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Dynamic Habitats

Posted on May 11, 2016

I got a text the other day from my dad saying, “Hey if you can, bring your boots over so we can investigate the beaver pond.” Behind my parents home is a beautiful wetland system that sits right in the valley, with forested hillsides surrounding. What was once a stream has since been turned into a marsh thanks to the work of some busy beavers. With dams on either end of the marsh, the water has been held back and has created great habitat for many birds, amphibians and reptiles. The marsh is full of snapping and painted turtles, peepers that are so numerous that their peeps actually hurt your ears when you near the water’s edge, and is a popular stop over point for many migrating birds, including egrets and ducks. Bear frequent the area as well, as the marsh and shaded woodlands create a cooler micro-climate in which the bears retreat to escape the summer heat.


The wetlands late last fall.

The work of these keystone species has created quite a dynamic habitat in this valley. However, as of late the water levels have dropped rather significantly. So to see if we could determine the culprit of this sudden drop in water, my dad and I slipped into our mud boots and made our way to the beaver dam on the eastern end of the marsh. As we got to the water, we stepped up onto the dam and began to walk along the stick and mud constructed impoundment. As we neared the mid-point of the dam, we realized the water pressure had pushed through the sticks and mud and was freely flowing down into the stream below. With multiple streams and seeps flowing from the hills, the marsh won’t dry out; however, due to the hole in the dam the water has receded leaving many mud flats along the edges of the marsh.


The solitary sandpipers getting a little feisty.

As we reached the end of the dam, we decided to hike up into the woods and make our way towards the western end of the marsh where another beaver dam was built. Before we dove into the woods, we noticed some activity on the newly created mud flats. As we neared the edge of the safe, solid ground I noticed two solitary sandpipers feeding. The two kept to themselves for a few minutes, but as one neared the other, they both seemed to get a little defensive. They stood tall breast to breast and then flapped their wings at one another a few times. One then quickly ran from the other and they both returned to feeding. It was quite interesting watching them and was rather incredible that within the few days of the marsh’s waters receding had they found these mud flats. Its amazing how birds and many other species can recognize a favorable habitat in such short amounts of time!

As we continued our hike through the woods and around the other side of the marsh, we found spotted salamander eggs, bear cub and adult footprints in the mud and many more clues to other species living in and around the marsh. It definitely seems that spring is here to stay, and I’m looking forward to finding out what else lives in these dynamic habitats throughout our area this upcoming summer!

Elyse Henshaw
Conservation Technician