Frozen in Time

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Movement Under the Ice

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Published on: Jan. 8, 2014

Freezing temperatures are for the birds; at least they can migrate south if they feel like it. Other critters that can’t spread their wings aren’t as fortunate and have to hunker down and tough out winter’s chill. During most winters you may not even think about these animals because they are often out of sight and out of mind.

Shelter From the Storm

However, just as waterfowl have found ways to exploit habitats to survive, less mobile creatures have found strategies that get them through most years in their home range. You and I can throw another log on the fire or put on a couple extra layers of socks. Mammals such as deer, raccoons, and coyotes can grow a winter coat. Frogs, turtles, and snakes, on the other hand, have to seek out locations with better insulation, because they don’t have any of their own. While we may not think of these sites as warm and toasty, by wedging under logs and leaf litter, burrowing in the mud, hiding down in a crayfish burrow, or residing in deeper water can provide enough shelter from the air temperatures to stay above freezing.

December’s Temporary Grip

Even when air temperatures dip into the teens at night, it takes a consistent hard cold spell to drop soil temperatures below the 32 F mark. For example, last month we had a couple days where the highs were in the 20’s and 30’s but the nightly lows were hovering around 10 degrees. During this time the soil temperatures only two inches down stayed above freezing. Shallow water habitats were frozen over with a couple inches of ice, but any deeper than that and it was balmy enough for bugs and fish to be swimming around.

January’s Icier Hold

In contrast, during the past couple of days the warmest temperatures haven’t topped 10 degrees in southeast Missouri. Likewise the duration and depth of freezing conditions has extended its grip further than we saw last month. Reports for the 2 inch soil temperature during this time have diminished to a frigid 31 degrees. While freezing temperatures may be tolerated for a short span (6 hours) by some amphibians, longer extents (> 24 hours) are tougher for some species to come back from.

Ice in their Veins

With temperatures extremes like these another strategy is required to survive until warmer seasons. Similar to the old adage, “if you can’t beat them, join them”, some amphibians have developed a way to embrace the freezing temperatures. Nearly a quarter of Missouri’s frogs have this added adaptation. Wood frogs, eastern gray tree frogs, spring peepers and western chorus frogs all have a degree of freeze tolerance. These species have been found to tolerate temperatures ranging between 24-28 F up to two weeks. This is because as temperatures near that magic mark their livers begin to secrete sugary compounds in the form of glucose or glycerin, depending upon the species. This sugary mixture saturates body fluids and organs, acts like a form of antifreeze, and helps protect tissues from the cell damage that could occur as the creatures become living popsicles. During this cryogenic process the metabolism slows down along with the heart rate until everything stops, only starting again once conditions thaw back out.

Nature dishes out a myriad of challenges each season. Freezing temperatures in winter is just one obstacle that species have found multiple solutions to overcome. Some hightail it to warmer climes. Others find a cozy insulated spot. If that isn’t enough, others can just grin and bear it, all be it, it is a frozen grin, till warmer days roll around.

I don't know about you, but I'm glad I'm not a frog and can put another log on the fire.  Stay warm this winter, whichever strategy fits you best. 


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On January 24th, 2014 at 8:38am frank said:

Ice is a big reason why waterfowl have developed the strategy of migration. Other critters have developed different strategies to cope with these extremes, hence the story above.  There isn't a silver bullet answer for winter and basic ecology reflects multiple ways of dealing with it. However, under the ice in the water column the vegetation is available for a wide suite of bugs to key in on.  During this time you could say they are "cooking" for whenever things thaw back out and the birds begin to move back through. These nutrients are what the hens will be looking for as they ready themselves for the breeding grounds on their trip back north. 

On January 23rd, 2014 at 6:27pm Anonymous said:

What benefits do moist soil have when everything freezes?

