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Watching the Grass Grow, Really?

Jul 11, 2014

Some may think that there isn’t much to see in a wetland during the summer.  With spring migration long since passed and several sultry months to go before the activity of fall migration begins, what is there to look at and enjoy in a wetland?  It is a good question.      

For me, it takes some work to change pace and slow down…to look and listen more closely…and to focus on the small activities that are occurring right under my nose.  However, if you can make the transition, there is a ton of action in the air and in the water.  As this season’s leaves grow up and last year’s stems break down, there is a whole micro-world of creatures capitalizing on the emerging and disappearing plant structure. At first glance, it may seem like I’m suggesting the not-so-exciting hobby of watching grass grow.

Underwater Creatures

Without looking closely, the shallow pools on a wetland seem still and devoid of life.  However, upon further examination, the 2-10 inches of water is actually stacked with life. Buried just below the muddy bottom, dragonfly larvae lurk as they practice the art of predation. Sliding along the scummy floor, snails can also can be seen slurping down algae and nutrients leached out of residual stems and leaves.  Just above them, small tadpoles dart back and forth in the pool snacking on chunks of algae that dot the puddles.  Intermittently, diving beetles dodge and weave from stem to stem looking for their next small unsuspecting meal. And gliding on the surface, small broad-shouldered water striders feel the vibrations of the commotion and potential prey below.

Aerial Performers

Above the water and stratified at different heights in the vegetation are other quasi-concealed critters. It turns out that the plants grown in the summer for fall waterfowl consumption have multi-seasonal benefits.  For example, during the summer, the hop sedge is a host plant for the pearly-eyed butterfly.  Later in the year as the seeds ripen, this robust sedge feeds a variety of birds. Higher up within the growing green architecture, spiders can be seen waiting in the wings.  Some cling silently to flower petals waiting to capture their next meal, while others molt—some so successful in this endeavor that they are literally splitting at the seams.  Trying to blend in caterpillar larvae of moths and butterflies silently munch on leaves to quicken their transformation.  A little higher up and out of the fray, a variety of native bees perform aerial acrobatics as they navigate flower to flower collecting pollen, slurping nectar, and steering clear of those lurking spiders.  Whizzing overhead or standing post on sprigs of vegetation, mature dragonflies survey and defend their aerial territories throughout the swamp.

Without the often-overlooked and underappreciated hierarchy of invertebrates, heaps of dead plants would pile up higher and higher and the pollination of thriving plants would be inefficient and unproductive.  Conversely, without plants, these bugs wouldn’t have the food, structure, and cover for them to complete their life cycles.  Once you take a step back and think about it, you realize that if the grass didn’t grow with all of this associated activity, the spring and fall migration wouldn’t be nearly as spectacular each year.  Maybe taking time to slow down and watch grass grow is worth a closer look after all. 


Submerged Snails near Arrowhead
Submerged Snails Near Arrowhead
Aquatic snails in wetlands help recycle nutrients as plant matter is broken down by the interaction of water, bacteria, and other microbes.


Small Water Striders
Small Water Striders
Broad-shouldered water striders, members of the Veliidae family, skim across the top of the water and feel the vibrations of the prey below.


Freshly Emerged Damselfly
Freshly Emerged Damselfly
When dragonflies and damselflies emerge their exoskeleton is soft and lacks pigmentation for the first couple of hours.


Spider Molt
Shadow of a Spider
Like other invertebrates, when spiders grow they have to molt their skin to account for their expanding size. Here the old skin hangs from a leaf.


Hop Sedge
Versatile Plants
The hop sedge is a robust plant that is host to the pearly eyed butterfly and its large seeds are eaten by a variety of birds.


Native Pollinators
Native Pollinators
Florilegus condignus is a small native bee found in wetland habitats across the Midwest. It grabs pollen with its mouth parts as it forages.


