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More than 120 species of plants have been documented at the Crooked River Wetlands Complex

PHOTO COURTESY OF CHUCK GATES
 - A marsh wren is relaxing for a moment in hardstem bulbrush at the wetlands.It's June, and for local birds, it's a time of transition as they leave the frenetic world of migration, courting and mating and enter the domestic world of having and raising a family. Babies are popping up everywhere.

There's another transition at the Wetlands you may not have noticed. The huge duck flocks in the large, open ponds (9-11) mostly leave for nesting in the north, and those that remain move to the smaller, more vegetated ponds (1-8) where they can lay their eggs while protected by the tall grasses and cattails. Since these smaller ponds surround the parking area, viewing these local nesters is just a short walk away.

Look for the yellow-headed blackbird males displaying from atop the cattail spires. Mostly unseen marsh wrens create a constant chatter as they work to find food in the concealing foliage. Flashy cinnamon teal males are easy to see while the cryptic females work hidden in the grasses to incubate their eggs. American coots diligently go about gathering food for their red-headed young. Look closely and you may find the male ruddy duck with its bright blue bill and red-brown body. See if you can find the camouflaged puffballs that are the baby killdeer. Of course, the scattered mallard and Canada goose families are abundant and, unfortunately, so are the leftovers from their constant feeding. Ugh!

Every month is different at the Wetlands, but June may offer the best close-up birding opportunities.

Enough about birds. Let's talk plants. Wait. You didn't realize there are plants at the Wetlands? If that's the case, you suffer from a common malady known as "plant blindness," the human tendency to ignore plants. We mentioned it in this column last June, but now we're going to help you overcome it.

Did you know more than 120 species of plants have been documented at the Wetlands? Many have been planted in the various "pollinator gardens" and are flowering now; some were seeded when the Wetlands Complex was developed; and some, well, just drifted in or had their seeds already in the soil. There are trees (mostly along the Crooked River but some were also planted around the ponds), shrubs (willows, sagebrush, rabbitbrush and the like), and an abundance of forbs and grasses, some native and some not.

Obviously, we're not going to try to make you an identification expert, but there are a handful of plants you can't help but notice if you take your eyes off those feathered friends of ours for a moment.

First, let's talk about the tule (too-lee). Tule Talk. Have you ever been lost in the tules? A classic tule is hardstem bulrush (Schoenoplectus acutus) and ours was seeded when the Wetlands were developed. It's important for wildlife for nesting and hiding cover and was also used by Native Americans for a number of purposes. Look for a large, tall clump of thick, dark-green-colored, round stems in the water with little thingies (a technical term for the flowers and fruits) coming out from near the top later in the season. There's another bulrush at the Wetlands but it's more obscure.

Next is the broad-leaved cattail (Typha latifolia). Everyone knows and loves the cattail with its brown (green when young) cylindrical flower heads and wide, flat leaves. They're extra fun when you collect the fruiting stems, take them home and they burst in the house, which is the same way they seed in the wild and how they became established at the Wetlands. As well as great cover for wildlife, the cattail was used by Native Americans in many ways including for food, medicine and building material. They even made duck decoys from the leaves!

A couple grasses are worth mentioning, both of which have been seeded along the paths. The first is head high to most adults and has leaves that are both long (up to 25 inches) and wide (nearly an inch). Called basin wildrye (Leymus cinereus), you can't miss this grass, the base of which can get up to 3 feet in diameter. Native to much of the Intermountain West, in the old days it was actually hayed and provides wildlife values as well.

The other grass, substantially smaller in spite of its name, is Sherman big bluegrass. This is the wispy grass in clumps, a foot or two high, found all along the paths and the dry slopes above the ponds. It's interesting to note that this is a cultivar of the common Sandberg bluegrass (Poa secunda), which was collected in 1932 from the Moro/Grass Valley area of Oregon, was released to the public in the 1940s and is now used extensively for land restoration.

Last for now is Nebraska sedge (Carex nebrascensis). If you make it out to ponds 14 and 15, this is the majority of the "pond" vegetation you'll see, but almost every pond has some. This sedge was seeded during Wetland development, and among other values it provides excellent cover for nesting waterfowl as well as seeds for small mammals and birds.

Let's close with another reminder about the amateur photo contest which is open for all ages to submit photos taken at the Wetlands from May to August this year. For complete information, view the Wetlands' public Facebook page at https://www.facebook.com/crookedriverwetlands/.

See you out there – in the tules!

Photo credits

American coot on hardstem bulrush – Chuck Gates

Marsh wren in hardstem bulrush – Chuck Gates

Broad-leaved cattail – internet


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