Dam Bioblitzing: 15 Minutes after the Rain


The rain finally stopped this afternoon, so I decided to head over to Site A for a 15 minute bioblitz. The lake seemed deserted when I arrived. No other people were interested in climbing around in the mud, and all of the fauna was hiding. Far away, I heard a meadowlark and what sounded like a frog, but otherwise, all was quiet. I walked around a little, and decided I had better mark off a square, and start counting the many clumps of prairie grass along the trail. Unfortunately, in early spring, when it is just sprouting from the ground, prairie grass is notoriously difficult to identify. I didn't want to go uprooting samples to look at the roots or seeds, so I braced myself for a rather dull and frustrating 15 minutes. (Yea, like anything is ever dull in this chaotic utopia we live in.)


Across the cove, I saw two Canadian Geese, flying in the distance. "Well, I guess I can count them," I thought. "Two birds are better than none." As I turned to make a note, I saw a third goose had settled in right behind me. Grazing along the path I'd just walked down, the goose wasn't the slightest bit bothered by my presence. When I started to take a picture, it started walking towards me out of curiosity. Since it was scrounging around a trash can on the trail, I figured it was rather used to human junk food, and probably thought I had some. Rather than be attacked by a hungry goose for the sake of French fries, I decided to find another spot.


Gingerly, I passed the goose, and walked over to a small depression, not far from the lake. Last night's rainstorm filled the hole, making a pleasant pond, with a large cottonwood tree in the middle. A pair of mallard ducks dozed under the branches of the tree, the male floating by the trunk, and the female perched on the lowest limb. As I admired the peaceful scene, I heard a commotion from across the temporary pond.


I wish I had binoculars, for several smaller birds were flying between the trees and the shallow waters nearby. From my perspective, they looked about like fuzzy little blobs. (I may need glasses.) They seemed to be calling out warning cries, perhaps directed at another bird shape, slightly larger and somewhat reddish, perched on top of the tallest tree. A hawk, perhaps? As I strained my eyes to see better, I saw something else fly above me.

At last! A Great Blue Heron! It appeared to be passing by the lake, rather than arriving or leaving, but I managed to catch one shot of his outline before he flew on. i-9b8339d20f435936ec3b52e7b458e5eb-greatblue.jpg You can see the long dark legs extending behind the bird, in stark contrast to the duck-like legs of the Black-Capped Night Heron. The Great Blue tucks its long neck under as it flies, making it look somewhat stouter than a normal bird. Because of this feature, as I was growing up, whenever we would spot a Great Blue Herons in flight, we would call it a "pterodactyl".

The Great Blue Herons have been longtime residents of the Big Dry Creek area. To the northwest of the lake, the birds have built a heronry on a water hazard in a nearby golf course. I had my first close encounter with one when I was 11 or 12, when I found one fishing in a section of Big Dry Creek just behind my house. I had seen them from a distance plenty of times (like today) but that particular one was no more than 10 feet away. The bird and I regarded each other for a moment, before it opened its wings and took off. The sheer size of the bird impressed me... the heron's wingspan was quite a bit wider than I was tall. Ever since then, I've regarded the Great Blue Heron as almost a god-like figure... powerful, strong, and wise.

Today, as I watched the pterodactyl... er, I mean heron, fly off into the drizzly distance, I felt that same sense of reverence. A beeping timer shook me from my awed trance. 15 minutes were up. Time to go home.

Wildlife Count*

Kingdom: Animalia

  • Phylum: Chordata
    • Class: Aves
      • Order: Anseriformes
        • Family: Anatidae
          • 3 Branta canadensis (Canadian Goose)
          • 2 Anas platyrhynchos (Mallard)
      • Order: Ciconiiformes
        • Family: Ardeidae
          • 1 Ardea herodias (Great Blue Heron)

Note (*): I didn't list any of the birds or grasses that I was unsure about. The bird perched on the tree could have been a hawk, an eagle, or a pigeon, for all I know. I'm going to call it safe and say they were outside of my sample range. Besides, how much would you expect to see in only 15 minutes?

All photographs taken by the author.

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