Friday, March 1, 2013

Be Kind to Canes

Reprinted from the Oshkosh Scene newspaper with additional photos of cane beds and birds that nest  in them.

The East Channel Canes on Lake Poygan may seem to have a strange name, but once upon a time there was a corresponding West Channel Canes, and even more surprising is this is the place where the Wolf River used to empty into Lake Poygan. Now these few scattered cane beds are all that remain of a huge wetland complex destroyed by flooding, waves and ice. Without restoration these too will be lost.

On the Lake Winnebago Upper Pool lakes there is a rare habitat called cane beds that are popular fish, wildlife, and the human enthusiasts that follow them.  These beds are composed of a native strain of Common Reed (Phragmites australis).  Our native strain is an important part of Wisconsin’s wetland ecosystems, but there is a variety originating from Europe that is highly invasive.  These aquatic plants are the remains of wetlands lost since the damming of the Fox River in the 1850’s.  Where it was firmly rooted it survived the breakup of the surrounding marsh and the near permanent flooding.   Although they are tough plants, and survived the high water, they too have been slowly fading away. 

Forster's Tern chick hiding in reeds
Historically several of the cane beds have been used by colonies of the endangered Forster’s Tern.  If you have never seen a Forster’s tern, picture a gull and cross it with a jet fighter.  These birds are fun to watch.  Terns will cruise around the lakes searching for small fish, and when a bird spots one it begins to hover.  Then locked on its prey, the tern drops from the sky, wings partially folded back, and plunges into the water.  The bird briefly disappears and then flies up and away.  Depending on the time of year the tern may give the fish to its mate, or one of its chicks.  These terns are endangered because their nesting habitat, floating mats of vegetation, are no longer that common.  On the Winnebago Upper Pool Lakes, the cane beds have shrunken and so has the Forster’s Tern population.

click below to see more of the cane beds