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

Monday, April 22, 2019

A Global Perspective

Somehow, Earth Day always makes me think of our little "blue marble" from the outside looking in --
how can something so vast and diverse from ground-level look so small and fragile? In the grand scheme, it is
(image provided by the SeaWiFS Project, NASA / Goddard Space Flight Center and ORBIMAGE)

As Earth Day approaches its 50th birthday (49 years today), a good number of people look at the modern environmental movement and think "it's a treehugger thing," or it is one day out of each 365 to "think green." Fore mainstream America, my fear is that it has become a day to contribute a few dollars to a tree planting or to peruse plans for building a bird box; to dust off the bike for a single day's commute or to opt for paper, not plastic.

None of these, of course, bad things . . . but are they enough?

The marshes that surround Bay View on Sandusky Bay
(located more or less at the red arrow) looking east,
as photographed from 204 miles above the earth
20 years ago this May
(photo made available by NASA)
Even the very word "environment" -- and perhaps even more "environmental" -- now carry certain baggage. Like so many things, they have become polarized and politicized.

So for many, expressing strong support for an environmental cause -- much less the ultimate environmental cause (the well-being of the planet) -- is just too risky. There are just too many strings attached.

But my simple hope is that these words, like Earth Day itself, can continue to evolve to elicit an open-minded, introspective, and lasting response not just from Americans but from the entire planet's population. The premise has almost become cliche, but ultimately we really do only get one chance (fortunately spread over many generations) to take care of our surroundings. And whether our immediate surroundings are the deck of a high-rise in one of our biggest cities, a suburban lawn, or an expansive rural homestead, all of us make decisions that impact everyone else.

Standing Rush is just one tiny pin point on an immensely rich and diverse global tapestry. But it's our hope that our efforts can help inspire others to "think big" and, at the same time, take the time to steward their own special, little corner of the planet. When you step back and take a fresh look, it is one magnificent place.

Wednesday, April 10, 2019

'There Must Be 1,000 Frogs and Toads Out There'

Camouflage is the name of the game if you are going to congregate in huge numbers and get noisy

Yesterday afternoon, as I took a breath from dragging downed tree limbs off one of the dikes on a remote corner of the West Marsh, I couldn't help but find myself looking for the source of a chorus of amphibian love songs. The sun was bright, the mercury was climbing, and love was most certainly in the air.

A second perspective on the long frog I could identify visually
-- a solitary Northern Leopard Frog
I grew up pursuing "pond frogs" -- mainly bullfrogs and green frogs (with the occasional leopard thrown in to really amp up the excitement) -- with reckless abandon. Much like my oldest son now, I love them and always have. And while I'm certainly not an expert, particularly in identifying Ohio's frogs and toads by call, I have to admit that I've become pretty adept at picking their earth-tone form out of a watery cattail or bulrush lineup.

That's what made yesterday's experience so awe-inspiring. What started as a casual gaze into shallow water eventually evolved into a 45-minute dedicated sit with the camera. I recall thinking to myself, "it sounds like there must be 1,000 frogs and toads out there," just based on the peeps and croaks vying for very species-specific attention within my earshot. As I've experienced many times before, the sounds were seemingly coming from everywhere, but when I focused on a specific area to try to identify the musicians, I was hard-pressed to find even a single source.

Finally, I was able to make out the telltale, bulging-eyed silhouette of a solitary leopard frog who, like its counterparts, lay nearly motionless just twenty feet away. I stress nearly motionless because the only way I spotted it among last year's downed cattails and this year's emerging reed canary grass is that it couldn't help itself from flinching a time or two as tiny midges bumped clumsily over the warming water's surface. One flinch caught my attention and a second flinch (pictured above) was caught on camera.

The whole experience felt significant for a variety of reasons. (1) Hearing and seeing frogs and toads this time of year is a ritualistic symbol of the passage of time; it's spring once again. (2) Taking the time to slow down for just an hour or so paid dividends in getting to witness this frog just being a frog; I don't think he (or she?) had any idea of my presence. (3) True wildlife photography is tough. I certainly don't claim to be much beyond an amateur with a decent camera, but the effort it took to get a common photo of a common frog makes me appreciate that much more what the truly talented do "to get the shot." Wildlife doesn't commit to an agreed upon time or location for a photo shoot. The photographer has to work hard, be informed, be patient, and -- as the best one's will tell you -- get lucky.

