My love of wetlands started when I lived and worked in the Prairie Pothole region of north-central Iowa. A small little boat that fit in the back of my truck and a trolling motor allowed me to access a lot of wetlands. The diversity of birds and mammals surprised me. It helped me understand that wetlands are not wastelands. They are vital habitat for many species.
Depending on how you classify wetlands, Iowa has lost somewhere around 89 -97.5% of our wetlands. A lot of these areas were drained for row crop production. As a result, the populations of many species dependent on wetlands have crashed. To put this in perspective, imagine what would happen to the people in New York City if you removed 90% of their homes and food supply. Wetlands are a critical food source and a home for many species. Losses across the U.S. are staggering.
If you haven’t spent time in wetlands, there are many species that you probably don’t even know exist. Here are just a few examples I have seen this Spring.
The Sora is a member of the rail family. It looks kind of like a small chicken. The best times for viewing are near sunrise and sunset when the Sora comes out of the denser vegetation to forage along the edges.
The Least Bittern is a very small heron. The hunched look comes from having a very long neck that it keeps drawn in. The long legs and neck give them the ability to reach far for prey.
The Sandhill Crane is a species that is fairly well known, given its large size and mass migration through the Platte River valley of Nebraska. While not solely dependent of wetlands, they do rely on shallow water for over-night roosting and wetland edges for nesting.
Are you looking for a change of pace? Grab your kayak and go explore a wetland. Take your time and enjoy wildlife species that few people ever get to see.