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A Sunday Afternoon at Riverlands

Sunday the heat of the last ten days dissipated and the weather was way too good to stay inside. Off we went to walk the Chain of Rocks Bridge and then to Riverlands, the bird sanctuary behind Lock and Dam 26. We spotted a brown pelican hanging about the fringes of a flock of American White Pelicans, who seem to have given up migrating to Canada in the summer and Louisiana in the winter and decided to stay behind Lock and Dam 26, where the fishing is excellent or has been the last two years because the river is up, the dam is open, and the pool behind the dam low.

The brown pelican, which belongs on a Louisiana bayou, not behind a Mississippi River dam at Alton, Illinois, may be a juvenile white pelican. If so where are the rest of the juveniles in this flock?

Brown Pelican at Riverlands

Brown Pelican at Riverlands

When Congress approved the construction of the new Lock and Dam 26 in 1978, it ordered the Corps of Engineers to mitigate acre for acre the wetlands that would be lost to the new dam. Hence, Riverlands is Congress’s gift to birds and birders.

Mud Flats behind Lock and Dam 26

Mud Flats behind Lock and Dam 26

We have had very little rain in the last ten days and the river is coming down, exposing mud flats on which moist soil vegetation, food for ducks on their fall migration, is sprouting. The Corps of Engineers has been managing Pool 26 for moist soil vegetation for the last fifteen years.

Every May Day the lock masters dropped the water levels of Pools 26, 25, and 24 a mere six inches for thirty days, allowing islands directly north of each dam to dry out and seeds on them to germinate. After thirty days they raised the levels slowly, slowly enough for plants–smartweed, wild millet, chufa, yellow foxtail, pigweed, rice cutgrass, and panicum–to keep their growing tips above water, over two thousand acres of new moist  vegetation–food and protective covering for ducks and filters for nitrogen flowing off corn and soybean fields.

Last year flooding in September drowned out the moist soil vegetation in the pools, leaving the ducks dependent on management wetlands that are protected behind levees.

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