(One final note: the 'there must be 1,000 frogs and toads' thought from yesterday proved to be prophetic in a way. I just checked our statistics for the blog, something I do in detail about once a month now, and we have just surpassed 1,000 email subscribers -- 1,028 to be exact. In just over two years of posting, we have attracted more than one thousand people who want to read about our adventures on a day-to-day basis. I am humbled and excited by that interest. It's my hope that we can keep building the curiosity and enthusiasm for these incredible corners of our earth. As a final postscript, if you are not a subscriber and/or if you want to invite a friend, simply enter a valid email address into the "Follow by Email" box on the right navigation bar and click "Submit" -- it's as simple as that!)

Friday, April 5, 2019

Another Reason to Smile: A Blanding's Turtle Research Collaboration Opportunity

The Blanding's Turtle may be happy to be getting the attention, but the truth is, research that Standing Rush
will get to participate in will add knowledge about the status of many of Ohio's turtle varieties
(photo credit:

Not sure who's more excited: me, my eldest son, or the turtles? Let me back up . . . I've had several correspondences (by email and by phone) this week with a long-time friend by the name of Greg Lipps. Greg and I met about 20 years ago now because of a shared passion in the preservation of northwest Ohio's very own Oak Openings region -- not just a really cool Metropark, but a truly globally distinct ecosystem.

My eldest son, a turtle lover,
proudly displaying
an Eastern Box Turtle
Greg is one of the most passionate ecologists who I know. His deepest love is for reptiles and amphibians, but it's not difficult to get him bouncing on his toes about a whole host of things that creep, crawl, or go bump in the night. His previous hat was a zookeeper in the department of herpetology at the highly venerated Toledo Zoo. But new opportunities landed him at the Ohio State University about five years ago now -- just about the time we were getting underway at Standing Rush.

We've been talking periodically ever since about opportunities to collaborate, and we now seem to have found our chance. Greg is not just a bundle of enthusiasm, he is also highly adept at building a team and executing on a vision. To that end, he has helped assemble not just the talent (via The Toledo Zoo, Ohio State, Indiana Purdue University Ft. Wayne, Ohio Division of Wildlife, and the Michigan Department of Natural Resources), but the funding (through a multi-state competitive State Wildlife Grant from the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service), and a network of landowners (private and public) willing to provide access to some of the most pristine and suitable habitats to conduct his important research. Standing Rush is flattered to be among those being asked to participate as a monitoring site.

As the research summary flier below can best communicate, the target species in this research is the Blanding's Turtle, a "semi-aquatic" herp that is commonly identified by its broadly arching, high-domed shell, yellow throat and chin, and "permagrin" . . . as I like to call it. This almost cartoonish character takes center stage because (a) targeted historical research on its ecology has been spotty, at best, and (2) because there is growing consensus that its populations are precarious and at risk of further decline -- possibly to the point of extinction. One driving force in Greg's research is to help provide regional data that can be interpreted in the context of somewhat similar work that has been conducted in New England. The outcome being to determine what protections, if any, might be best recommended for the species.

Monitoring, including both passive spotting and very intensive catch-and-release trapping and tagging, will take place over two discrete, one-week periods -- likely in May and June. Considering my son received two turtle traps for Christmas, something tells me he'll be there with mud boots ready and clipboard in hand!

Click to enlarge

Monday, April 1, 2019

Be Prepared for the Unexpected and Enjoy the Ride -- Ed Moxley

Ed Moxley
2/2/47 - 3/22/19
Another dear friend and local champion of wetland conservation passed -- almost fittingly -- while I was on my recent adventure to Manitoba (ice fishing). Ed Moxley was not only proud of his northern Ohio roots, he was also more than happy to pursue his #1 passion (duck hunting) both near and far-afield.

