On a trip to the Lake Erie area on the first day of spring, it was obvious a controlled burn had taken place in part of Ottawa National Wildlife Refuge.
The planned burn, which is actually a controlled fire, is an annual event at the refuge, located between Oak Harbor and Portion Clinton off of Ohio 2. These burns are conducted to improve wildlife habitat and reduce the accumulation of fuels that lead to uncontrolled wildfires.
Anywhere from 100-800 acres are treated annually with such fires at the refuge. They typically take place between March and the middle of May. The Ohio Division of Wildlife (DOW) also uses prescribed burns on the many wildlife areas in the state.
These fires are positive in a variety of ways. They not only help control excessive amounts of brush, shrubs, trees and invasive species, they are productive for habitat management.
The area being burned is called a “burn unit” and involves preventing the fire from burning unintended areas.
Plant and animal species can depend on such a periodic fire. The fires encourage the new growth of native vegetation. Blackened soil from the fire quickly absorbs sunlight. Seed germination is encouraged by this warmed soil. Charred plant remains turn into a rich fertilizer, encouraging new grass growth to sprout from the network of root systems deep below ground.
Wildlife and plants actually benefit from such fires. Fire opens up dense areas and helps maintain meadow habitats. These open areas are then used by a number of animal species for food and shelter. Birds such as bobolinks and eastern meadowlarks require open grasslands for feeding and resting.
According to the U.S. Fish and wildlife Service (FWS), the look of such burn units is different depending upon the ecosystem you are in.
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While at the refuge for a drive through, we saw a variety of birds including ducks, Canada geese, trumpeter swans, several bald eagles and hawks.
Visiting the refuge, Magee Marsh Wildlife Area, Metzger Marsh Wildlife Area, Howard Marsh Metropark and the duck pond in Castalia, we spotted a dozen different species of ducks. Metzger proved to be the hot spot with literally hundreds of ducks within view.
The ducks we saw included: shovelers, gadwalls, northern pintails, buffleheads, red heads, ring necks, mallards, scaup (greater and lesser), wood ducks, a ruddy duck and canvasbacks.
We also saw some coots, which resemble ducks, but are actually a member of the rail family. They are also known as mud hens or marsh hens.
In addition we saw a couple of horned larks at Howard Marsh and a Dunlin shorebird at the Boss Unit of Ottawa National Wildlife refuge.
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As more anglers are readying to wet a line, it’s appropriate to relate a feel-good fishing story from last summer.
The incident involves a young boy who was fishing and a kind gesture from Auglaize County Wildlife Officer Mark Schemmel.
The boy was fishing with his family in a popular location beneath a bridge where he scraped his head underneath the bridge. Schemmel, who was contacting anglers along the Miami-Erie Canal, was contacted by the young angler’s mother. Schemmel quickly responded with a first-aid kit and provided water and bandages to properly dress the wound.
Before leaving for a nearby medical facility, the wildlife officer gave the boy a new Spider-Man youth fishing pole for his strength and patience. A local conservation club had donated the fishing pole to be handed out in such situations.
After checking in with the family later that day, the boy received a few stitches, but was eager to get back out and use his new rod and reel.
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Ohio artist Sean Johnson of Louisville won the recent Ohio Wetlands Habitat Stamp Design Competition, which was held virtually March 19. The competition was sponsored by the Ohio DOW.
Johnson’s painting of a pair of canvas back ducks will be displayed on the wetlands stamps that will be issued in the fall of 2022.
Judges selected Johnson’s painting from a field of 10 original pieces of artwork submitted by artists from eight states, including three entries from Ohio. James Pieper of Wisconsin was awarded second place for his painting of hooded mergansers, while third place went to Frank Dolphens of Nebraska for his painting of green-winged teal.
Proceeds from stamp sales help fund vital wetland habitat restoration projects in Ohio. These habitats are important to many resident wildlife species, including state-endangered trumpeter swans, wetland birds, amphibians, and migratory species.
Al Smith is a freelance outdoor writer. You may contact him at email@example.com and follow him on Twitter @alsmithFL