10 November 2009

Supplemental Water Improving Conditions for Migratory Waterfowl

As migratory waterfowl of various sorts are winging their way into Nebraska, they are finding habitat at some state wildlife areas that has been improved by water being pumped to enhance water conditions. through .

"Having water is important for wildlife and hunters," according to Ted LaGrange, wetland program manager with the Nebraska Game and Parks Commission.

"We add supplemental water when there is a deficit" in precipitation, LaGrange said. In portions of the Rainwater Basin, there has been a deficit for the year, though some recent rains have helped reduce the extent of pumping required.

"There are good baseline conditions which mean less pumping needs to occur," he said.

Pumping efforts have been underway this season at a number of state wildlife areas, according to La Grange, and include:

Rainwater Basin

• Clay County: Greenhead, Kissinger and Whitefront WMAs
• Fillmore County: Sandpiper and Sora WMAs
• Hamilton County: Deepwater WMA
• Phelps County: Sacramento-Wilcox and West Sacramento-Wilcox WMAs
• Seward County: Straightwater WMA
• Thayer County: Father Hupp and Prairie Marsh WMAs
• York County: Rundquist and Spikerush WMAs

Pumping started about October 7th, in the five-county region of the Rainwater Basin, managed by Brad Seitz, a wildlife biologist with the NGPC. In his district of the basin, pumping is being done at six of the nine wetland areas with a pumping capacity.

Missouri River
• Dixon County: Elk Point Bend WMA
• Nemaha County: Langdon Bend WMA

These sites have been acquired in recent years by the NGPC, and pumping capacity - new wells, electrical connections and other improvements were only recently developed.

Two additional areas are Clear Creek WMA in Keith County, and Wilkinson WMA in Platte County.

"Pumping is driven by hunter dollars," LaGrange said, with the "primary funding source is from our Habitat fund, which includes funds from the sale of habitat stamps and state duck stamps. Ducks Unlimited and the Nebraska Environmental Trust have helped to pay for wells, pumps, and pipelines."

"We have recently added to the pumping capacity on our WMAs and are expending all our funds" on the state wildlife areas, LaGrange said.

Well installed at Sandpiper WMA. Photographs courtesy of the Nebraska Game and Parks Commission.

Wildlife officials met in September to discuss the condition of water and to determine if they could make a difference in improving conditions by pumping water, LaGrange said.

Pumping water and providing good habitat conditions is beneficial for different types of waterbirds - including shorebirds - in addition to ducks and geese, LaGrange said. "Birds survive better when we provide habitat that may otherwise not be available. In dry years with limited habitat, pumping especially provides suitable habitat."

"We prefer not to pump," Seitz said, referring to 2008, when there were optimal water conditions and "waterfowl were everywhere across the landscape."

"We set the table," Seitz explained. Aquatic food plants that grew during the summer and early fall draw lots of waterfowl once it is flooded. "This is a condition preferable than having permanent water that can result in a dense growth of cattails and other vegetation that can reduce the value of a wetland for fowl.

"Once waterfowl start migrating they will flock to these pumped areas naturally because of the available water and than they stay on these areas longer if there is a flooded food source (barnyardgrass, annual smartweed, burreed, sprankletop, etc). Sandpiper WMA had a tremendous growth of barnyardgrass this year so I kept cattle off of that part of the wetland and then after we had pumped the area for a few days we had a weather event on October 15th and there was 500 ducks using the area the next day!"

Straightwater WMA after pumping.

Creating suitable habitat for a variety of water birds provides opportunities for bird watchers and hunters, Seitz said.

"I want to pump if we can afford it," he said, adding that "if we can provide habitat, I want to do it," Seitz noted. "People really appreciate" when we pump water to create habitat for migrating waterfowl.

A vast number of wild birds certainly also appreciate the habitat being provided in the different areas that help them to meet their habitat and food requirements as they migrate through Nebraska.

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