For more than six decades, Ed pursued ducks and geese across the U.S. and Canada, in Mexico, Argentina, Colombia, and even Botswana -- just to name the regions he specifically spoke of to me. To say he was avid would be a woeful understatement. Ed beamed over ducks. And, especially over recent decades, he tirelessly advocated for their well-being and conservation.

How could someone who prided himself in being such a student of the sport (the sport of harvesting birds) love these animals, arguably to the point of an obsession? Ducks and duck hunting were not just a past-time to Ed, they were a way of life.

For more than four decades, Ed and his family owned and operated Moxley's Marsh, immediately to the east of Standing Rush. Ed lived and breathed his quiet corner of Sandusky Bay. He knew where the birds would be and when they would be there. He knew where they would fly and where to be to be in best position for the shot -- either with a shotgun, with a video camera, or with both. Sometimes "marsh management" took the form of single-elimination varmint control, as Ed crept along familiar two-tracks craftily wielding his .22 -- he was a dead-eye to put it mildly.

Ed and Roy initiated a long and lasting friendship -- and mutual respect -- back in the 1970s when Roy was formulating his duck nesting studies as a Master's student. Ed not only supported the work in principle, he offered his family's marsh as the epicenter for the research. I caught up with Ed a couple decades later, when he and his long-time shooting partner Dave Brunkhorst invited me out to test a product I was developing that held potential in remedying holes caused by problematic muskrats and groundhogs (at least those that somehow eluded Ed's crosshairs).

Six shots = six ducks for Ed
(photo from A Waterfowler's Scrapbook II, by Edward J. Moxley)
Roy and I have recently reminisced about how we were both instantly drawn to Ed's infectious enthusiasm and broad smile. We have fond memories of Ed's proclivity to scout for our vehicles, so he could catch up with us in the marsh to "chew the fat." Whether it was duck behavior, the controversies surrounding land conversion, or the next invasive species, Ed was always game to talk shop.

I'll have at least two lasting memories regarding Ed Moxley (and Dave Brunkhorst). The first is that if I was ever in a blind across the marsh from those two seasoned veterans and heard a quick volley of six shots, I knew they were already half-way to a two-man limit. These guys were "wetland assassins," and took modest pride in the fact that they dispatched their pursuits efficiently and humanely -- leaving time to sip coffee, watch the steam rise from the marsh, swap war stories, and then watch ensuing pods of birds land warily into shooting holes before the hunters called it a day.

Beyond Ed's marksmanship, I'll also never forget a bit of unsolicited advice he offered just a few weeks after I closed on the transaction to buy Standing Rush. He (and Dave) were visibly excited about Roy and me as new neighbors. The early spring air outside and the concrete on the floor of their makeshift duck shack were both cold and raw, but the radiator heat and the conversation in the room were both warm and inviting. "Marsh management is a marathon, Eric, not a sprint. Some people will think you're nuts. But it's magical. Be prepared for the unexpected, and enjoy the ride."

Thank you, Ed, for your optimism, your enthusiasm, your friendship, your wisdom, and your loyalty to conservation. You, like your longtime buddy in the blind, will be sorely missed.

Thanks, Ed Moxley, for helping to keep me from wading too long in the "Dark swamp of despair"
when this whole project seems too big, too crazy, too unorthodox
(click to enlarge)

Wednesday, March 20, 2019

A Ribbon of Limestone (From the Sky)

Newly placed limestone reinforces the main exterior dike (center) protecting the main West Marsh (left)
from the open bay (right) 
To close the loop on our most recent improvement project -- and to provide another perspective on the impact of historically high water on Lake Erie and Sandusky Bay -- I decided to get the drone in the air. [Call me a fair-weather pilot, but conditions were about perfect yesterday for a late morning flight in March!]

The image above does a nice job depicting the breadth of our recent stone work -- a little over 1,200 linear feet in all. And if you click on the image to enlarge you can also see how sustained high water and freeze/thaw cycles on the bay accelerated the erosion of the "barrier island" that (until very recently) seemed to provide real protection for the exterior dike. Ice came off the main bay just a few days ago -- probably once and for all for this season -- but the damage to the trees and shrubs that have been growing on the outer fringes for more than 25 years had already been done. Thank goodness we got that stone in place. The next few months of high water, which typically peak in early summer, are going to be interesting . . .

