e.g., red fox, coyote, mink . . .) flash in and out of my subconscious on a regular basis when I'm working at my desk. But the images that Roy passes to me (many of the best which I then pass to you) help to solidify in my mind some of what I am missing while I am away from the property.

And then there are the update photos from improvement projects -- which also help to fill in the visual blanks. The series below shows this week's highlights: (1) removing the bayfront cofferdam that temporarily held water out while the new West Pump structure was constructed and (2) installation of the new electrical service in preparation for the new pump.

Following the removal of the earthen cofferdam (remnant visible on the lower right), Jason and crew had to remove the
temporary sheet pile that has helped keep the construction site free of bay water since late August
Shiny and new; a far cry from the 50+ yr old
equipment we've been relying on
While the real money shot will be from above -- hopefully via my new "hobby" drone -- (to show the entire structure with water in the entire channel), I am waiting to share that until the pump is installed. Before that can happen, the electricians needed to make sure we were all ready from a utilities perspective. That work seems to be just about completed, so we're hopeful that the pump can be placed this week.

We have not been able to remove water from this location since the old pump was pulled in early September. There have been a decent number of decent rains since then.

Our only other option is to gravity drain water from more than 185 acres through a 24" pipe that connects directly to the bay on our southwest corner. The challenge there is we need sustained west winds to drop bay levels enough to do so, and that has been a pretty hit-or-miss proposition lately. We aren't desperate to take out water, but we certainly don't need any more. A solid free these last few days will help reduce the risk from erosion. Now we just need to take a foot of water off to reduce the stress on the emergent vegetation. (While water depth tolerances are species-specific, most do better with more leaf area out of the water than under the water -- even in winter.)

Pump pit awaiting new pump -- shouldn't be long now!
Numbers can be deceiving when ducks are relaxed, snoozing and feeding in winter afternoon sun within the marsh
(click to enlarge); note splash in center of image
This close-up was taken from 750-800' away (based on Google Earth) -- not bad for a $500 camera!
(click to enlarge); note water coming off drake mallard's head on lower right
Roy estimates the total number of ducks coming and going from the West Marsh in this flock at somewhere around 2,000;
this image captures about 200 of them

Tuesday, January 8, 2019

Never Judge a Book by Its Cover: Flowering Rush

Flowering Rush (Butomus umbellatus) -- just because it's pretty doesn't mean we have to like looking at it
(fortunately, the seen above is not on Standing Rush property; but it's close by,
and we're doing our best to avoid a full-fledged invasion)

One of my new year's resolutions is to take the time to circle back into last year's field season to tell stories that I couldn't find the time to tell when the sun rises early and sets late. On a cloudy, balmy January afternoon seated in my office chair, where the quiet is only interrupted at present by the nearly constant ping of incoming email and texts and the distant rumble of seasonally misplaced thunderstorms (currently rolling over the marsh), it seems appropriate to share some summer green.

Clusters of a dozen or more flowers -- each about an inch
across and suspended from an umbrella-like network
of stems -- introduce both vibrant color
and the risk of an unwanted invasion
And in this case, I can also share some pinks, yellows, and lavenders. Flowering Rush (FR) -- NOT to be confused with Standing Rush -- is another of our region's visually impressive but ecologically depressing invasive species. With origins in Africa, Asia, and Eurasia, its range is vast, and based on what we've observed in the last several years, we can see why.

When we began our field work in 2015, Flowering Rush (or "F-ing Rush," as some prefer to affectionately refer to it) seemed very limited, at least in our corner of Sandusky Bay. We can remember isolated plants in a ditch area that fluctuated from inundated to dry multiple times throughout that first season.

But as water levels have continued to rise and hold, not just locally but across the Bay, Lake Erie, and all of the Great Lakes, we've seen what seems to be a sustained proliferation of the glossy-leaved plant all around us -- and unfortunately, to some extent, within our marshes' boundaries.

While the surface area impacted remained relatively modest in 2018 (under a single percent of our overall area), Flower Rush eradication became Job #1 for Roy last June - August. Many a hot day was spent scouting and spraying. Unfortunately, mechanical control (e.g., cutting or pulling) only amplifies the problem thanks to scores of stubborn "bulbils," or bulb-like propagules that grow within the root structure. A backpack sprayer (equipped with a cocktail of glyphosate, imasapyr, and a surfactant ) did the job for individual plants and small, isolated pockets that typically hugged dikes and canals. But on a few occasions, we actually tag-teamed to carefully apply herbicide both by backpack and by boat (equipped with a battery-powered ATV sprayer tank).

