Coverage: none for me, plenty for wildlife

soap_ckThe last of an all-day,  four-county southern Iowa tour was Soap Creek Wildlife Area in Davis County. I knew my Better Half would appreciate me checking in, so before mucking about, I got out the cell phone.

Sigh. No coverage.

Rather ironic, as it turns out, because this wetland was a great place to talk about “coverage” for wildlife. Generally, animals need food and cover in their habitats. And I found plenty of cover at this oxbow wetland along Soap Creek.

I was trying out the telephoto lens on my camera, and finding it surprising difficult to get a good shot of the waterfowl. It was only about 80 feet (24 m) and across open water. Why was it so hard to get a good photo of the ducks??

hidden_duck

Because they had cover, that’s why! It’s remarkable how difficult it is to see an animal when it is hidden among the vegetation. As further evidence, I had two other encounters a few minutes later, in quick succession.

First I had a cardiac stress-test, thoughtfully provided by a pheasant. It’s startling how you can just about step on one before it finally decides You Are Too Close; then, it makes a huge ruckus when it does take flight.

A few steps later, it’s an episode with deer. At least it didn’t make a huge noisy fuss, but it surely gave me a start as it jumped up from the brush. Nearby, I found the spot where it had bedded down recently.

bedding

Whether it’s in the water, or the upland nearby, having healthy plant cover is important to wildlife. That’s not surprising. What IS surprising, is that the plants don’t need to be as tall as me, or even chest high, to conceal the animals: the spikerush (Eleocharis) hiding the ducks and bedded deer only came up to my knees! Cover can also serve other functions (e.g., shelter from the wind), so plant height is more than just keeping out-of-sight; but at least at this wetland, animals are hidden by a variety of plants, of different heights. Something to keep in mind as you visually scan a wetland, hoping for a glimpse of wildlife. They might have better “coverage” than your phone does!

Author: Paul Weihe

Associate Professor of Biology at Central College, traditional author (Textbook of Limnology, Cole & Weihe, 5th ed.; Waveland Press), and now...blogger!

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