Modest waves are still relentless against what's left of our barrier island; the day the ice finally receded,
we could see that the damage had been done

Upturned root masses will not last long against high water and spring wave action; this portion of the barrier island would
have been two to three feet out of the water as recently as 2015 -- water levels are cyclical (and at times destructive)
on Lake Erie and the rest of the Great Lakes

Wednesday, March 13, 2019

Editorial: Groundhog Day for GLRI

Screen grab from The Blade, Toledo's primary print news outlet -- March 12, 2019

It's too late to be Groundhog Day, but I'm starting to feel like Bill Murray. Once again, as the federal government turns to drafting and debating the budget, the Great Lakes Restoration Initiative, or GLRI, again finds itself on the potential chopping block. I have written on this topic before (see March 2017), but the fact is, this proposal has been made multiple times over the last couple years -- and over the last couple administrations.

Bill Murray drives Punxsutawney Phil off a cliff
in the 1993 film "Groundhog Day"
Toledo Blade "Politics Writer" Liz Skalka does a good job framing the subject matter in her article in last Tuesday's newspaper. But the reality is that this story is being retold all over the region -- and hopefully all over the country -- and it should NOT be a political one . . . at least as it relates to party affiliation.

In my modest estimation, it is mind-boggling that GLRI continuously has to defend itself. $300M (the current level of funding) hides in our defense budget like a heron in the cattails. Even though this number might sound like a lot at first blush, it represents a mere 0.00632% of the $4.75 trillion dollar budget that was just proposed by the White House. Not that I am advocating this quantitatively, but to provide some prospective, we would have to spend 159-times the $300M GLRI budget to reach just 1% of the total federal budget being proposed. The current recommendation from the White House is instead to cut these funds by 90% -- to $30M. From where I sit, we should be willing to invest a bit more in one of the most precious freshwater supplies on the planet.

GLRI dollars are consistently making a positive impact on the health and well-being of the Great Lakes. I can readily admit that I am biased -- our own water conveyance rehabilitation project will be added to a growing map of success stories. As an Ohian, as an American, these efforts are clearly pretty important to me.

Before getting off my soapbox, I offer three further tidbits as food for thought:
(1) While the current administration suggests "ecosystem protection and restoration activities" should be left to the "local and state entities," I can speak from personal experience to confirm that, despite best intentions and full cooperation, Erie County -- where the marsh resides -- has had exactly $0 in cash to contribute to our efforts to date, and the State of Ohio had just $30,000 to invest in FY 2018 for such activities on all private lands in northern Ohio (total!).
(2) Each of us can make a difference by making our voices heard (on this and any other subjects that are important to us);
(3) There should be some solace in knowing that it is unlikely that the 90% program cut being proposed will make it past Congress. With enough voices beating a drum of support, current investment levels should be maintained . . . but we shouldn't take anything for granted. Political representatives are hearing from a growing percentage of their constituents: the health of the Great Lakes does matter and active steps must be taken. If you haven't already, consider reaching out to your relevant politicians to voice the same.

Click to enlarge to read the introductory paragraph and related caption in National Geographic photographer Peter Essick's
article For Health and Habitat: Rescuing the Great Lakes which appears in Undark Magazine this month;
there is also a neat photo of a young hunter taken at Ottawa National Wildlife Refuge
and a Toledo high school student taking part in a river clean-up

Monday, March 11, 2019

West Marsh Stoning Project: By the Numbers

About 500 linear feet of the 1,250' just protected by last week's bay front stoning project; the work is now complete
and we hope that this will protect the West Marsh for the next 20-25 years

Before moving on to the next major priorities on the list, I thought it made sense to commemorate last week's efforts on the West Marsh with a project summary -- by the numbers:

Our operator was efficient and highly effective at
individually placing stone and "keying" the rock together
to increase its durability and resilience to wave action
* 1,250 linear feet of exterior dike protected;
* 738 tons of quarried limestone delivered/placed;
* 107 single-axle truckload deliveries; 
* 80 trucking man hours (approx);
* 25-30 excavator hours (still waiting on official total);
* 20 project oversight hours on-site (Roy);
* 14+ weeks of permitting applications;
* 3-4 trucks delivering, depending on day;
* 2.7 work days;
* 2 relieved Standing Rush staff members;
* 1 protected exterior dike (the only one on SR property).

