Back in 2011- wow, has it been that long ago?- I posted Autumn at the Darby Wetlands, a look at a new area at Battelle-Darby Metro Park that was being turned into a tallgrass prairie area and wetlands. West central Ohio had been a prairie area for thousands of years until settlers turned it into farmland. Now, there is an interest by the Metro Parks system of central Ohio in returning areas of their parks back into prairie. I blogged about this in a post called The Life, Death, and Rebirth of Ohio’s Prairies. Now, Prairie Season shows off the efforts of Metro Parks in central Ohio.
Since I posted about the brand-new Darby Wetlands area in 2011, things have changed. I thought I’d revisit the area in this post and see the changes that have happened.
Back in 2011, the wetlands and tallgrass prairie here were just getting under way.
Contrast this look with recent photos:
Years later, Bluestem Grass (classic tallgrass prairie grass) and Cattails have flourished. Weedy waste plants such as Horseweed have been replaced by classic prairie growth, and the ponds have seen plenty of aquatic plants take root.
Big Bluestem is a hardy prairie grass that can reach a height of 10 feet. It’s roots can go down into the soil as deep as 10 feet, too. It enjoys full sun, is drought-resistant and can be used for livestock fodder or hay.
Arrowroot is one example of aquatic wildflowers that grow in the wetlands.
Cattails are perhaps the most common plant in wetlands and along the edges of ponds. They take root in shallow water and grow so densely that they crowd out any competitor plants. They store lots of food energy and grow rapidly.
This is the result of large areas of Cattails- Muskrats and their lodges. Last year, a very wet year, I counted over 130 lodges on Teal Pond (the main wetlands pond). Their numbers are down significantly this year, the Muskrats having cleared out a good amount of the Cattails on the east side of the pond. They chew on Cattails and store the shoots for the winter. I blogged about Muskrats back in 2012.
American Bullfrogs are very numerous in the wetlands ponds. They attract waterfowl, shorebirds and other wildlife who feed upon them.
Dragonflies are also seasonally numerous in the wetlands.
Speaking of birds, let’s take a look at some birds often seen at the Darby Wetlands…
In the spring and summer, Common Yellowthroats frequent the prairie and wetlands foliage.
Song Sparrows are common year-round in the wetlands area.
Swamp Sparrows are another common sparrow species here. You can see less common sparrows such as Savannah, Nelson’s, even a rare Le Conte’s on occasion. Henslow’s Sparrows can be found in the breeding season in the prairie grass.
Red-Winged Blackbirds are abundant in the wetlands. I play a game where when I see Cattails I look for Red-Wings and most of the time I find them. I’ve been at the wetlands near sunset and see huge amounts of blackbirds settling in for the night all around me.
Here’s a Great Egret next to a Pied-Billed Grebe- both common wetlands visitors. Grebes raise families in the cattails next to the water.
Great Blue and Green (pictured) Herons stalk the ponds looking for plentiful food.
The Wetlands attracts rare birds such as this Little Blue Heron. The past 9 years has seen many new birds attracted to this newly restored environment. It’s exciting for birders!
Virginia Rails and Soras- secretive marsh birds- weave in and out of the edges of the Cattails. You can hear them call from cover much easier than you can see them.
This is a Common Gallinule adult followed by a young bird raised right there in the wetlands.
Ducks, such as this immature male Wood Duck, frequent the wetlands ponds. Other ducks commonly seen include Mallards, Blue-Winged Teal, and Northern Shovelers. American Coot are often seen, too.
Killdeer- Ohio’s most common shorebird- are very common in the wetlands, sounding off with their loud ‘kill-deer’ call.
Migrating shorebirds frequently stop by the wetlands to feed. Here’s a Lesser Yellowlegs…
…a Semipalmated Sandpiper…
…and a Pectoral Sandpiper. These birds are showing up in greater numbers than ever now that they have such a friendly environment to visit.
Overall, the turning of former farmland into a prairie and wetlands area has gone very well and has reaped big rewards for the environment and wildlife, not to mention birders and naturalists. The Metro Parks system deserves a big thumbs up for this effort to bring back these scarce natural habitats.