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Wetlands' Revival Attracts Record Number of Ducks

Image courtesy of the News Tribune
If a recent aerial survey of The Wetlands Initiative’s Hennepin-Hopper Lakes is any indication, a multi-year restoration and carp-elimination project has been a rousing success.

Or, as The Wetlands Initiative labeled it on its website this week: “a great duck-cess.”

An aerial waterfowl count that estimated 120,000 on the lake late last week was the best ever, and news of the numbers of those migrating birds attracted Starved Rock Audubon Society chapter member and avid bird watcher John McKee of Ottawa and his wife Cindy to the wetlands south of Hennepin this past weekend.

“It’s just covered with ducks out there,” McKee said earlier this week. “They used to get real high counts but not this high when they first restored (the wetlands).”

The past two years, the draining of the lakes, extermination of common carp and natural refilling of the lakes through springs and seepage has produced amazing water clarity that encouraged growth of plants that brings in the waterfowl. McKee said when the carp population in a backwater is high, the carp keep the water and bottom stirred up in spots where plants otherwise would grow.

Vera Leopold, grants manager at TWI, said common carp tend to uproot plants and prevent their growth. Thriving plants, as well as introduction of wild celery and other native aquatic plants, has helped attract record numbers of ducks so far this fall.

“The years when the duck numbers were really low was when the invasive common carp were (very plentiful),” Leopold said.

During their visit, McKee said, he and his wife personally saw redheads, pintails, gadwall, ring-necked ducks, wigeon, a ruddy duck, shovelers, canvasbacks and, of course, lots of coots and mallards.

“Numbers of migratory waterfowl visiting the Wetlands Initiative’s Dixon Waterfowl Refuge at Hennepin & Hopper Lakes this fall are on track to be the highest ever recorded,” a Wetlands Initiative article read. “An aerial survey conducted by the Illinois Natural History Survey on Oct. 28 found nearly 70,000 ducks present that day, in addition to more than 46,000 American Coots.”

The Wetlands news item continues: “The 2013 fall migration has already exceeded our previous records for some individual species counts. Single-day counts for ruddy duck, gadwall, green-winged teal, blue-winged teal, and northern pintail are higher than they’ve ever been since the first year of restoration in 2002. The number of coots, a great indicator species for healthy lake vegetation, is more than twice that of the next best year.”

“It looks like we’ve hit a home run,” said TWI senior ecologist Gary Sullivan. “If these numbers hold up, 2013 will be the best waterfowl year at Hennepin and Hopper ever.”

Leopold noted no hunting is allowed at the refuge. Also, no fishing will be allowed until most likely 2015, so the fishery can have time to recover.

She said in addition to record-breaking daily duck counts, the stocked fish, even endangered or threatened species such as star-headed topminnow, are faring quite well, too.

“We’re really happy and excited about the way the lakes are recovering. They’re doing even better than we had hoped,” Leopold said.

Source: News Tribune