The final number that is significant for this project is the total cost. We know it is going to be a significant 5-digit number. But we also know that (1) this was a must-do project, (2) we were very fortunate to be able to squeeze it in before spring storms and early summer peak water levels, (3) the work was done efficiently and done well, and (4) the completion of this project is a major victory for the long-term viability of the site. And after a day or two to catch our breath, we can begin focusing our attention on our next permit application and what will likely be the next major improvement project targeted for 2019 -- the rehabilitation of approximately 3,000-feet of our south dike on the West Marsh. This is going to be another doozy!

Single-axle trucks could only bring 5-9 tons per load, but short runs kept the excavator operator busy and kept
our existing earthen infrastructure from being damaged

A delivery truck returning (empty) to the highway from the project site for another load of quarry stone;
trucks used our "center dike" (which we completely rebuilt in 2016/2017) as our service road

Thursday, March 7, 2019

Stone In Place, But Diving Ducks Steal the Show

A major raft of divers -- mainly redheads and canvasbacks, with trumpeter swans and puddlers in the background
served as a constant distraction during my time at the marsh yesterday

I am happy to report that we are finished placing armor stone on our bay front exterior dike on the West Marsh. After all the preparation, it took three days of hauling, a little over 100 truckloads of limestone, and pretty much the ideal window of late season winter to get the job done. But we did it. Hats off to Roy, the truck drivers, and the excavator operator. Conditions were tough, but we got it done with teamwork. More on this soon, but suffice it to say I'm relieved. Our largest vulnerability has now been dramatically reduced (dare I say, eliminated), at least for the time being.

Time is tight now, but I wanted to share some lively imagery from yesterday's visit. The air and water (what isn't frozen at least) were teaming with waterfowl of all different makes and models. Most notably, redheads and canvasbacks put on a show. The still shots are neat, but the video makes it that much easier to appreciate the density and near-constant motion. I could have watched (and filmed) all day.

My only disappointment was that I couldn't get closer and that my best footage took place when the sun was obscured by passing clouds and snow showers. These birds are magnificent under about any condition, but they are perhaps most breathtaking when their spring plumage contrasts with dark water and fading afternoon light.

The top image and video are predominately redheads (distinguishable by gray upper wings/shoulders, a more abrupt
"forehead,"and a downturned bill that looks like it was dipped in white and then black paint); canvasbacks have a similar
dark cinnamon head, but a broader, more gently sloping forehead and bill (with "canvas" white upper wings/shoulders);
the swans in this shot hint at what a little sunshine can do to a late winter photograph!

Tuesday, March 5, 2019

Rising Water Levels Lead to Unexpected Expenses

If this image looks cold, it's because it is; this represents the first two of up to 140 truckloads of quarry limestone that are
currently being placed on our exterior (Sandusky Bay-facing) dike on our West Marsh

One recurring theme of this running narrative has been that water levels dictate about everything else when it comes to wetland management, particularly in coastal settings. There are daily reminders of this universal truth in our work, but the impact of changing hydrology is particularly poignant today, as Roy oversees the start of an unexpected bay front stoning project on our West Marsh.

I say "unexpected" in that this investment (expense) was not on the radar when we took possession of the property in 2014. In fact, it wasn't clear on the screen even in 2017. But several consecutive years of increased water levels in Lake Erie and one particularly nasty storm event has ultimately placed this project on the top of the priority list.

