This spring is definitely one to be remembered. Most folks living north and west of Duck Creek won’t forget snow falling in May. With the recent back to back rains and high river stages, people in southeast Missouri may be thinking about a repeat of the 2011 spring flood. For me, I’ve had a memorable spring because of a couple outdoor experiences; turkey hunting with my dad and taking my kids out to Duck Creek to look for critters.
It is this time of year that our wetlands are bustling with life….actually, if you’ve read this blog over the last few years you’ll know that there is activity throughout the year, but spring is a special time. Longer days and warming temperatures encourage the emergence of plants and animals alike. Despite the see-sawing mercury this year, there has still been a lot to see on Duck Creek.
One of the reason’s there is a spring “pulse” of activity is because of the rain. Sure, our winters can be wet. The cooler weather reduces evaporation and the trees quit pumping water out of the ground as they take the winter off. In spring, as the world greens up and rain comes down new life emerges, and where there is life, that usually means dinner for one species or another.
When I took my kids to Duck Creek, one of the places we looked for critters was in one of the borrow ditches along an impoundment. This area is typically ponded with water throughout the year, but last year it went dry as bone due to the historic drought. I thought the kids would like to see a larval salamander with its big feathery gills and this would be a spot without any fish. To my surprise there weren’t any salamanders, but we didn’t come up empty handed.
Right off the bat, the kids enjoyed the first “big catch”. A common snapper was trying to make an easy meal out of our catch and was a little perturbed when I caught him in the act. Without too much of a struggle I let him go, but not before a quick lesson with the kids on why they’re called “snappers”.
Some would call the next couple of specimens “trash minners”, but I like to call them a distinctive part of Duck Creek; pirate perch and slough darters. Despite the drought, these little fish had held on somewhere and somehow last year and had already found their way back to the borrow once it was reflooded. Now granted, I’ve seen “prettier” and definitely bigger fish, but the kids were happy to have something in hand all slimy and squirmy. The pirate perch only had a slight purplish cast to it and the slough darter was just getting its turquoise bars, but it was a new discovery and pleasant surprise.
After checking the ponded borrow we moseyed out to open marsh of Unit A. There we saw coots bobbing along picking at the flooded vegetation as only coots do. Pairs of blue-winged teal tried to blend in with the less colorful mud hens. Elsewhere striking drake shovelers and their drably feathered mates gleaned bugs off the water’s surface with their spatula-like bills. At the water’s edge, lanky black-necked stilts darted back and forth slurping up bugs from the saturated soils. Swarming above the flooded conditions tree and bank swallows skimmed their seemingly invisible food out of the air. The place was alive.
Later we sat down to lunch at the campground and the kids do what kids do best and ran around; not really aware of their surroundings, but taking it in all the same. We derive many of the values and knowledge from the world we experience. Many of us grew up associating the negative impacts of floods and those unproductive low places in the fields and rightly so given our values and the associated costs of damages. Unfortunately, this is a carryover from previous generations that considered swamps as wastelands with little benefit. It is true. It is hard to quantify the economic value of these dynamic habitats. We still have trouble with it today, but I don’t think it is black and white. Many of you know the value of wetlands and enjoy places like Duck Creek just as I do throughout the year. During this spring family outing I looked at the redesigned Unit A and saw water flowing out of the banks of the meandering channel. I saw abundant life utilizing the habitat. And I saw another generation experiencing nature, making memories, and formulating values. In this moment I am reminded why conservation is important. Hopefully, Duck Creek and other areas like it can inspire similar memories for you as well.