Roy on Flowering Rush patrol; identification was relatively easy as our eyes got trained to the showy, pink inflorescence --
but the challenge is FR tends to come on strongest from mid-late summer and blooming is a staggered event;
plus, the invasive seems quite at home among our desirable cornerstone emergents: cattail and soft-stemmed bulrush
Isolated plants (especially with flowers) became easy to identify and spray, but it seemed to take two discrete spray
events, separated by at least a week or two, to achieve the desired result
An example of what a FR looked like when it was ready for its second spray; two weeks later very little vegetation
remained, at least above the water surface
At first blush, this stand of largely soft-stemmed bulrush (a desirable emergent species thanks to its food and shelter
contributions) does not look too bad; but click to enlarge to see all of the pink flowers of FR circled in red
An off-site location heavily infested with FR; the risk is that, much like Phragmites, Flowering Rush will become a complete monoculture -- monopolizing the unique setting without supporting much other plant or wildlife diversity to speak of

We have heard horror stories of Flowering Rush growing from depths of up to nine feet of water and in monocultures so thick and persistent that impacted areas -- sometimes hundreds of acres in size -- are virtually impenetrable. But we are seeing decent evidence that FR doesn't respond well to turbid water (a condition we can encourage, as needed) and that we have a herbicide technique that should be effective. So for now, we feel fairly optimistic that we are staying on top of the onslaught. It's another chapter in the invasive species saga.

Monday, January 7, 2019

Belated Happy New Year!

Roy has been trying to get close enough for some decent pictures of these black ducks for weeks --
they have been fairly consistent morning and evening visitors on our southwest boundary;
a warm, sunny late afternoon this past weekend finally allowed the stars to align
It seems almost impossible that it has been a full three weeks since I've (a) written and (b) been in the marsh. This has been my longest stretch without a visit since our hands-on work began in February of 2015. I have to say, I'm missing it . . . but there have been just a few things going on . . .

Setting Sun Mallard(s):
this one is worth a "click to enlarge"--
don't miss the second duck
So, in the spirit of better late than never: Merry Christmas, happy holidays, and Happy New Year from Standing Rush!

The holiday break was a bit of a blur, but included quality visits with out-of-town (and in-town) family, good health, lots of great food, plenty of activity and a few chances for some rest, and some memorable gatherings at Mom's (especially in that this was our first Christmas without Dad). The kids were sufficiently satiated without being inundated in gifts, and my wife surprised me with a "hobby drone" that will soon be taking to the air over the marsh -- now that I have a few flights under my belt in calm conditions over dry land! (I can already see a new hobby developing.) I think all of us were happy with what we found "under the tree."

For those who caught my most recent posts and/or for those following us through our newly developed Facebook and Instagram accounts, people are becoming increasingly aware of our new online shop -- which now offers four pretty awesome custom-designed shirts and eight unique decal/stickers. Nothing like launching a new website in the two weeks leading up to Christmas!

I will obviously be elaborating more on this effort in the days and weeks to come, but the general premise is to develop a suite of high-quality merchandise that raises awareness of our conservation and restoration efforts, builds our brand, helps "spread the gospel" of natural resource stewardship, elevates the pride in Lake Erie and in our region, and in so doing, provides additional financial resources to keep doing what we do. Thanks to all those who have already made purchases. We are very excited about what lies ahead with this endeavor.

As a final note before signing off, the West Pump project has been on a bit of a holiday hiatus. We haven't seen any accumulating snow in weeks, and temps have been considerably above average, so things have remained sloppy at the project site. We have a couple more warm/wet days in the forecast (today and tomorrow), and then things are supposedly going to turn more seasonable -- just in time for our contractor and subcontractor to hopefully get back at it to wrap up the job. More on that front as it develops . . .

The subtle beauty of a couple Black Ducks; often mistaken for hen mallards (a species that they will readily co-mingle with),
"blacks" are probably worth a dedicated blog post

While probably an example of "co-mingling" (blacks and mallards), many of these flushed birds appear to be greenheads
(for as much as we despise Phragmites, they make for a pretty interested photo when magnified in the foreground)


Tuesday, December 18, 2018

West Marsh Water Conveyance: Project Update #12 (Eagles & the Channel Crossing)

At first blush, I just missed the perfect image here; but the more I look at it, the more I think that this might be one of my favorites taken on the property thus far (be sure to click to enlarge to check out the detail in the talons and wings)

The weather held for us late last week and for much of the weekend, with afternoon lows staying above freezing -- which in this particular case, was a good thing. The crew still put heat around the newly poured crossing over our new structure, and the curing concrete was wrapped in plastic ahead of Saturday's rain.