Static water levels in Sandusky Bay were a solid 18" higher when this photo was taken (July 2018) as compared to when we
started this project (February 2015); what was a "barrier island" a few years ago (formed during low water years of the late
1990s and 15 years of the 2000s) has evolved into a deteriorating string of fallen willows and cottonwood trees

Water levels on Lake Erie (and all the Great Lakes) tend to be cyclical. Locals speak in terms of "high water years" and "low water years" because they tend to be memorable extremes. But when looking at the data over the last hundred years, most of the time, the lakes reside somewhere in between.

A significant northeast storm pushing Sandusky Bay water over a 25+ acre
area that is typically all above the water line (March 2018);
the typical shore line is left of any whitecaps on this image
Anthropomorphic issues arise when water levels hit these historic highs and lows. And as it turns out, as a result of an extremely complex interaction of many environmental factors (e.g., regional and local precipitation, evaporation, air temperatures, wind, ice cover, impermeable surfaces, etc., etc.), we in the midst of a period of near historic high water.

I stumbled onto a decent article (access here) on the subject relating to Lake Erie in particular.

Changing water levels impact our daily routines differently depending on our interrelationship with the lake. But for Standing Rush, the continuous uptick in lake and bay water levels have meant vulnerabilities in areas of the property that haven't been vulnerable for nearly 25 years.

A comparison of our access to Sandusky Bay during calm conditions, left (July 2017) and during the major storm event that
caused the bulk of the damage to our exterior dike (March 2017)

Data from the USACE, released today. The red line reflects recorded water levels. Compare those levels with the 100-year average (in blue) and the projection for the balance of the year (in green), and the reason for concern (or at least vigilance)
increases. I added the yellow highlighting; if the upper end of the projected deviation proves true, we will be breaking
records set in 1986 -- probably the last time our exterior stone was fortified. Let's hope that doesn't happen.

Once we realized that the water level trends weren't tipping down but could, in fact, be continuing up, permitting with USACE and ODNR was the next step. Roy has been working his tail off for the last several months on this front to allow us to do this work. The government shutdown complicated things, causing us to miss a mid-winter weather window. [Proper weather conditions are crucial: sustained cold, so the dikes can be driven as hauling roads, without too much snow, so trucks can access and not slip off the dikes.] If we can't do it now, we wait until July (after another potentially destructive spring storm season).

We received the official green light last Friday, and the good Lord miraculously seems to be giving us another weather window of late-season cold. To make matters more interesting, all work must be suspended from March 15-June 30 (a restricted period for in-water work to protect fish, among other things). The bad news is, protecting up to 1,250 linear feet of exterior dike will cost us up to $50,000 or $40/linear foot. The further bad news is, we did not have this project budgeted in our 3-year budget, and we have not been able to find funding support for the project (hard to get people excited about paying for rock!). The good news is, as of about an hour ago, we had the first 200 or so feet completed. It isn't fun, but we're protecting our assets.

ASIDE: While historic high water levels put stresses on anyone/anything on the lake shore, our biggest vulnerability comes if/when we have a strong NW or W wind following three or four days of sustained strong NE wind (a "Nor'easter"). Click here to see a short snippet of the destructive storm from March 2017. At 250-lbs+, I could barely stand up to film. Awesome power.

Monday, February 25, 2019

Structure #1: A View From Above

The view from atop our newly constructed water conveyance structure (looking south/southwest); most of the field of view is of the
~40-acre "Rest Pond" (restored starting in 2016) -- the main ~145 acres of our "West Marsh" lies just beyond the open water toward
the top of the shot, and Sandusky Bay wraps this perspective to west (right) and to the north

Well, I finally got my drone in the air over the marsh! I beat this past weekend's crazy winds and took to the sky late Friday afternoon. Lighting was harsh, but the images still provide decent perspective. All were captured just above our recent construction site.

Our new pump and water conveyance structure ("Structure #1") from just inside the marsh, looking west/northwest
(the water on the top half of the image is what we call the "estuary" because it is directly tied to Sandusky Bay where
the cluster of trees jut from the water in the upper left of the image; the highway visible on the upper-right is Route 2)

Similar vantage point, facing more or less due west (image provides good overview of estuary, good view of access
to the open bay, and the winter vegetation within the Rest Pond)

Structure #1, the Rest Pond, and the Main West Marsh from the estuary/bay side of the newly constructed
water conveyance structure

We look forward to gathering more imagery from above -- not only of this project but of other restoration efforts around the property. Check out this post to read more about the many benefits of an aerial perspective.