On January 22nd, 2014 at 12:47pm Anonymous said:

I don't think you necessarily need boats, but you should mark where you should enter the pool. 15 is too deep to enter near the boat ramp. You have to walk down the road a ways. They told us this at the draw, but we still had to enter and re-enter at several places till we found a spot that we could get across the old borrow pit/boat lane. Some additional marking at known deep spots would be nice. Good thing I and the guy I hunted with are 6 foot. If we were too much shorter, I am not sure we would have made it across.

On January 21st, 2014 at 6:10pm cordek said:

Boats have traditionally been provided to positions with blinds which require a boat to access it via a boat lane. A boat has been available for use in Unit A, 18, for this reason. Falling in the water is an assumed hazard when hunting waterfowl and a certain amount of responsibility must rest on the individual hunter to take care when hunting a new or unfamiliar area. As long as hunters can access a unit in a reasonable manner without a boat we feel that it is not necessary to provide one. We will continue to provide a boat for units with blinds as that is the standard for SE Region.

On January 18th, 2014 at 3:03pm Anonymous said:

Don't you guys think for safety reasons any hunting spot in A or B unit ( such as 15, 16, and 18) with water over chest wader deep should have a boat assigned to it?

On January 16th, 2014 at 3:44pm cordek said:

The HQ contract is not yet complete.  Proably 2-3 more weeks of work and then 45 days are allowed to finish a punch list of final items to call it done.  That is the optimistic timeline.

On January 15th, 2014 at 5:21pm Anonymous said:

Any updates on headquarter renovations?

On January 14th, 2014 at 5:47pm cordek said:

We are exploring different options for both emergent and submergent vegetation treatments in Pool 1 this year, if funding is approved we will spray a portion of the pool.  American Lotus, which is the main emergent plant seen in Pool 1 (commonly referred by many as simply "lily pads") actually decreased its expansion last year.  Fanwort, which is the most problematic submerged vegetation, virtually exploded  everywhere.  Treating one type of vegetation affects the growth of the other and it is very difficult to find an acceptable balance between the two. We conducted some treatment last year with a new aquatic herbicide which showed promising results and we plan to expand some of this treatment later this year.  The fishing platforms and courtesy boat docks project was approved and work should commence within the next few months.  We will post an update when we have a better timeline of these construction activities.

On January 14th, 2014 at 12:08pm Anonymous said:

Is there anything you can apply to the lily-pads earlier in the season this year? I know you always like to wait until they are all up to "get the most bang for your buck" but they continue to get worse each year. What are you plans for adding the new fishing piers or boat docks you had mentioned last year. Thank you all for everything you do.

On January 13th, 2014 at 2:24pm cordek said:

The slough feature in 18 ended up being cut deeper than the plans called for. It was intended to be less than chest wader deep when the pool was filled to maximum capacity, but certain circumstances prevented this from happening.  Excessive and continued amounts of precipitaion this winter overfilled all pools and made them deeper than desired.  We have attempted to let all parties aware of difficulties or hazards they may encounter when checking out every morning and we apologize if this information did not get conveyed to your party on this particular day.  The wire baskets were put around aquatic plant establishment sites and were intended to be visible above the water to prevent hunters from stumbling into them, but again, we didn't anticipate such high water during the hunting season.  Vehicle and boat access to 18 is going to remain as it is due to restrictions in building improved roads and parking areas.  We are glad you had a good hunt and thank you for your kind comments.

On January 13th, 2014 at 1:21pm cordek said:

Pool 1 is beginning to thaw a bit.  It is still approximately 80% ice covered , but there are some areas on the east and west edges open enough to fish.  The south end by the boat ramps and boat docks are still fairly frozen. This week's forecasted highs look good for opening up even better.

On January 13th, 2014 at 1:15pm cordek said:

Unit A and B have public use restrictions from October 15th to the end of the regular goose season (usually January 31st).  Outside of these dates, we welcome you to use and enjoy the area between 4:00am and 10:00pm, or even overnight for a few authorized activities such as fishing or frogging.  You can set up decoys too, as long as you pick them all back up when you leave.  Units A and B are open through January for hunting geese by utilizing the self-check box at the HQ.  There is nothing wrong with bringing a camera along with you while you are signed in to hunt geese.