A Male Eastern Amberwing
A Male Eastern Amberwing
By looking at a male specimen, it is easy to see how the eastern amberwing got its name. These are one of the smaller dragonflies in North America.


The north end of pool 1 is tricky and challenging to hunt for sure. If there is enough water to get a boat up there, you do have to be careful wading around. If there is not enough water to get your boat there, you have a very difficult walk ahead of you. Pool 1 has lost one tenth of a foot of water since last week which is about normal for August. Its hard to make predictions, but expect about a half a foot lower than now, maybe more, in Pool 1 by Sep 6th. The contractors have been working last week at Greenbrier. They are currently clearing trees and burning piles and preparing to begin moving dirt. Dark Cypress has water in the very south and west side of West pool and in the 3 ponds on the East Pool. We will begin putting water in some pools of Units A and B at the end of this week and gradually bring up water levels through the next few months. The Distribition Channel and Pool 22 will get water first.

What should be said is the water level on the north end will most likely be too deep to wade during the teal season. So don't step out of the boat. LOL. With the recent drier weather has ground been broken on the Greenbriar unit project? And can you tell us how much water remains in Dark Cypress unit? Will any water be pumped in A or B unit for teal season?

Pool 1 water level is currently 345.8 feet above msl. Full pool is 346.0 so it is nearly close to full as we begin the month of August. In a "normal" summer, it would typically be a foot lower than it currently is. However, the water level will begin to drop fast during the next couple of months, but the north of end Pool 1 should be in good shape to provide some excellent teal hunting opportunity. Units A and B will also have some shallow flooded areas available to hunt teal, mainly in the central distribution channel area. Hunting is allowed using a “self-check” procedure and is first-come-first-serve. All a person needs to do to hunt teal anywhere on Duck Creek is fill out a green waterfowl hunt card at the HQ, the north Unit-A parking area or McGee parking area in Unit-B.

Any idea on water level on north end of lake?

I wanted to ask....what is the lake stage in Pool 1?

Will unit A be open for teal season? Also whats the water level like on the north end of the lake?

On the northwest side of Pool 1 where there is grouping of scattered cypress.  The pilot sprayed several swaths around this group of trees.  There is a diagonal sprayed swath leading up from the east side of the pool.  For those interested in fishing access, there were a couple additional swaths going east to west across the lower third of the pool.  

I haven't been out there recently, but I should be able to give you an idea early next week.

Was there any spraying done on the north end of the lake? In anticipation of Teal season.

You are also correct on the road around the north end of Pool 1.  On the north side by the trees, it is current and will be one way during teal season. 

Yes, you are correct. We have just recently put some corn in. Over the last few years we’ve had good moist soil response on the north side of Pool 2. As all things shift over time beaked rush, which is a perennial and less seed than annual plants like millet, has become more widespread. A little heavier disturbance has been needed this year to set back succession.  The wet year and soil type in Pool 2 has delayed the opportunity to do so until recently.  We’ve broken up the ground pretty good so as a follow up to this disturbance strategy we have put some corn in.  Admittedly, the timing is a bit late, but there is still time for plant growth between now and November. 

Correct me if I am wrong. Did I see Corn being planted by A1 and B1 in Pool 2 today the 17th of July? Will the road around the north end of the lake be one way during the teal season?

It's good to see that the plant life is exploding in the newly renovated areas. It will makes for good waterfowl habitat come this fall and winter. Keep up the good work guys!!

Thanks for the feedback. I’m glad you enjoyed it. Earlier this spring sunflowers were planted at higher locations in Units A and B. Some locations weren't quite high enough, but others are fairing better. At the end of June staff were able to get some corn food plots scattered where disturbance was needed in between the rains. The rain and high Castor River has precluded anything starting at Greenbrier.  We’re hoping things will dry out soon so we can begin to make progress on this front. 

Once again a wonderfully informative article. Sometimes taking the time to look at the little things can be the most educating. Any progress in the Greenbriar project? Any crops planted anywhere on Duck Creek Properties?

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