I'm beginning to think that I am the only one that thinks it is ironic that the area is called the Heron Pond yet every management decision since last October has been to reduce or eliminate the Herons, egrets etc. If the Audubon Society prefers peeps over other species, I sure hope that it is not considered a precedent in its interactions with other species. The fact that almost all the other ponds are low and all the water ditches are dry and overgrown with vegetation, the appearance of a mud flat would make me think that the peeps that would concentrate on that area. If the original system had been used to replenish the ponds and the other mud areas, you may not have gotten "Disneyland for the shore birds" in the Heron Pond.
Before the new intake, the RMBS water levels were obtained by either seasonal rainfall or by opening the original intake that would feed the dtich to the Pintail Pond. The series of water control devices and ditches then would allow water to travel the entire length of the system. The key points in the system would be the intake and the last control. Since the Heron Pond is in the last portion of the system, the exit control actually determines the water level. The only time I can recall the entire system and all the ditches 'full' was after the floods a few years ago. It has essentially been 'closed' since then except for the period when the controlled burn was executed in the Dragonfly Marsh and the ponds adjacent to the eastern part of the Two Pecan Trail. To get the heavy machinery into the Heron  Pond to cut and mulch the willows, you had to starve the system of water.
The mudflat that everyone is applauding could have been accomplished with or without the willows being cut. This would have allowed the species that evidently are less "valued" to have a "normal" summer. Pull the plug in August, the water drains, you get mud and it would seem everyone would have been happy. A fellow I run into at RMBS is a retired contractor and he would certainly disagree with the project, especially when it comes to the Kingfishers. He pointed out the the front end of the Heron Pond is the lowest part of the area and adding water isn;t going to produce the effect that you want.
Consider that the water level that produced the mudflat is optimum. The additon of a few inches of water from the rains made the area less attractive to the peeps. Consider that the majority of the area, even after the rains was "dry". Consider that it will require 4 to 5 feet to flood the area to eliminate the vegetation. (Wonder what happens to all the critters that live on or feed on the vegetation are going to do this spring.) That now means your optimum mudflat is under 4 to 5 feet of water. Any draw down only produces periphery mud. My retired contractor friend asked the rhetorical question, "Doesn't anyone know how to shoot a transit?"
I don't know how may people have been to that observation blind. I have and I walked to the edge of the mudflat from both the front side and the back side of the pond. I'm visualizing that ground I was standing on being 4 to 5 feet under water. If you are in the observation blind-- you better have some hip boots because there will probably be water in it.  In fact, that water level may produce a "lake". I hope the new intake has good screening because if the big eye carp that are in Ellis Bay get through it, you won't have to worry about the vegetation but when you draw the water down, you might consider the stink the fish carcasses are going to make when they don't have enough water to survive and they die. Of course the turkey vultures will have a field day.
I'm not a hydrologist. You say this is a good plan but I've walked nearly every one of those pond areas and looked at where those water levels will be and I have my doubts. I hope I'm wrong but only time will tell.
----- Original Message -----
From: "John and Nancy Solodar" <[log in to unmask]>
To: [log in to unmask]
Subject: Re: The early shorebird gets the mud ....
Date: Sat, 17 Oct 2009 10:02:26 -0500

Wu Chang makes some valid points about the loss of some species around Heron Pond when the willows are cut back.   However, those of in the St. Louis Audubon Society who have been working with the biology staff at RMBS know that there are two overriding considerations that are guiding the work at Heron Pond.

(1) Left unchecked the willows will overrun a small shallow body of water such as Heron Pond.   We have seen this happen at Little Creve Couer Lake where there was marvelous shorebird habitat for few years,  but this habitat has been all but eliminated by the growth of willows into the shallow water.  Even the amount of open water is declining.  The willows have been cut back at Heron Pond a number of times within the last few years but new seeds come in and the willows return.

(2) There is an abundance of habitat throughout the greater St. Louis area for the species that Wu has seen depart Heron Pond when the willows were cut.   On the other hand, there is an incredible scarcity of reliable shorebird habitat in our area.   The changes that are taking place at Heron Pond are designed to allow for control of the water levels so that there should always be good shorebird habitat in Heron Pond during the migration seasons.   In addition to cutting the willows the following has been done: (a) The size of the basin for Heron Pond has been enlarged to about 3 times its current area.  This was done a couple of years ago but it is not obvious now due to the infusion of plants into the hollowed out area.  (b) A  controllable intake pipe for water has been constructed under Riverlands Way.    This will allow Heron Pond to be filled with water to kill off vegetation when shorebirds are not present and to enhance water levels within the pond when they are present.   (c) A controllable outlet system has been constructed on the downstream point of Heron Pond.   During migration this, along with the water intake system, should allow for control of water levels within an inch or so which means that mudflats can be maintained for a long time during non-rain periods.  (The sandy bottom beneath Heron Pond causes a quick loss of water without any water inflow.)  (d) A new trail around the expanded Heron Pond has been constructed and a viewing blind has been installed with another scheduled.

A good number of local birders have been working with the RMBS staff to establish reliable shorebird habitat at RMBS.  Paul Bauer has been leading this effort for nigh onto 16 yrs.    The only other location in St. Louis with reliable shorebird habitat was to have been Columbia Bottom.   Things looked good there the first year after the water pumps were installed, but the ongoing repairs to the pumping system have cast this project in doubt.