On January 13th, 2014 at 1:00pm cordek said:

Tom, We will explore options this summer to better identify hunt unit boundaries.  We have attempted to set the boundaries where possible with landscape features to keep signs and marker poles down to a minimum.  The east portion of Unit A (8,10,11,13, &15) is separated with pvc poles and most of the other units have levees or roads for boundaries.  Within the next several years we should start to get some good willows and other trees established which will help separate the units better. 

On January 13th, 2014 at 8:56am frank said:

New swimming pools and frogs can be a problem. Hopefully, this coming year won’t be as bad, but there are a couple things you can do to reduce the chances of these unfortunate encounters.  A short barrier around the pool could help prevent toads from taking an unwanted dive, but this may not slow down other species like grey treefrogs, which can climb practically anything. Covering the pool in the winter is also a good preventative measure in general whether it is to keep out frogs, house cats, or blowing leaves.  As you open up the pool in the spring, follow it up with adding chlorine.  In general, frogs try to avoid chlorinated water.  Hope this helps.

On January 12th, 2014 at 4:05pm Anonymous said:

Is the main lake froze over?

On January 11th, 2014 at 6:43pm Anonymous said:

Is the main pool frozen over or open yet ?

On January 11th, 2014 at 1:17am Anonymous said:

What are the rules concerning use of a and b units after duck season. When I'm not hunting ducks I enjoy photographing them. Can a person legally put on waders and take a few decoys into the pools after the season has closed with intent of photographing birds?

On January 10th, 2014 at 5:05pm Tom said:

Frank, As if you guys don't have enough work to prepare for next duck season, I'd like to make a simple request. Could there be more pool identification florescent markers installed, particularly around the borders of the field hunting locations? The hunting location borders can be hard to identify, especially in the dark. This could certainly help eliminate frustration. Keep up the good work !

On January 10th, 2014 at 3:58pm Anonymous said:

I had to cross one of those sloughs in 18 to get three ducks we downed. I could not find a way around it, so I crossed it. The water was withing .5 inches of over-topping my waders, and I was on my tip toes. When coming back across, I ran into a big metal mesh fence in a circle shape. Figure it was stuck there by you guys, but made it that much harder to cross. Those sloughs are pretty darn deep. Easier boat access to 18 would be nice. Not necessarily complaining as we shot a 3 man limit that day. Just have to adjust to the new conditions out there. Water is just a bit deeper than we thought it would be. Thanks for all the hard work you guys have put into the place.

On January 10th, 2014 at 10:24am Anonymous said:

I put in a pool last year and was swamped with frogs. They got in my pump, skimmer and even got on the hose that was cleaning the pool. At first I thought funny, but as summer went on it wasn't funny anymore. My filter would clog with frogs.. Is there any repelent I could put out this year to deter them from coming into my pool?? Thanks so much for your help

On January 10th, 2014 at 9:30am frank said:

After the renovation we updated the area map to include the rehabilitated sloughs that run through Units A and B.  You can find this map on our website using the Conservation Atlas and searching for Duck Creek.  These maps have also been available at the morning draw and at the area headquarters.  Feel free to download it and check it out or grab one next time you’re on the area. If there are other locations that you have encountered, please go to Duck Creek Office and make sure we’ve got them pinpointed. At the morning draws there are also aerial photos for you to look at which illustrate the extent of the water, juxtaposition of the sloughs, and location of willows or residual standing vegetation to help with orientation.  Personally, I have found that by marking my area map with these other features found on the photos has helped me navigate out in the field. We’ll see what we can do in order to resolve some of these issues and make sure existing deeper areas are identified in the future.

On January 9th, 2014 at 6:59pm Anonymous said:

Any chance of creating (or sharing) a topographical map for unit a and b for the waterfowlers next year? One that shows the deep spots over the entire unit? Wow that would be an excellent original idea. You could call it your preventive dunking map!
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