Construction oversight
Roy and I thought we were overseeing the day's progress, but as we left for the afternoon, it became clear who the real "pour supervisors" (Roy's term) were that day. This pair of mature bald eagles stood at attention for a good minute on the sturdy limb of a nearby cottonwood, basking in the near 50-degree weather and penetrating late afternoon sunshine. Conditions -- and a successful day's work -- seemed to put everyone in a good mood.

It was fitting that eagles presented themselves on the other end of my camera lens. I don't think I'd be exaggerating to say that I saw 50 individual birds over a 5-6 hour period. Many were sunning themselves or riding warm southerly breezes on my drive to and from the property. But I'd say an equal number were cruising over or past the West Marsh. Lots of mature birds, but lots of juveniles, too. They really love patrolling our bayfront dikes, especially when dead fish are washed or frozen near shore.

The photo series below captures what ended up being an uneventfully smooth (pun intended) concrete pour. Again, this is a milestone for the project, because this is what we (and our contractor) promised we'd have finished by the end of the calendar year. Now, it's a push to see if we can wrap up the project before the New Year. As is so often the case, it will ultimately come down to weather.

By the time we got ourselves in position with a camera, most of the mixer truck's contents were more-or-less where
they were going to be; the rest of the work was finishing and babysitting
Floating and troweling took less than an hour; these guys have done this before!

Finishing touches before the smooth surface was "broomed" to add an anti-slip texture (we didn't stick around for that);
then it was just left to cure for a long weekend

These two, who remind me of the old guys from The Muppets, ultimately seemed content that their work was done
and they took off for the day just about the time we did

Friday, December 14, 2018

Introducing the Marsh Shop!

With the countdown to Christmas now truly upon us,
Standing Rush presents it’s own 12 Days of Christmas.
In the spirit of giving, please visit our brand-new online shop.
1st Day of Christmas: Stand for Clean Water Clear Decal
Today, I am thrilled to announce the unveiling of a new Standing Rush website -- standingrushshop.org! While it is built as a stand-alone, it will also be accessible through this blog (see the "SHOP" tab above) and will be housed under our new parent URL, www.standingrush.org.

Today's launch marks the culmination of months of design work and collaboration with my brother, Joe. His passion, creativity, generosity, and pure talent (not to mention sense of humor) have made this journey an absolute blast. As is so often the case, ideas far exceed dollars, but we are using part of the gift recently received from the BSBO Conservation Fund to make this dream a reality.

The primary goals of our online product offering are two-fold: (1) to help improve the impact and reach of our brand; and (2) to build a broader base of supporters, not only financial but ideological, so that we can magnify the impact of our work.

So each of our products has been carefully crafted and meticulously designed not only to help spread the word about our restoration and conservation efforts, but also to increase awareness and pride for our incredible natural resources (which technically aren't really "ours") -- maybe most notably, the incredible resource that is Lake Erie.

This is going to be fun. Happy holidays, twelve days early -- and happy shopping!

Pretty hard not to call this the true "Swamp Shop," but I think our beloved Mudhens
would have a few things to say about that!



Thursday, December 13, 2018

West Marsh Water Conveyance: Project Update #11 (Establishing Grade & Channel Crossing)

Somebody forgot to tell the snake that this red-tailed hawk is gnawing on that it is mid-December in northern Ohio!

Another busy week both at the marsh and at the desk this last week. In addition to the ongoing efforts at what will be the new West Pump site, we are readying two more permit applications with the US Army Corps of Engineers (more on those later), making headway with the USDA on the conservation easement on our East Marsh, and are prepping for some significant developments with how we present ourselves online (again, more on this to come soon, but for all our faithful followers of this journal, the blog isn't going anywhere). These are the highlights among a whole smattering of other day-to-day priorities. Suffice it to say December is FLYING BY!