The dedication ceremony for the new Heron Pond and the water intake system will take place on Oct 25 at 2:00 pm.  The man of honor will be Paul Bauer.

John Solodar - St. Louis Audubon Society liaison to RMBS
8135 Cornell Ct
University City, MO 63130-3639


[log in to unmask]

On 10/15/09 9:28 PM, "Wu Chang" <[log in to unmask]> wrote:

No need to apologize. From that perspective, anyone would have come tothe same conclusion.However,if you had gone to the back end of Heron Pond you would have found the remaining yellowlegs and killdeers with no problem ( they were still in the front mud areas but they are in and out of there as they see fit and will often be on the near edge where it is hard to see them).
You would have found that barring falling into the giant hole the COE has left in the levee(you can still walk around it) a short walk and there you are. The recent rainfall, created  temporary mudflats back in the area where the willows had been eliminated in the first and second phase of elimination. While not extensive, they appeared to provide food for a smaller number of the shorebirds you were looking for and may not have seen at the front of Heron Pond.
When the COE removed the remaining willows in the Heron Pond, the choice was made to evict the egrets, great blue herons, black crown night herons and the wood ducks that roosted in the reduced willow area. Hardest hit were the wood ducks. It also eliminated the edge habitat that most biologist say provide the areas most useful to wildlife including the deer,coyotes as well as the birds.  After the first cut of the willows, the water levels were allowed to diminish in  the back end of Heron Pond to the point where the Kingfisher's that made their living there abandonded the area. Fewer and fewer wading birds visited the back end of Heron Pond and the number that visited the area was reduced by at least half and maybe more. Many of the regular birders stopped going to that part of Riverlands due to the actions that dropped all the water levels.
If the plan is to swap one monculture ( the cultivated lands that surround Riverlands) with another, the manipulated mud flats, then it will take more than a few years to decide if this is a good managment plan or if the more natural rythmn of seasonal water levels would have been just as effective given the COE's decison to let the area drain with the pre sluice gate water control structures that were in place but never used to create mud. I wonder if we will ever see the Kingfishers use that area again. I suppose the trade off of the Least Terns diving for food back there helps but if the entire area is going to be a mud flat, then I wonder if the terns will use that area.
Considering the majority of people that go to Riverlands never visit the ponds along the 2 Pecan Trail and the sloughs adjacent to the Pintail pond, they never see the black necked stilts, the pectoral sandpipers, upland sandpipers or even the least sandpipers or the semi palmated plovers and sandpipers that find the natural mud in those areas. Dragonfly Marsh is nearly inaccessible so who knows what shorebirds may or may not be using it?
If anyone wants to see a pond that has been flooded to kill vegetation, then visit the large pond on Ellis Island and see what the beavers and muskrats have done-- there is no vegetation in the pond and what used to be productive mud flats and areas that supported wood ducks, herons,killdeer, yellowlegs etc is now essentially a 'desert' suitable only for rough fish like buffalo and carp. If the COE wants to restore that area, all it will take is a couple of people with a shovel to open the 2 "dams" the critters have built.
Please understand, I like shorebirds as much as the next person, but I'm not sure it is a good thing to swap one set of birds for another just because we think they are 'neater' than the others.
I'm willing to wait and see.
----- Original Message -----
From: "Peter Richardson"
To: [log in to unmask]
Subject: The early shorebird gets the mud ....
Date: Thu, 15 Oct 2009 18:05:17 -0700

The early shorebird gets the mud ..... and the later ones get to be bumps on a log. But only this year!
Wow, I have learned a lot from the responses to my observation about the water from an opened sluice covering the mud in Heron Pond, RMBS, St. Charles County! I have been firmly informed that my observation was incorrect. It was rain, and not the open sluice, that caused the higher water levels and the disappearance of the bare mud.
I was delighted to further learn that the mud exposed in September was due to manipulation of the water level in the summer which prevented vegetation growth, resulting in bare mud when the water level was lowered. I was further informed that in future years the water level will be manipulated to keep a continuous area of exposed mud when the shorebirds are migrating. This is wonderful and I applaud what has been done at Heron Pond. I look forward to seeing bare mud for the entire shorebird migration in future years. I think that all birders will be delighted when this happens.
Several people told me that heavy rain caused the bare mud in Heron Pond to be covered by water prior to my visit last Sunday. One person told me that the open sluice was having little or no effect on the water level because water was being released from the other end of Heron Pond. Obviously, I do not understand the complex water dynamics of this area. I have been offered a tour and an explanation of the water management of Heron Pond and the surrounding area. I look forward to this.
One person suggested that Heron Pond was being flooded for the ducks. I have been assured that this is not correct.
My original comment was written on behalf of the migrating shorebirds. Where are they to feed? Photographic evidence (thanks, Bill) shows that they are reduced to landing on logs floating in Ellis Bay. They may get some rest there but they need food if they are to continue their journey south successfully.
I apologize unreservedly to anyone who was offended by my comments. They were an immediate reaction to seeing an opened sluice and no bare mud, as well as disappointment because I had been telling my out-of-town visitor that we finally had some great shorebird habitat near St. Louis.
I truly hope that there will be bare mud and shorebirds at the official opening in a few days time.
I have deliberately not mentioned names of people who contacted me. They know who they are. I thank them all for contacting me. I have written private replies to several of them.
Mick Richardson, Kirkwood, St Louis County
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