Heron Pond, redux

I am responding to the Heron Pond thread as a birder and as President of St. Louis Audubon. I know Mick Richardson (a smart man with a Phd. in plants; he is an international birder and very passionate about birds); I don’t know Mr. Chang, but he is obviously concerned and equally passionate. I emphasize that nothing I say is meant to be derogatory or dismissive of their concerns, many of which I have shared at different times and in different situations.

Because I am human I consider myself the smartest of men; because I am adult I try to remember my knowledge if very finite. I trust that professionals, in the course of doing their jobs, have considered all the things that I might suggest and their considerations take into account contexts of which I am completely ignorant. My suggestions are, rightly, considered elementary, even childish. Because a lot of professionals are kind people, I am rarely slapped too hard.

My response to my failings is to devise thought experiments. These are often very simple, and they quickly expose the complexity of the problem. I usually abandon the experiment when I come to realize the limits of my knowledge. For Heron Pond my thought experiment begins with a simple cereal bowl. The bowl can be sitting correctly, or it can be inverted (I call this a dome). Keeping in mind the circumference of the cereal as the edge of HP, I then think of changing the amount of cereal in the bowl and the exposed/covered areas of the inside as the possible mudflats. I ask myself what are the relevant considerations? Certainly, to name a few, seasonality of migration, need for vegetative growth (seasonal), wildlife viewing (a bowl works better than a dome-think about it in the context of a circum-navigating trail), need for habitat for resident birds (both winter residents and summer), the need for control of water regardless of weather (extends the seasonality concept), the need for the managed area to be independent of the rest of the area.

It becomes apparent that the existing HP, before the improvements, is a natural bowl. It is not independent of the rest of the area. The willows interfere with sight lines of a trail. The 4 or 5 feet difference will mostly not be used, but now, in times of high water will provide high mud flats. The bowl provides site lines unbroken around the circumference. The blinds are on skids that enable them to be moved out of harms way (and being wood, as a last resort they might float). The control structure allows water to be put in and out of HP independent of the rest of the area. When migrations requiring mudflats overlaps with migrations requiring water, then HP can be set up for mudflats and the rest of the area can be set up for water. (Think late winter ducks and very early spring shorebirds.) The willows are a stage in serial succession; with wetlands being so limited it seems silly to let the remaining wetlands convert. They must be managed.

The willows will not change anything among the non-shorebird species. Herons and Egrets don’t feed on willows, only roost. I suspect that both species travel many miles from their roosts to feed during the day-in SE MO I find them up to 30 miles from their night roost, and I can find their roost by tracking their evening travels. Kingfishers nest, I believe, in the banks of rivers and creeks. Nothing in HP is nesting habitat for Kingfishers. I think you can see where this is going-a lot of planning by very smart people went into this project. St. Louis Audubon has been agitating for some time and the Corps, to its credit, has responded magnificently. The professionals at the Corps have asked for input, we provided, things were discussed, etc. Paul Bauer’s 40-year dream, and John Solodar’s many years of volunteer work, and the willing, even eager, participation of Pat and Charlie and the others at the Corps have gifted the St. Louis area with a new, improved, birding destination.

Those that know me understand that I am passionate about birds. I am also extremely pessimistic about the long-term survival (I am thinking 30 years here) of birds. I often say that we are the last of the birders; our grandkids will not see the diversity of life we have these days. Projects like this give me some hope. I would like to see 100,000 acres of floodplain for the birds and wildlife in St. Charles Co; it is not going to happen.

St. Louis Audubon will continue to push for habitat improvement. We need help with the Little Creve Coeur project, a project which has the same concerns as Riverlands, but is strapped by a lack of cash (the County parks), leadership inertia, the politics of big money (they want Home Depots in every floodplain- I know a few birders that refuse to shop in floodplains, but we don’t make much difference in the dollars). We would like to see more opposition to the casino development next to Columbia Bottom; our VP-Conservation, Karen Meyer, and our Executive Director, Mitch Leachman have attended many meetings about this project. I welcome anyone interested in helping to contact me- visit the St. Louis Audubon website for contact information. And if you want to discuss HP, feel free to stop by Heron Pond and strike up a conversation. I will be the one with a smile on his face.

Dave Rogles
President, St. Louis Audubon Society
St. Charles Co.
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