ALLEN COUNTY, Ind. (WPTA21) – After winter’s slumber, Eagle Marsh fills with new life each spring. Enter any part of the 831-acre nature preserve, which borders the city limits of Fort Wayne, and the sound of thousands of birds, insects, frogs and mammals drowned out any nearby traffic . Little River Wetlands Project staff and volunteers restored and maintained the community treasure.
Standing in several inches of water, Conservation and Program Manager Maraiah Russell shared her perspective on the importance of this type of terrain. “It’s pretty solid and shallow – but the further you get out, the deeper the layer of mud,” she said, “and that’s the decaying plant matter, and that’s what makes it a wetland that provides all the nutrients for all the creatures here.” In addition to directing floodwater away from parts of the county, native wetland plants also act as a filter to remove pollution.
Behind the Eagle Marsh barn, Russell showed us how many animals live on this reserve. “It’s usually a really good place where you see a lot of turtles basking on the first warm days of spring,” she explained. “A lot of times we will see Painted Turtles on these logs. If you’re lucky you might see a snapper crossing the gravel road. At this time, they move in search of good nesting habitat. They like gravelly soils and they dig into the banks and lay their eggs. Hopefully they will hatch later this fall, or some of them even during winter, and some of them will hatch next spring.
“You can see little paths like this going through swampy areas. These are made by the muskrat, the beaver,” she added, “could also be made by the otter – we have also observed otters here. The marsh is very attractive to birds, which use the area as a resting place during migration. “We have over 250 species of birds found at Eagle Marsh,” Russell told us, “which is quite significant!”
“The circle of life” is essential to the wetland ecosystem. An example can be seen by how oversaturated soils can actually kill some plants. “When the water floods the trees too much, they eventually die – but it just makes great habitat for bats,” the wildlife expert said.
“A lot of tadpoles in the water right now,” she continued. “You don’t hear a lot of frog calls right now…because they were very active in early spring.” Soon, Russell warned, visitors will have to watch where they step, as tadpoles will transform into frogs that frequently cross the reserve’s man-made paths.
Mammals, such as the muskrat, beaver and otter already mentioned, live around wetlands. But you can also see rabbits, marmots, mice, foxes, minks, shrews, raccoons and more. During our visit, we recorded images of animal tracks in the mud – possibly those of deer and coyotes. Your best bet to see them come out of hiding is early in the morning or later in the evening.
The vegetation is working overtime to catch up with its growth. “Having a delayed spring, some of our plants are just barely coming in,” Russell explained. “Whereas, maybe if it had been a little warmer a little earlier, they would have been up and starting to flower. One of the ones we have flowered is the foxglove beardtongue – which is a flower very important for bumblebees.
After spending a few minutes at Eagle Marsh, it’s hard to believe the land has been transformed from a farm in the past two decades. “17 years ago, this field was corn stubble,” she tells us. “Today it’s a thriving habitat that’s home to salamanders, otters, bald eagles, beavers, muskrats — all kinds of wildlife. And it’s just amazing to see that.
Throughout the year, Eagle Marsh runs educational programs for students of all ages and offers guided hikes for adults. LRWP has a large pool of volunteers who help remove invasive species, replacing them with native plants through their Seed to Marsh program.
You can find more information about the Little River Wetlands project hereor see a list of registered birds hereand other animals here. Photographers and nature enthusiasts share their observations via a community album on the association’s Facebook page here.
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