LiveGreen: Flyover country

by Anne Rivas, LiveGreen | May 27, 2014

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As a child, I knew when I heard the red-winged blackbird, winter was over. When I lived in Minneapolis, I drove to work through Theodore Wirth Park, where I looked for snowy egrets in the spring. Later, I lived near Cedar Lake and saw the Great Blue Heron that spent summers there.

I decided to look for something similar in Omaha this spring and found Heron Haven. Located just off 120th and Old Maple Road, Heron Haven is one of the last oxbow wetlands of Big Papillion Creek. It is spring-fed, with a lake, a butterfly garden, trails, and a photography blind.

On a recent visit, I learned that wetlands provide a rich habitat that sustains many forms of life, and that birds (such as the sandhill cranes) fly from wetland to wetland during migration. We also were told that we had just missed seeing a falcon who stopped at Heron Haven for a few days before continuing on to his summer home in downtown Omaha.

A wetland is an area between water and land. It is saturated for a time and may be dry for a time. Wetlands act like sponges by holding flood waters and keeping rivers at normal levels. Water is filtered and purified as it flows through the wetland system. Wetlands provide nesting and spawning grounds for many species of birds, bugs, fish and all amphibians. I was surprised to learn how much of Nebraska is valuable wetland, and we have four different types of wetlands in the state.

We used to equate wetlands with waste land. Many years ago, it was believed that people got "swamp fever," or malaria, from exposure to bad night air, particularly swamp air, until we discovered that malaria was carried by mosquitoes. Consequently, many wetlands were drained or filled for development (i.e. buildings), or for cropland. Heron Haven was slated to become the home of a large apartment complex until the neighbors contacted the Audubon Society of Omaha to help them preserve the wetland habitat. Click here for the story.

For more information about Nebraska's wetlands, click here. To see a wetland "in action," take a trip to Heron Haven. The Education Center is closed, but the trails are open daily from dawn to dusk. Take your camera.


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