GameKeepers Emag

Gamekeepers Winter 2015

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Page 148 of 155

#farmingforwildlife 147 only trying to grow native plants and if you conduct annual disking, leaving water on a few more weeks will greatly enhance the seed bank for a higher quality crop of smartweed, millet, sprangletop and sedges. Another plus of delayed draining until May is the benefit to late migrators such as blue wing teal. Tennessee Refuge Biologist Robert Wheat also told me, "we will hold water until May 1, if we are planning to plant millet; our Japanese millet won't go in the ground until July, which is typically dry here in Tennessee so the added mois- ture really helps with germination." If you flood crop fields each year you have to consider get- ting soil dried out in time to plant. A good rule of thumb is about 4-6 weeks prior to your areas corn planting date. If crop field rotations have soybeans scheduled, you could extend by a week or two. If your impoundment will be planted with millet then keep the water on longer. Also adjust water levels so they do not remain static or stationary. Overtime, stationary impoundment water levels can become less productive for waterfowl. Management techniques vary with water control struc- tures, but a slow drawdown is best. Don't pull the boards on the last day of season and head home. Instead pull only one board - depending on the size of the impoundment and time you have, I only pull a corner of the board up allowing a slow drawdown. Screw gates are easy to open for fast draw-downs, but in the spring barely crack the bottom of the gate to let water trickle out. You may want to consider installing a depth gauge so you can closely monitor not only dropping water in spring, but flooding in the fall. The secret; you want your impoundment water level to only drop 1-2 inches per day. A rain may raise levels and if that's the case, increase the open- ing to make up the difference. At this time of year you are hatching invertebrates and the slow drop will allow hatching to continue. Meanwhile you will be feeding birds as they pass through your area with management that requires no planting, only planning! Again how fast you dewater and at what rate, depends on the depth at your pipe outlet, acreage flooded and what crop you are going to plant or manage later in the summer. There is a fine line with late season habitat management whether it is in a flooded green tree reservoir or flooded crop fields and non-agriculture waterfowl impoundments such as moist soil or millet plantings. Timing of draw-downs is a critical com- ponent of management. Since no hunters are shooting at ducks past the end of Jan- uary, most hunters expect waterfowl will make it just fine after the hunting season. This is not always the case, since some of our toughest weather occurs in February. Major winter weather events halt migration and forces birds to congregate along flyway routes. As temperatures go down, energy reserves the birds have stored also decrease. To offset this loss of energy, birds raft up on large lakes and rivers for several days at a time. These large bodies of water only pro- vide resting sites and while this is important, they do not provide the food sources migrating dabbling ducks and geese require. As waterfowl season comes to a close, it is not just a time for reflecting on successful early morning hunts or making plans for the next season. Post hunting season habitat can be critically important for migrating waterfowl as they make their way back to the breeding grounds. Land managers can help offset this loss of seasonal habitat by extending flood- ing times in waterfowl impoundments and in doing so can reap rewards in the future by enticing birds to stop and rest. It won't happen overnight. In fact it may take several years, but as birds are imprinted to feeding, gaining energy, and resting on club impoundments, you can bet they will make stopovers during the coming fall migration.X Rather than opening screw gates and pulling boards on risers, it is best to induce a gradual reduction of water in most impoundments, for several reasons. © Richard Hines

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