Prairie backwater

DSC_0402Early in my 99wetlands journey, I answered the question “Can I find 99…?” with high confidence that yes, I can. Another post describes some methods for finding sites. But in this entry, I admit to some difficulty during my visit to O’Brien County. I did eventually find a wetland within the sprawling expanse (over 1,000 acres/400 hectares) of Waterman Prairie. What finally worked, was looking first for water (a stream called Waterman Creek) and then following it back until I found the wetland connection.

Much of the area is steep valleys containing Barry, Dog, McCreary, and Waterman Creeks. Such drainage isn’t conducive to wetlands, and I wandered around without much luck. In the farthest north parcel, I noted willows near the stream, and followed until found backwaters with frogs, snails, minnows, dragonflies and signs of animals burrowing in the bank.DSC_0403

During my searches, I heard the song of the Dickcissel and rattling call of the Belted Kingfisher. Noting these prairie and river species, respectively, I thought once again about the concept of ecotone. Our wetland really does incorporate, and is influenced by, both the terrestrial and aquatic habitats nearby. As a transitional system, the ecotone will necessarily be intricately linked to the other habitats. The birds and dragonflies eat insects emerging from the water; the muskrats harvest plants a distance from the riverbank; floodwaters soak, and wash materials from, the adjacent low lands. The transition from prairie to wet prairie to wetland, for example, can be subtle at times.


I’ll carry on, looking far and wide until I find my 99. I enjoy the challenge, and it reminds me—and now, I remind you—that wetlands often exist in a gradual continuum from dry to wet to dry. Keep searching, and enjoy our wetland ecosystems. See you out in the muck!


Author: Paul Weihe

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

2 thoughts on “Prairie backwater”

  1. I appreciate this reminder of an Iowa conservation success story. I was at a public hearing in O’Brien County about the Waterman Creek project way back in the day when the project was first proposed, and some in the local area were dubious about it. I’m very glad that land is protected now, little wetlands and all. Iowa has such a small amount of public land compared to other states.

    Liked by 1 person

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