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At Riverlands: If you build it, they will come. With a bow to William Kinsella.

Tern Barge at Riverlands

Tern Barge at Riverlands

When I first started my work on the Mississippi River, I went up to Riverlands to listen to the people up there who know wetlands and birds. They defined the success of Riverlands as a bird sanctuary: “If you build it, they will come.” Congress ordered the Corps to replace “acre for acre” every bit of land flooded by the construction of Lock and Dam 26. The Corps built Riverlands. The birds came.

Tern Barge

Tern Barge

The day started beautifully and then turned grey, but I was already halfway to Riverlands, a sixty mile drive. I wanted to see the tern barge, a Corps of Engineer experiment to provide nesting places for Least Terns, an endangered bird.

Least Tern, Image from the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service

Least Tern, Image from the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service

Terns like their privacy and want to nest on open sand bars where they can see any and all predators that may attack their nests. Last spring and this spring, the sand bars on the Mississippi south of St. Louis have been mostly under water during the nesting season. The barge is an attempt to create a floating sand barge that rises and falls with the river. The engineers covered the barge with sand, added a few bits of drift wood, decoys, a call box, and cover for the chicks, if the terns came. The terns came.

“If you build it, they will come.”

The St. Louis District of the Army Corps of Engineers has been providing nesting place for terns for several years. Before they put out the barge at Riverlands, the bird sanctuary behind Lock and Dam 26 on the Upper Mississippi, they were creating side channels in sandy dikes field by notching the dikes to allow water to scour out a channel between the shore and the field. The terns nest on the sand bars, protecting from predators by the side channel, where they can find fish.

Dike field above the Jefferson Barracks Bridge between St. Louis County, Missouri and Monroe County, Illinois

Dike field above the Jefferson Barracks Bridge between St. Louis County, Missouri and Monroe County, Illinois

The Corps tried to scour a channel between the dike field and the Illinois shore at the Jefferson Barracks Dike Field, but found there were too many chemicals contaminating the river and abandoned the project.


2 Responses

  1. I noticed with some anxiety inaccuracies with your earlier postings.
    I stumbled across this one when searching for new images on the least tern nesting project.

    Your statement that suggests the sanctuary was the result of mitigation is wholly wrong. Mitigation to the States of Missouri and Illinois attendant to the replacement of Old L/D 26 at its present location resulted in acquisition and protection of a portion of Cuivre Island in MO and a tract adjacent to Horsehoe in IL. The prairie marsh complex and refuge established and later named the Riverlands Migratory Bird Sanctuary is 3,700 acres of 50,000 acres of operational lands acquired in Fee title as part of the overall Corps Navigation Project. The sanctuary creation was a discretionary act within the Corps Environmental Stewardship Program mandated by no one but envisioned by Corps Biologists at the Rivers Project Office.

    I guess its a blog so you can say anything, but with a little research….like a call to the Rivers Project Office you could get it right and your blog would have much greater value because it would be fact based.

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