Ecology outing an eye-opening experienceLast week I had the opportunity to attend a prairie ecology outing organized by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and led by biologist Jim Riemer.
Last week I had the opportunity to attend a prairie ecology outing organized by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and led by biologist Jim Riemer.
I joined a group of summer staff and regular employees on site at the Bierbrauer Waterfowl Production Area, which is located a couple of miles east of Star Prairie, to learn from the master. Jim is probably the most knowledgeable person one would have the pleasure to accompany on any prairie field trip.
I am very familiar with the area, having spent considerable time observing waterfowl on the series of lakes that run through the WPA. I have hunted both waterfowl and upland game in the area and fished for lunker perch and northerns when the water was at a level that permitted them to flourish.
Several of the WPA lakes such as those on Erickson, Oak Ridge and Bierbrauer have produced some excellent fishing over the years when the water was higher and perch, bluegills and northern populations exploded. Being rather shallow bodies of water, a hard winter or fluctuating water levels spell doom to the fisheries but they will again blossom when the conditions are right.
We started out at the parking lot on the south end off 235th Avenue and immediately were treated with a variety of warm and cool season grasses and forbs, which Jim identified by genus and species along with the common name.
Forbs are herbaceous flowering plants that are not grasses while warm and cool season grasses flourish either in warm or cool parts of the growing season. He also described the niche each occupied in prairie succession and the importance of each to wildlife habitat and nutrition.
We finished our foray at the edge of the main pond, which was down about four to five feet from its high water mark. Jim pointed out that drought can benefit a wetland and the animals that reside there because it allows plants to re-establish themselves. When the water levels return these plants provide much needed nourishment for those residents.
Jim also took some core soil samples to demonstrate what soil type and texture exists and is needed for various types of vegetation.
The entire time we spent out on the prairie we were treated to the callings of a troop of sandhill cranes to the north and many waterfowl flying in and out of the area, along with numerous song birds flitting about. Jim emphasized that the prairie is managed though frequent burns and also by diversity of plant type plantings. Not all bird species need the same type of vegetation. With diversified habitat plantings, horizontal, vertical and all structure types in between can be provided to optimize bird numbers and variety.
I was most impressed with this area that only a few years ago sported no fauna or flora diversity. When prairies are managed to their potential they can be transformed into a true thing of beauty.
If you want to spend some quality time out exploring nature, pick up a good bird and plant guide and spend some time out on a WPA. You won’t be disappointed!
Bierbrauer WPA and a Hemi-Marsh
By Tom Kerr, USF&WS
Although most people don’t think of the words “drought” and benefits to wetlands in the same sentence, our prairie wetland systems rely on these periodic dry spells to encourage the growth of many species of valuable plants.
The large wetland on the Bierbrauer WPA, located one mile east of Star Prairie, is a great example of how drought can benefit wetlands. The WPA was purchased with federal duck stamp dollars, which duck hunters are required to buy and people interested in conservation are encouraged to buy to support habitat protection. In order to provide waterfowl nesting value, WPAs typically have large areas of grassland and are located near a large wetland basin that can provide brood habitat.
Over the past few years, the large wetland basin on the Bierbrauer WPA has changed from an open water basin to a vegetation dominated basin. This change is part of the natural process and results from lower water levels and exposed mudflats.
Many species of plants will only germinate with these conditions. Annual plants, such as smartweed and beggars ticks, are prolific seed producers. The seeds are sought after by waterfowl but many of these seeds also return to the ground to wait for the next suitable growing conditions (i.e. drought) which may be many years away.
Another benefit of lowered water level is the growth of emergent wetland plants such as bulrush and arrowhead. These plants create a “hemi-marsh” which is approximately 50 percent open water and 50 percent vegetation. This creates ideal food and cover for many species of wildlife.
On a recent check of the wetland on Bierbrauer WPA, we counted more than 70 mallards, two mallard broods, one wood duck brood, four trumpeter swans and numerous shorebirds. There were probably many more birds on the wetland but the hemi-marsh created ideal cover for them so they were difficult to see, a great situation if you are a duck hiding from a predator.
For more information on the St. Croix Wetland Management District and a map of the WPAs, check out our website at ww.fws.gov/ midwest/stcroix.
Warden Paul’s Corner
2010 Waterfowl Rule Proposal
Each year, the Natural Resources Board determines the waterfowl season dates at their annual meeting in August (this year, the meeting is on Aug. 12).
Yearly regulations and season dates are based on the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service framework limitations and public input that is gathered during the public comment period prior to the NRB meeting. The following is a summary of the proposal.
Early September Canada goose season – Sept. 1-15, with a daily bag of 5 geese.
Youth Waterfowl Hunt – Sept. 18-19. The daily bag is the same as the regular seasons.
Ducks - 60 Day Season – Daily bag of six ducks in total. Of the six ducks, no more than: four mallards of which only one may be a hen, three wood ducks, one black duck, two redheads, two scaup, two pintail and one canvasback. In addition, five mergansers to include not more than two hooded mergansers. (For species of duck not listed such as teal and ring-necks, the combined total with all other species may not exceed six ducks). Coot daily bag of 15.
• Opening day shooting hours will begin at 9 a.m.
Northern Zone: Sept. 25-Nov. 23
Southern Zone: Oct. 2-10, Oct. 16-Dec. 5
Canada Geese: Year four of five-year Mississippi Flyway stable Canada goose season.
Exterior Zone: Daily bag of two.
North – Saturday, Sept. 18-Dec 11.
South – Saturday, Sept. 18-Oct. 10, and Oct. 16-Dec. 16.