Have you ever wondered what it is like for a duck to migrate cross-country, viewing the landscape from several thousand feet? I’ll have to admit, from time to time I’ll pan the aerial images on Google and Bing looking for clues and signatures that these birds might be keying in on.
Starting up in Saskatchewan, Canada, there is a matrix of forest and water known as the boreal forest region. The irregular amoeba shaped ponds and lakes dot the landscape and are the birth place for thousands of waterfowl. As you pan south you begin to lose the trees and cross over into the Midwest’s extensive grasslands region. Here too, many ducks are produced each and every year. Another feature that becomes more apparent is the geometric grid of county roads that begin to divide the blue speckled prairies.
As you get to North Dakota, you begin to see blue ribbons delineating the river bottoms between the expansive rolling hills that are still pot marked with the erratic pools. The Garrison Dam creates Lake Sakakawea out of the Missouri River drainage before the Big Muddy winds its way south through a series of four more engineered impoundments. As the big river flows southeast, the prairie potholes follow to the north, but the asymmetric features surrender to a more intensive crisscross set of patterns with roads, rectangular crop fields, and semi-circle shadows of center pivots.
By the time you get to the state of Missouri, features from the air resembling northern wetlands have vanished. Even the serpentine sloughs which are a hallmark of flowing flatlands are reduced. In our state, the major rivers flow through efficiently with limited wiggle room. A few old oxbows exist, but they are hemmed in by roads and levees. Scattered about the developed floodplains are public places like Bob Brown, Grand Pass, Ted Shanks, and BK Leach which have the seasonal signatures of flooding and provide vital stop-over locations for thousands of birds.
As you continue to pan south and east and fall below the confluence of the two mighty rivers, you encounter southeast Missouri. Tucked up against the Ozark hills on the western side of the broadening floodplain is a surprisingly large block of wetland habitat. This is the Mingo basin and is where irregular features once again begin to show through the canopy and in between the laterally framed ditches. Serpentine sloughs and irregular mounds dot the sheltered wetland habitat. In recent years on Duck Creek, these features that were once reduced have been pulled back into the lime-light and enhanced.
Similar hooks, curves, and depressions can be seen further south in Arkansas as the rivers demand more room and respect because of the sheer volume which cumulatively adds up as the core of the country drains to the Gulf. Along Louisiana’s delta, similar to the beginning of our aerial journey, water and trees create an interesting matrix of wetland habitats, which provide seasonal resources to a variety of fowl that have migrated south for the winter.
Wetlands are diverse, which is why they work. We probably will never know exactly what these birds key in on as they fly overhead each spring and fall, but by mimicking the natural variability, we will have a better chance of hitting the mark more times than not.
Over the summer and fall we’ve provided a few bird’s eye views of the renovated marsh. If you would like to day dream about what it would be like to be a duck soaring overhead prior to opening day or are just curious about the big picture, here are a few more aerial shots of the restored wetland habitat for your viewing pleasure. Other posts with aerial photos that were taken earlier this year include: "What to do, teal season is through", "June 2013 Update on Summer Activities", and "Summer Break, Not at Duck Creek".