Friday, January 9, 2015

Open Water

The creek and its tributaries are the only natural source of open water at Blue Jay Barrens.  From Fall through Spring, the creek provides drinking and bathing water to a wide variety of birds and mammals.  Summer water is less dependable.  It is common for the creek to stop flowing for several weeks during August and early September.  Occasionally the dry season extends for months.

I have always enjoyed dabbling in water.  As a child, I could spend hours exploring a puddle in the yard. Finding mosquito larvae in the air conditioner drip pan was like discovering a gold mine.  My parents didn’t appreciate my efforts to increase water opportunities by enlarging potholes in the driveway or excavating beneath the downspouts.  My neighbors seemed to share this attitude.  So it’s only natural that once I reached a point where other people’s opinions had no bearing on my actions, I would create pools of water wherever I pleased.  The water garden, as artificial a body of water as you can get, proved quite effective at drawing animals as well as plants into position for my enjoyment.  It does freeze over easily though and doesn’t provide a reliable source of open water for the local wildlife in winter.

Even though my later attempts at developing open water are still artificial creations, they function more naturally than the water garden.  The established toad pool in the foreground and its under construction counterpart behind, are intended to provide a breeding environment for toads.  A declining toad population is coinciding with a decrease in Hognose Snake sightings.  The snakes feed on toads, so it seems logical that increasing the toad population will benefit the snakes.  It’s just a happy bonus that the pools also benefit a wide variety of other animals and give me more places to play in the water.

The new toad pool is still under construction.  The dam creating this pool is composed of topsoil that will eventually be used as topdressing over the permanent dam.  The center of the planned dam will be along the line of stakes sticking from the water.  Pooled water slowly seeps through this temporary dam and emerges clean on the downstream side.  This keeps sediment from actually leaving the construction site during the winter.

Seasonal springs emerge just above the planned water line.  The springs are almost keeping up with the seepage loss through the dam.  This makes me optimistic that the springs will easily keep the pool full of water well into early summer.  Deer visit the pool every night and seem to delight in running and jumping through the mud.

Cold weather caps the pools with ice.  The established pool is fed by a single small spring, but that is enough to keep a bit of water unfrozen.

The spring keeps a small area of open water available to visiting wildlife

The same conditions occur in the pond, an artificial water body that was created long before I purchased the property. 

A strong seasonal spring produces a continuous stream of water entering the pond throughout the winter.

The warm water from the spring maintains a large area of open water.  Even through the coldest winters, this portion of the pond remains unfrozen.  When other water sources freeze over, birds flock here to drink and bathe.

Water from the spring also helps maintain adequate water for the survival of the breeding salamanders.  The view may be blocked by snow, but the salamanders are busy with courtship and egg laying activities beneath the ice.  I would never threaten the native prairies of Blue Jay Barrens with a water development project.  I’m just glad there are a few areas of undesirable vegetation available for conversion to open water.

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