Thursday, February 21, 2019

More Mud (and Lots of Waterfowl)

While the camera exposure is deceiving, these two images were created within seconds of each other from the exact
same location -- there were just too many birds to capture everything in the same frame! My rough count suggests
approximately 85 Trumpeter Swans at ice level; I'll leave it up to you to count ducks and geese (above)

The "mud months" trudge on . . . the last week has been pretty characteristic of the last couple months: four or five days of pretty seasonable temperatures with a bit of snow, interrupted by a couple days of upper 40s into the 50s with a half inch of rain. While we've definitely had our share of cold, this hasn't felt like winter -- at least from a Christmas Story nostalgic perspective.

My mid-day muse . . . I have found myself preoccupied by the topic of "climate change" lately. First off, let me be clear that commenting on the weather is NOT the same thing as commenting on meteorological trends that are being documented over decades (or even centuries). I'm trying to think big picture here. Somehow, as with so many other topics, this "issue" has become politicized. While I know I will alienate readers by saying this: GLOBAL CHANGES IN CLIMATE ARE ONLY POLITICAL IN SO FAR AS THE HUMAN RACE NEEDS A UNIFIED POLITICAL RESPONSE TO A CLIMATE THAT IS RESPONDING TO HOW WE UTILIZE RESOURCES. To me, it can be boiled down to a simple cause and effect.

I do as much reading as I can stomach on this subject. (I should do more.) I try to read from a variety of perspectives. But for me, the body of evidence is substantial and growing. It is difficult to argue that the way we live does have a profound impact on the natural world. And the way we live has changed substantially -- particularly over the last century or two. This isn't just a matter of some coastal communities getting their feet wet (while water level trends are plenty intimidating in their own right). Changes at this scale impact everything, everywhere, and everyone.

The good news is, the human race is intelligent and has proven to be capable of adaptation. It is high time for each of us to recognize that lots of little choices add up to big changes, and it's even higher time to start implementing more of those individual changes for the collective good.

Wednesday, February 13, 2019

West Marsh Water Conveyance: Project Update #15 (Near Completion/Demobilization)

Success -- the newly installed water conveyance infrastructure on the day our contractor pulled all equipment
from the job site (I hope to capture some drone footage of the structure very soon!)

Well, except for an ever-shrinking punch list of final to-do's, our single largest rehabilitation project to date is about in the books. While we will wait for the official ribbon cutting, we want to thank everyone who has been involved. It really has been, and continues to be, a great collaboration. And it will provide opportunity to do even more great things on this special corner of land and water.

We are really down to odds and ends now, and as of last week, our contractor decided most everything else needs to wait till spring -- when things finally dry out.

Bay ice heaving onto our shrinking "barrier island"after
multiple freeze-thaw cycles and a strong west wind
The construction team has jokingly dubbed the site "Stand-in Mush," the area has become so sloppy. Every time we think we've finally firmed up (even after a week of sub-zero temperatures), we find a way to hit 50+ degrees for a day or two, watch the snow melt, endure a half-inch or so of rain, and watch it get muddier.

Roy and I affectionately refer to this time period (February through April) as "the mud months." It's sometimes hard to keep morale up because everything takes longer than it should, and some things just can't happen at all (like final grading and grass seeding of the tops of dikes -- two of the final items on our punch list).

Especially with all that has happened (or not happened) in Washington since December, this particular stretch has truly been a season of waiting. Currently, the ripple effect from the government shutdown has impacted us in at least two significant ways: lawyers reviewing our easement process were furloughed (causing delays), and agency personnel reviewing permit applications for future projects were not working (keeping those projects on hold). That said there is never a shortage of work. After all, spring will be hear before we know it.

