Still a Duck Nut
5:14 AM – February 2, 2018
Good morning. Yes, this is long overdue. The New Year has come and I did not even post the look back on 2017 I penned for the annual Land Report. I will post that to the Acreage Blog, but you can also catch it in the Land Report on our website.
This morning I want to share a wildlife highlight of the year at Ridge Farm to give all the private land wildlife managers some encouragement. On Ridge Farm we have a small 3 acre CRP shallow water area. Due to the topography, it is constructed in perhaps the least creative square one could ever see from above and appears as nearly a perfect square on an aerial. From the ground it lacks any confidence as a land feature that provides much habitat diversity to the immediate surrounding 50 acres of farmland or the vast timberlands that stretch for several thousand acres switching back and forth from private land to public land ownership. As a counter part to the perfect square on the farm is another perfect square that instead of impounding water on top of the soil profile, it was designed as a deep hole in the ground, nearly 12’ in the center. This water feature capitalizes on the ground water filling it and remains full of water even in the driest of months. I paint this picture for you so you can understand the “clay” we have to work with and as a duck nut, a.k.a. former waterfowl biologist, it was a less than desirable set of conditions for waterfowl over two years ago.
The first step was to control water. Any duck nut knows when you want water you must be able to put it on your habitat and sometimes going to church Sunday won’t bring the needed rain to flood your impoundment. You must have water when you want to be able to control putting it on the field or taking it off. Once the well was in, the inside of the perfect square was set back successionally. We had too much woody growth and Mallards don’t eat sweet gum! So that woody mess had to go. In the process of clearing we also lightly disturbed the soil in areas that were not growing up with woody vegetation. This soil disturbance is known as moist soil management. Basically you are encouraging the “weeds” that like their feet wet to flourish. Early successional plants like barnyard grass, fall panicum, and even foxtail are all seed bearing plants that feed migratory waterfowl. In combination with the seed bank naturally occurring inside the impoundment we planted strips of millet. These small food plots add additional food source and depending on the water depth of the impoundment can be flooded later in the season. In our case the millet was planted on the higher elevations and therefore as water levels increased the food source to the waterfowl became more available.
In basic terms, the habitat management put together the natural occurring wetland plants with heavy seed bearing vegetation with a water source we could control to time properly to when waterfowl were migrating. The other significant benefit of having a strong well is the ability to maintain open water when temperatures dip below freezing and shallow fresh waters lock up.
In mid-January everything came together. The duck gods thanked us for all our work as several hundred ducks found their way to Ridge Farm. This less desirable odd square on the landscape was holding several hundred waterfowl for several days during one of our coldest winter periods of January. This was a small accomplishment indeed. While we did enjoy a couple nice hunts on Ridge Farm, the benefits of providing the habitat far outweigh the harvest of a few ducks. Most importantly, it is only February now and the habitat is not done providing its most important task. While wintering our waterfowl is critical, these habitats provide much needed Spring habitat as well, as ducks work their way back north to the breeding grounds. The hens especially need to be healthy and sustained so they can nest and raise broods across the northern breeding grounds. So even the little square on Ridge Farm in it’s less than creative perfectly square configuration contributes value in the Atlantic Flyway.
Since 1997, I have been focused on ducks and wildlife habitat in one way or another, a few days of seeing the impact even a little square of habitat can have is fulfilling to this duck nut. I wanted to share this as I know there are many land owners out there with similar experiences and it is nice to know it all comes together some years. Keep the water on those impoundments through March and we will get those ducks back North strong and healthy. Please email me at firstname.lastname@example.org if you want to know more about waterfowl management or to get guidance in making your farm more ducky!
Thanks for reading and Be Well!