On the project front, Jason and crew have been concentrating on (1) bringing the surrounding soils up to grade, and (2) prepping the channel crossing for a concrete pour -- a milestone that is supposed to begin in just a few short hours! Photos do better than my words, so here are some recent pics:

Moving dirt (and finally some clean rock!) while Jason preps the wooden form that will receive the concrete
that will ultimately make up the channel crossing

The end of a day's work; the form is more or less complete

Wiring a complex grid of rebar that will serve as reinforcement for the crossing concrete; this bugger isn't going anywhere

Finishing touches last evening; final prep is going on now and the mixer truck is supposed to arrive a little before noon today

Today's efforts are significant in that the completion of this crossing signifies "substantial completion" (a contractual term) for the project. Our contractor committed to reaching this milestone by the end of the calendar year with the contingency that they could use early next year, if needed, to finish everything up. With 2+ (albeit crazy) weeks before the New Year, they "show no sign of stopping" . . . to borrow from one of my favorite Christmas carols. So I say, press on! Once we get this work completed, we can "let it snow, let it snow, let it snow" . . . at least until we are permitted to start our next improvement project -- which we hope could happen as early as January of February!

In the meantime, I gotta get myself on the road so I can go watch for a mixer truck.


Tuesday, December 4, 2018

West Marsh Water Conveyance: Project Update #10 (Gates & More Welding)

With much of the heaviest lifting behind us, it is now time to start assembly;
a delivery from Lakecraft just after the Thanksgiving weekend has kept the crew very busy
(Above: Jason installing the steel outer stoplog channels that will receive the aluminum logs
that ultimately allow us to set and change the marsh's water elevation)

Between a Thanksgiving holiday weekend and some seasonably sloppy weather (both rain and dustings of snow), it would be easy for our contractors to get bogged down at this stage in the project. But progress has most certainly continued over this last week and a half. Despite heavy boots and raw cold, morale seems to continue to ride high as the project clips along. There's still plenty to do, but it now feels like we all see the light at the end of the tunnel.

Since the floor was poured, the crew has been concentrating on receiving and installing various components of the actual water management infrastructure. The series of photos below depicts several of these components in various stages of installation.

A 36" "screw gate" being bolted to a steel mounting plate that will then be bolted to the precast concrete

A debris and carp screen mounted on the marsh side of the precast with the 36" screw gate mounted
to the interior of the "pump pit"
That same 36" screw gate as seen from within the pump pit
(carp/debris screen frame visible at top of image on other side of precast concrete)

A second series of carp/debris screen, precast, and then screw gate photographed from the bay side shows one side
of the precast pump pit nearly completed; work has continued on the 24" side (to the left of the 36" above)

A current view from the pump pit looking back toward the bay; all of the cap welding that creates the top
of each wall is now complete

The snow-covered area with the vertical pins (above) depicts the 12'-wide, 12" deep area that will receive a final concrete pour . . . if all goes well, later this week. This area will serve as our dike crossing and will be another milestone for the project.

I left the site yesterday with the crew working on two excavators. One was moving clay while the other was compacting it up against the sheet pile walls. They are working toward a finished grade, and we are seeing what was just a drawing on paper three months ago come to life at the site. The real fun will come when we can reconnect the waterways and let the life from each intermingle. Won't be long now!


Wednesday, November 21, 2018

Plenty To Be Thankful For

A large family of Trumpeter Swans preparing for -- or perhaps in the midst of -- a migration (photo by Art Weber);
the photo was taken on the two-track that leads to one of my favorite tree stands -- the one I hunted in tonight

I spend a good amount of my time on this online journal trying to describe just a fraction of the amazing diversity of subjects that we are blessed to witness at Standing Rush -- both in our work and in our play. The marsh is a visual spectacle that unfolds before one's eyes in a different way with each passing day . . . in fact, with each passing "MOMENT" (hence the name of the blog).

Despite our collective efforts with a camera, we could never capture, much less share, anywhere close to what we are fortunate enough to see in person. We do our best. But tonight, as I reminisce on the day that I just had and on the day that lies immediately ahead, I feel compelled to express my gratitude for another of my God-given senses -- the gift of hearing.

This afternoon marked my first sit in a tree stand. This season thus far, my deer hunting pursuits have been much like my time (or lack thereof) in a duck blind: filled with great intentions, but filled even further with personal and professional responsibilities that most often supersede a hunt. I have explained in past posts that I tend to get philosophical when I'm perched in a tree. This evening, my mind consistently wandered to my dad. It is fitting, because I consider my deer hunting outings to be sacred time -- opportunities not only to observe wildlife and the natural world, but also to observe all the blessings in my life. Dad, who passed in June, was certainly one of my greatest blessings. He was also one that, on the eve of a holiday specifically built to "give thanks," was a master at being humbly grateful. Our family is working hard to carry on one particularly special aspect of his legacy, his favorite "prayer," which was either an internal or audible "thank you, thank you, thank you!"

