Watercress Bio-Logs

It’s been a week of dodging rain and catching rays at The Springs; mostly the former.  It’s really wet out there and it’s going to be like a steam bath when the summer heat finally arrives.

On Wednesday, June 18, I waited in my truck for the rain to stop and got in some uninhibited practice on my recorder.  I still sound really bad, but I’m learning my way around the instrument and it’s fun to make sounds.  When the rain finally stopped I mowed the DNR 2-track access road on the south end of the Scuppernong Springs Nature Preserve with my brush cutter; not the most efficient tool, but dragging a mower out there is a lot of work too.

I followed up on my efforts last week at the Indian Springs by transplanting a few of the sedges that are growing downstream into the area where I pulled quack grass and watercress, just to see what it would take.  If you have not visited the Indian Springs in a while, you will be surprised by the new look.  There was a shelf of peat/mud/clay around 20 yards downstream from the deck at the main springs that created a little waterfall about a foot high, and I removed this material.  So now the outflow stream has found it’s natural bed in stone and sand and the water table has fallen to this new level in the upper area where the main springs emerge.  Now we can proceed with the transplants, and hopefully, sometime this summer, replace the deck.

I pulled and dug a ton of spotted knapweed, hoary alyssum and hawksbeard from the sand prairie in the afternoon.  Lindsay Knudsvig and John Hrobar both informed me that there are weevils that attack spotted knapweed and I do need to follow up on introducing them on the sand prairie.

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On Thursday, June 19, we had a date with the DNR Fisheries team to observe them performing an elevation study at the hotel springs bridge, but the weather was dicey and they decided to reschedule.  I’m hoping they will also study the elevation at the two little foot bridges that are upstream of the emerald spring, as they seem to have the same profile, i.e. a place were an embankment formerly dammed the river and where marl and sand have collected in the riverbed upstream (symptoms of the river not making a natural headcut.)  These are locations where humans intervened with the natural lay of the land that we need to put right.

Pati is back from her adventure in South Africa and we had another mission that day to do our monthly river monitoring on the Scuppernong River, where it crosses Hwy Z, just west of forest headquarters.  Pati spent 9 years as a research assistant at the Medical College of Wisconsin and she really enjoyed doing a little science in the river!

On the way home, the sun was shining and we stopped at The Springs to take a walk and there we ran into a team from the USGS recalibrating the measuring devices at the gaging station.  I forgot to get their names but they were very friendly and thoroughly explained what they were doing.

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The consistency of the measurements are vulnerable to any changes in the river’s profile; moving rocks around, or even a bloom of underwater foliage a few feet downstream, can throw off the calibration.

Friday, June 20, I was back at The Springs with watercress on my mind.  It was three years ago that Lindsay and I attempted to clear out the watercress that was damming the river and it has come back vigorously since then forming new dams.  We started naively thinking we could actually get rid of the watercress, so we pulled out as much as we could, from bank to bank, and heaved it up and out of the river forming huge piles.  This released the river’s flow to the pull of gravity and significantly lowered the water table in the whole upper valley (from the Scuppernong Springs down to the old barn site.)

This time around, I decided to try something new.  After learning more about how the DNR Fisheries team used bio-logs to shape the river’s course, I thought of using the watercress to form natural bio-logs.  When I put my hands down in the riverbed and began to pull up the thick carpet of watercress roots, I realized I could just roll it over and pin it behind the stakes that were still in place from the effort the DNR made years ago to install bio-logs and stick bundles.

This approach addresses the fact that brook trout need bugs and cover.  Leaving the watercress on the perimeter of the river, creates a natural shelf the fish can hide under, and, in a few weeks, new growth from the watercress will again cover the river providing shade and a source of bugs.  The difference is that now the watercress root system will not be clogging the main channel of the river.  Of course, it will grow back into the channel and again have to be rolled out, but each time a layer of marl and mud will come with it deepening the main channel.  Well, enough talk, here is what it looks like now.  As far as the long-term results, we’ll have to see.

Looking downstream from the first footbridge below the Scuppernong Spring.

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Just as we saw back in 2012, the water level fell by 2-3 inches after the watercress dams were removed

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I think keeping an open channel will also compliment the DNR’s efforts to adjust the elevation of the river and produce a headcut.  My good friend John Hrobar, who spent his career working with water and studying it’s movement and behavior in complex ecosystems, totally disagrees with this approach and we have had many intense discussions about it.  I invite John to explain his position and rational either in a comment to this post or in a separate post.

In fact, later that afternoon, I ran into John and Sue Hrobar on the sand prairie as I was pulling spotted knapweed.  They pointed out a few new plants they had not seen before:

Clasping Milkweed.

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Last year, John pointed out that I was cutting all the purple prairie clover in my zeal to cut flowering spotted knapweed.  I was happy to show that I learned my lesson, and now we are poised for an explosion of purple.

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Flowering Spurge.

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The sun came out in its solstice fullness and it turned into a hot summer day for a couple hours.

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On Saturday, June 21, I joined Jared Urban and the State Natural Areas volunteers at the Bluff Creek SNA to girdle aspen.  We worked on the area marked in red below on an aspen clone that they started working on last month.  We focused on the little aspen that were spreading out into the prairie.

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Zach Kastern showing Jack and Brandon where to go…

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… and how to do it.

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Jack, Zach, Brandon, Jerry, Jared and Ginny.

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I left shortly after noon to girdle aspen back at The Springs but Zach, Jared and Ginny stayed to finish the job and pull some sweet clover and parsnip while they were at it.  It was an excellent learning experience for me and I realized that I needed to follow up on the aspen girdling I did last year to make sure the clonal colonies were completely killed.

See you at The Springs!

6 thoughts on “Watercress Bio-Logs

  1. Before you take any weevil action I suggest talking with Don Dane. I had the same thought about using them at Young Prairie SNA and happened to get talking with Don about it. If I remember right he said that he’s tried them but the results weren’t very good, poor survivability. Personally, if they can be shown to be safe for use I’d like to try them out.

  2. Pingback: Weeds “R” Us | Scuppernong Springs Nature Trail

  3. Pingback: Scuppernong River Survey | Scuppernong Springs Nature Trail

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