Wednesday, March 31, 2021

March 2021: Thawing Out (Fast)

As abruptly as "real winter" came, it went. We went from 6-8" of solid ice on Sandusky Bay in late February (with some starting to venture out onto the hardwater of the big lake) to completely open water in a matter of a week. All 31 days of the month held highs above freezing and temps soared into the 70s on a couple occasions. 

Nate's research has transitioned from trapping/tagging northern pike (2020) to tracking them (2021) using a portable receiver and multiple receivers scattered throughout the nearshore waters of the Western Basin. 

We are fortunate to have helped secure funding for three submerged tag receivers at Standing Rush (thank you, Office of Coastal Management!): one in the estuary (behind Nate in the image above), one in our Rest Pond (just on the marsh side of Structure 1), and one in our main West Marsh ("upstream" of Structure 2). These devices were deployed ahead of active spawning (late February) and will monitor and record any pike that swims by with an implanted tag. Each tag is fish-specific, so Nate will be able to see who swam by, when, and how often. 

This data will not be available until he retrieves the receivers in May, but his handheld unit gives him a glimpse into what may be going on beneath the surface of the water. It was a thrilling day in March when he detected a very large, tagged female that had made her way through Structure 1 and into the Rest Pond. Based on her movements, it was highly probable that she was spawning -- a practical victory that helps to justify all our efforts to get this new and improved water control structure installed.

It will be very interesting to see the balance of Nate's data and to continue to watch his research evolve. The plan is to deploy the receivers again next year, at least, so we will be able to continue to watch how northern pike are utilizing Standing Rush in the spring.

The spring thaw couldn't be all fun (chasing fish); but my hunch is Roy gets some annual satisfaction out of our selective prescribed burns -- nothing like watching a mass of invasive species disappear before your very eyes. (NOTE: We are very proactive with our local fire departments. They are always informed before we plan to burn, and they are generally very supportive of our efforts.)

A decent "before" (right) and "after" (left) showing the instant impact of burning the narrow ribbons of Phragmites that grow along many of our dikes. Again, we do this selectively, mainly to assess the condition of the dike slope and to improve visibility within and across management units.

Burning Phrag looks dramatic, but it tends to burn itself out fast, particularly when there is only one year's worth of "fuel" (dead stalks and stems). The key is picking the day when the humidity, ground moisture, and wind are all right. Clearly, this is not to be attempted without training and experience.