So tonight, on the eve of Thanksgiving, I am thankful not only for Dad but for the gift of hearing. Here's my attempt at a comprehensive list of what I heard tonight from the stand:
Red-winged Blackbird
(Photo by J. Flanagan, used with permission);
Click Here for a library of wildlife calls 

  • A typical mix of "tweety" birds -- cardinals, blue jays, juncos, and marsh sparrows -- either flitting close enough to hear wing beats or chirping in the understory beneath my feet, particularly as the light faded. A brown creeper and white-breasted nuthatch, scooting along rough willow bark just a few feet from my head, periodically chastising each other for invading each other's invisible territory. A covey of mourning doves, spontaneously flushing from dangers I certainly couldn't detect. Periodic flocks of chatty blackbirds, able to be heard way longer than they could be seen.
  • Cattail and Phragmites rustling more-or-less constantly in the unrelenting (and less than ideal) wind. A clump of remnant grape leaves doing their best to hold on for one more day. A broken cottonwood bough creaking in the crotch of a mulberry tree behind me.
  • Man-made sounds: the familiar and distant drone of highway traffic as the wind swung from west to northwest; periodic jets overhead; the lonely but somehow soothing wale of train whistles; random volleys from shotguns on adjacent marshes and farm fields; solitary shots as deer hunters prepped for next week's main "gun season;" a dog barking either because he has been chained too long or because he is just ready to come inside.
  • Whistling wigeon rocketing overhead toward the marsh; wings and the telltale subtle quacks of several flocks of mallards on the wing; solitary and unmistakable quacks from within the marsh, sometime followed by a "high-ball" chorus of enthusiastic clucks and quacks that always makes me feel like I missed out on a joke told by a mallard comedian. Small (and sometimes not so small) pods of Canada geese noisily announcing their need to find a restful landing zone to spend the night. A bevy of trumpeter swans, who I could tell just by the range in their strained and curious calls, where looking around -- per usual -- as they surveyed where they might land in the marsh.
  • Several bald eagles, a single red-tailed hawk, and plenty of gulls (probably of several different makes and models) and great blue herons (whose calls seem to bend like their long necks as they spook and change course in the air).
  • A noisy 'possum (so easily mistaken for a big buck), rambling from the base of one willow snag to another beneath me; a fox squirrel squeaking through the tough outer shell of an imported walnut; a nearly inaudible cottontail (who I may have heard due to a quick rustle of leaves but more likely because I saw its reaction to a silent northern harrier, gliding silently through my main shooting lane).
  • One pair of great horned owls, echoing to each other as I climbed down my ladder.


All of this was in about two hours; all before nightfall fully set in. And all was "observed" with my ears rather than my eyes (although I must admit, I would sneak a peak whenever possible and a nearly full moon would have made for some more fun observation, if I wouldn't have been under-dressed). Unfortunately, I never did hear what is often the almost incomprehensibly subtle approach of a whitetail underfoot, or the nearly equally thrilling sound of the arrow being released from my bow. Next time. Obviously, still plenty to be thankful for.


Monday, November 19, 2018

West Marsh Water Conveyance: Project Update #9 (Concrete Floor Installed)

Jason's crew included four on the ground, two working the crane and bucket, a mixer driver, and a QAQC technician;
Roy and I took pictures, smiled at the progress, and just tried to stay warm

In spite of periodic sleet, steely skies, and a stiff wind off the bay, last Friday proved to be just good enough to allow the crew to get the channel floor installed. Our "big pour" has been weeks in the making, but all the prep culminated in just 2-3 hours of actual concrete work. It was quite a transformation. The crew was very efficient, and as the photos below depict, very effective in achieving a beautiful finished product -- despite less than ideal working conditions.

13.5 cubic yards of concrete were systematically lowered into the channel
one hopper bucket at a time
The finished product ended up looking better than my garage floor
A good perspective of progress, taken from atop the precast concrete boxes
(facing the bay with my back to the marsh)
A floor-level perspective looking the other direction
(facing the marsh with my back to the bay)
The marsh-side concrete apron, just after the pour was completed
I'm not sure which was more exciting: the view of the first full mixer truck creeping down the muddy path to the project site,
or the second (empty) mixer truck pulling away -- access is always dicey this time of year, so it was great nobody got stuck

Last week marked the first measurable snow falls (several "dustings") and the first time the marsh froze over completely. Skim ice extended to full coverage only briefly though. Temps have remained well below average (highs in the 30s and lows in the 20s), but sustained wind makes any accumulation of ice difficult.