Last year's lotus bloom, drooped into a seemingly perpetual freeze-thaw-refreeze cycle; the warmth of the sun on its stem
and the residue from last season's vibrant display are a reminder that another growing season is not far off

The construction trailer was one of the last items to go

Blue skies still do happen (occasionally), as do large numbers of ducks and geese; we've been surprised to see the
numbers of gadwall around the marsh -- even after all that bitter cold a couple weeks back . . . tough birds

Friday, February 1, 2019

Venturing into Instagram and Facebook Videos

Check out a new video that we just created for Facebook and Instagram to help spread the word about Standing Rush.

The caption above the video will read: Follow Standing Rush on Instagram & “Like Us” on FB not only to witness some of the incredible sights and sounds of the marsh, but also to reinforce why all of this matters . . . 

It will be interesting to see how it is received. If you like it, please consider sharing it with friends and family. If you have suggestions, never hesitate to contact us.

Tuesday, January 29, 2019

GBH's: Phantoms of the Marsh

Apparently these eight ghostly images, taken huddled amidst yesterday's dormant cattails and snow and part of
a much larger group, haven't read the literature that they really aren't supposed to winter in Ohio

For decades now, Great Blue Herons have congregated in springtime on my family's farm just south of Toledo, setting up shop by the dozens. They first established their rookery (breeding colony of "rooks," typically seen as a collection of nests high in a cluster of trees) in the tallest ashes and cottonwoods, and since those early years (despite downed trees from high winds and a little green beetle from a far away land) the number of nests have only multiplied.

At any given time, typically from mid-March through at least August, we can see up to a hundred of these prehistoric-looking "waders" on the wing. Just last summer, my uncle witnessed 50+ of the clumsy, newest recruits on his dock, having just fledged and looking for an easy meal. My childhood home wasn't just an oasis for me; the 10+ acres of pond (or "lake," as we proudly call it) is surrounded by two distinct tributaries of the Maumee River that meet in the northeast corner of the land, just north of the established rookery. Fish abound. And as such, so do herons.

Wish we could claim this magnificent image as our own; it's borrowed for a few reasons: (1) the mid-strike pose is
just plain iconic; (2) its prey (a juvenile Pumkinseed) is currently a dominant species in the marsh (click to see detail)
-- and one of my favorites; and, (3) when we think of GBH's, most think of vibrant colors and warm summer days

The marsh is really no different. Food is plentiful -- not just in the form of a broad diversity of fish, but also in crayfish, frogs, snakes, and really anything else a Great Blue can spear (which is pretty much everything). Shallow water and plenty of cover make for perfect hunting. As a result, we are graced by lots of "feathered pterodactyls," as one of my brothers likes to call them. Their silence-shattering screech is a nightly ritual on the marsh . . . as well as a childhood memory on the creek bank -- where many an unsuspecting heron forced the hair on the back of my neck to stand on end!

These birds are known for being able to go "motionless,"
and this handful did not budge while Roy fired away
multiple images from hundreds of feet away
But what we've found to be unique at Standing Rush is (1) these somewhat common birds are extremely camera shy, and (2) they haven't read their own bios on the Ohio Division of Wildlife's website: The herons will migrate to warmer areas with unfrozen waters in the winter; rarely does a great blue heron remain in the state at this time of year.

It is not unusual for us to see 40-50 GBHs standing together on an ice covered marsh. I'm convinced they are drawn to us not only because there is enough open water (or ice) that they can collectively keep eyes pealed for danger, but they also seem to like what ends up frozen in the top few inches of our ice each winter -- thousands (maybe tens of thousands) of 2-4" Gizzard Shad that enter the marsh tipped by subtle temperature cues, only to succumb to a rapid rise or fall in temperature (and therefore, available oxygen).

At first glance, these loitering rafts of herons don't seem to move a muscle. Even stiff north winds barely seem to unsettle their elegant feathers. But if you give yourself the opportunity to watch them in the cold, they still exhibit their telltale habit of careful inspection and laser precision. Lucky for them, frozen Gizzard Shad are a little easier to capture than a spunky, summer Pumpkinseed.