32 acres, 8 ponds. Two of these hold water all year round. A third one holds at least a puddle of water in its deepest part, most summers. The others are shallower, and by design, go dry anywhere from late spring to late summer. Also included is a wet meadow area that remains saturated for a few days to several weeks after rainy periods. A 300-ft boardwalk passes through rich and then swampy woods, then opens out onto the lily-studded pond.
The variation in hydroperiod (duration of wetness) provides a variety of aquatic habitats that accommodate, on the one hand, fish that need water all year round, as well as frog and dragonfly species that have a larval stage lasting longer than one year; and on the other hand, amphibians (salamanders, toads and smaller frog species) as well as aquatic insects that mature in a single season, all of which are sensitive to the presence of fish and bullfrogs, which prey on them. The wet meadow and swamp areas provide habitat for a variety of plants not found in abundance elsewhere on the Reserve.
The wetlands were originally conceived by the major private donors to the project as a means of diversifying birding opportunities at Shaw Nature Reserve. Wood ducks, hooded mergansers, green herons, belted kingfishers, and of course, Canada geese are water-associated birds that regularly breed around the Shaw Nature Reserve wetlands. Great blue and (usually immature) little blue herons, and occasional other wading birds forage there. Blue-winged teal, shoveler ducks, solitary sandpipers, snipe and occasional others are notable migrant visitors, especially in late winter/spring. The prairie, with scattered trees that constitutes the watershed for the wetlands and through which the Wetland Trail proceeds from the Loop Road parking area out to the boardwalk, abounds in a variety of sparrows, indigo buntings, northern yellowthroats, blue-winged warblers, orchard and Baltimore orioles, bluebirds and various woodpeckers.
The prairie plantings of the wetlands’ watershed are some of the most diverse at Shaw Nature Reserve. They are notable for the increasing abundance of spring flora, including lousewort, paintbrush, downy phlox, blue-eyed grass, yellow stargrass, shooting star and wild hyacinth. The wet meadow and pond edges are home to numerous rare sedge and wetland grass species, and broadleaf beauties such as blue flag iris, queen-of-the-prairie, bunch lily, blue bottle gentian, and three members of the parsley family which require “wet feet”, water parsnip, water hemlock and cowbane. The swamp forest hosts maturing plantings of bald cypress, water tupelo and overcup oak, with an understory of corkwood, swamp loosestrife (the native one, of course!), and two species of hibiscus, underlain by carpets of lizardtail, water pepper, pickerelweed and copper iris.
- Spring—Frog songs and migrant waterfowl.
- Mid-spring to mid-summer—Water lilies and songbird activity.
- High summer—Dragonflies and singing insects.
- Mid-summer to early fall—Tall, flowering plants.
- BEST SEASON—EVERY TWO WEEKS!
This area can be easily accessed from the Gardenway Bus Stop parking area and walking along the one-mile loop wetland trail, #15 on the Shaw Nature Reserve map.
This 20-acre area of former hay field has been modified in three phases by earth moving machinery into a complex of 8 ponds of varying depths (1 to over 8 feet) and duration of wetness (from winter-spring only to all year round). Ponds were dug in 1991, 1993 and 1996, and a rich variety of wetland vegetation was introduced into them, mostly by sowing seeds onto bare ground or into the water of the rainwater-filled ponds. The 60-acre upland area that provides the watershed that fills and replenishes the ponds is mainly a planted tallgrass prairie, with drainages of open woodland. The entire complex is managed by monitoring and control of invasive species (especially sericea lespedeza, (L. cuneata)), brush mowing, and prescribed burning on a 1–2 year interval. Amphibians, birds and aquatic insects thrive among the diverse wetland vegetation, while prairie and savanna flora and fauna abound in the nearby uplands.
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