I always say when duck hunters are happy with the weather, everyone else seems to be miserable. That's certainly been the case for much of these last few weeks; plenty of cold, wind, and cloud cover. Unfortunately, there just haven't been too many ducks in the area (not just in the marsh, but more regionally -- on "our side" of Sandusky Bay). Deer activity, by contrast, seems to be on the increase with lots of sign around the property and the rut likely in full swing. We'll see what this holiday week brings. In addition to some of my favorite time of the year with family, I'm hopeful to find some time in the blind and/or in the tree stand.




Friday, November 9, 2018

Duck Season: Act 2 & Project Update #8 (Still Welding)

The original of Haus and Home, a 12x20" oil on canvas, is one of my favorite paintings by Jim Rataczak;
appropriately, it resides on my parents' fireplace mantle (in the "Kraus Haus" where I was raised)

Tomorrow marks the opening of the main duck season on Lake Erie. While weather was unseasonably cool for the first "half" of this season (which closed on October 28th) -- a good thing for waterfowlers -- this is the stretch that all camo-laden comrades of the duck blind eagerly await.

Wood duck still life;
8x14" oil on canvas
by Jim Rataczak
Appropriately, the mercury dropped to near freezing by the time I walked the dog last night. The first big leaf round-up was behind me. It was calm and clear as the dog crunched over newly frosting grass, and the forecast came through with the season's first snowflakes overnight. Not much stuck to the ground, but I drove through near white-out conditions as I returned from dropping the kids to school. The wind was blowing; scores of leaves were plummeting toward the ground, laden with snow mixed with rain. It just felt like duck season.

Once again, life will keep me out of the marsh for opening day -- and more likely for all of opening weekend. I've yet to sit in a deer stand. I'm just at a very busy point in life right now.

But I do have the vision of a solitary pair of wood ducks, much like those pictured above, swooping in front of our "#15 blind," just as my brother and I were loading our guns to start a morning hunt. It was a full two weeks ago now already, and it was one of only two chances I've had thus far to get in a blind this season. But my first shot connected with the lead duck (not a bad way to start a season). Duck activity the rest of that morning was pretty quiet (I only took one more shot, and Phil never connected with a bird). But we had a great time sitting back and catching up. After all, that's really what all of this camouflage is about.

ASIDE: The artist featured here is a dear friend. Jim Rataczak (www.jimrataczak.com) is married to my first cousin, Joan, and they served as an integral part of my "Minnesota family" while I attended college -- all the sudden lots of years ago now. I will forever cherish our shared time around their table and in the field. Whether it was chasing grouse, sneaking after northern pike by canoe, or just exploring recent and in-process projects in Jim's home studio, I always felt -- and feel -- welcome.

Jim is a purist who paints with the utmost integrity. His subjects -- almost exclusively birds -- are true because he witnesses and sketches all of them in the field, only to be fully captured in the studio. He is a keen observer. He is biologically trained, formally with a Masters in ornithology, and his God-given talents are meticulously communicated to anyone lucky enough to see his award-winning work. His land ethic and understanding of natural processes is only matched by his deep appreciation for the natural world. While he resides more than 600 miles away, I'm trying to twist his arm (not too much twisting required) to get him to Standing Rush. I'm keenly interested in making prints of a commissioned piece -- WHICH HE HAS AGREED TO! --  and perhaps one or two of his incredible field watercolors, available as prints. (Check out his website for examples.) They will help us carry out our mission, and help put me back in the blind . . . even when I can't be there in person.

PROJECT UPDATE:

Here are several project photos since my Halloween update. As anticipated, we lost a handful of days due to weather. Reports from as little as a mile away suggested up to 5" of rain in 24 hours late last week. We might of gotten more like 2" in the marsh, but it was plenty enough to cause delays and make for a muddy mess.

The structure from the marsh side after nearly a week of drying time after last week's rain
(Mike welding away in the background, middle)

This photo depicts both the sheet pile cap installation (foreground) and the preparation for
the dike crossing bridge pour (step-down in the steel in the background)

Another perspective of what will soon be a poured concrete deck across the newly installed steel sheet pile channel

The structure from the bay side -- no photo can capture the amount of work it has taken to trudge through
all this mud to get ready for what we hope will be next week's concrete pour