Dirt Today, Teal Tomorrow
It is that time of year again when those little jet fighters of the waterfowl world begin to pass through our region. It is the time when you could be sweating and swatting at mosquitoes, or you could be enjoying the first cool winds of fall. We are well into teal season. While Duck Creek doesn’t typically provide much teal-hunting opportunity, in the coming years we should be able to increase the amount of teal-friendly habitat during this time of year.
In the past, one of the challenges at Duck Creek was the location of early-season waterfowl hunting opportunity. The only areas that have ponded water in late summer and early fall are along the outer edges of the pools. These deeper areas exist because this is where the dirt was “borrowed” when the levees were built. Unfortunately, our borrowed ditches also harbor muskrats that burrow into the sides of our levees, creating holes and maintenance headaches year in and year out.
Another challenge is the location of our wells. If we turned the pumps on, we would flood nearly a quarter of the area two months before the regular waterfowl season. This isn’t preferable because it would cause the plants and seeds to start breaking down before the bulk of migrating waterfowl would have a chance to use our flooded “food bank.”
Our current renovation activities in units A and B are addressing these issues. By rearranging our levees and strategically placing our “borrows” in the center of the pools and tying them into a distribution channel, we will be able to provide more early-season hunting opportunity in the interior of the pools without compromising the bulk of our “food bank” before the regular waterfowl season.
So what will things look like in the coming years?
Across units A and B, we are creating series of scoured areas or shallow sloughs (roughly 2 feet deep). These areas will remain flooded during most summers, much like the existing borrows; however, they will be within the pool and not located next to a levee. This will remove the muskrat-related maintenance problems. Being tied directly to our water delivery channel, we won’t be compromising additional habitat and be able to flood these areas early. In these shallowly flooded areas, aquatic plants like pickerel weed, mud plantain and duck potato will provide structure for bugs and snails for early fall migrants, like teal, to forage on.
So why mention this during teal season?
We are already preparing to put this habitat on the ground. Currently, we are setting aside “starter” plants and raising them in nursery pools. Next summer we will plant these aquatic species within the scours to help jump-start the revegetation of the scoured locations. This will help us provide quality habitat with a quicker turnaround after such a large, earth-moving project.
This isn’t the first time we’ve tried this kind of work. You may have seen similar habitat in the shallow sloughs that were developed in Otter Slough’s Cul-de-sac Unit. Not only do the early season migrants, such as teal, enjoy these semi-permanently flooded habitats, but wood duck broods, wading birds and native fish also use these areas. It is another way to mimic how natural wetlands function to provide multiple benefits to the resource and its users. While it might be dirt today, we definitely have plans for plants and critters in the coming years.