Sunday, March 21, 2010

Joe Neal shares his thoughts as a snowstorm slows waterfowl migrating north through the Ozarks

Geology I enjoy involves what we see & how it got that way, a distant past imagined. Massive roadcuts through once scenic mountains become opportunities to study the earth’s ancient history, rock layer after exposed rock layer. 

On March 20, 2010, I’m thinking about this & migrating ducks, at the edge of a pond, in a cold rain with some sleet mixed & big snow promised, behind Walmart near I-540 in Benton County. I saw ducks on the pond while driving. I finally figured out how to get near them. Now, crouching under a golf umbrella, with cover provided by last year’s blackberry thicket, I have views of Canada Goose (2), Wood Duck (3), Gadwall (4), Mallard (2), Blue-winged Teal (8), Northern Shoveler (30), Green-winged Teal (5), Bufflehead (2), Pied-billed Grebe (5), American Coot (4), and 16 Ring-billed Gulls; in short, a small pond big with ducks & water birds. 

These migrants are held up in their northward journey by a storm. I’m old enough to remember a past with celebrations of the vernal equinox here in the Ozarks of western Arkansas featuring snow up to the blooming daffodils. Now we have another. Today my yard is a white plain polka dotted by yellow trumpets.

In honor of this spring gift, I’m trying an angle novel for me on duck migration. Instead of endless Jeremiads of frustration against “growth” & “development” & the destruction of all nature straight & true, I’m determined to think like a geologist: imagine the way it was and see how we can go forward.

Back before our kind began our plunder in the 1820s, Blue-winged Teal had fewer choices to rest & loaf as they headed north through here. There were no true ponds & no lakes. Our grasslands in the western Arkansas Ozarks did have extensive low areas whose clay-rich soils held water. So around the vernal equinox, when came big rains & occasional deep wet snow, these low fields held scattered shallow pools of water, forming playas. Here’s where teal & their brethren weathered a spring storm.

In cold & sleet out behind Walmart & 540, I’m imagining how our landscape serves migrating teal, even as we plunder on. For northwest Arkansas, we could include the shallows of Lake Fayetteville & many other area lakes, older farm ponds midst open grasslands, the concentration of 16 fish ponds at the state hatchery in Centerton – all that sort of thing. Shallow pools created at Woolsey Wet Prairie in Fayetteville have been much favored by teal. The success of Woolsey – a project funded as mitigation for wetland loss – has spurred interest elsewhere in northwest Arkansas, as more natural habitat is lost to “growth” & “development” & planners seek opportunities to mitigate the ongoing habitat plunder.

These are some thoughts for the vernal equinox. As in the much distant past, there are Blue-winged Teal passing through western Arkansas and, thank goodness, many places to view them. A big old farm pond behind Walmart is not as romantic as a rain & snow filled playa, but the real teal are out there, resplendent in spring plumage, indomitable in their quest for the future.

No comments:

Post a Comment