Last year, I visited The Land of the Swamp White Oak Preserve, in Muscatine County. This 4,000-acre (1600-hectare) facility is truly outstanding, and open to the public. I recommend a visit! Let me tell you why this place is so special, and show a few photos and stories. We start with some Oak…but note that it blends with Willow, sedges, and glorious, sticky mud.
As I’ve explained in past posts, the concept of “public land” varies widely. Who owns a property, who may visit, various uses and maintenance of the land can all differ. My observations suggest that the Nature Conservancy is a most pragmatic organization, focused on preserving the ecological integrity of the land forever. That goal still allows for a variety of ownership, partnership, care, and use. For example, I’ve stayed on a facility that had a beautiful cabin for groups (like my Ecology class) and yet is also was a working ranch. Other sites may allow only very restricted use. Land may be privately owned, and even worked, with the conservation goals nevertheless achieved through partnerships and various legal arrangements.
This particular property has a focus on wetlands and savanna habitats, and the amphibians, reptiles, and other animals found there. Dale and his crew from the local office showed me around, answering questions and explaining their work. It’s impressive! Let’s start with a look at some of those “herps,” the amphibians and reptiles.
Perhaps the variety and abundance of reptiles and amphibians tell us more about the quality and health of the wetland ecosystem, than any other indicator. These animals are exquisitely sensitive to disruptions of water dynamics and chemistry, weather patterns, alteration of structures in the habitat, etc. I’m delighted to report the presence of many such species, a few of which I got to see close-up! Check out the Newt with its bright yellow belly, or the fancy scutes (think treads on an armored vehicle) on a snake.
Care for some Arthopods? I’ve got some photos from around the site. Land, water, or…both? Check out the Mantis, some Odonates (Dragonfly/Damselfly nymph). Dale had a dip net, and we sampled slough, fen, and pond waters.
These habitats (and nearby uplands) are ideal for Crustaceans, and I love this duel of the great pincers. (Hey…what do YOU call these guys? Leave a comment with your preferred common name.)
This place is fun, even if you never see that wildlife. Just a nice walk along a stream, a bounce on the quaking peat, beating through a “reedswamp,” or rolling logs in a floodplain Bottomland Forest. This is time well-spent, and an amazing beauty to linger and appreciate.
I’m gladdened that The Nature Conservancy will protect this unique, ecologically-important site. Even more, I was delighted to interact with such dedicated, energetic young conservationists. With friends like these, our wetlands are in good hands.