The hot temperatures and thick cloud of mosquitoes the night before our week long Silvies River wet meadow vegetation surveys had us thinking and rethinking our field gear and strategy options all night long. The soft reds and yellows of the sunrise and calls of the common nighthawk reminded us of the beauty and magic of the Harney Basin, and how lucky we were to spend the next week looking at the wet meadow plant species and communities. Armed with sunhats, sunscreen, sunglasses, mosquito shirts and hats, mosquito spray, binoculars, data sheets, maps, cameras, poles and measuring tapes we headed off to begin our surveys of plant communities on private lands in the Silvies Valley floodplain. Memories of wetland plants from past years’ surveys, close up viewing of ibis, whimbrels, owls and the distant call of sand hill cranes counter-balanced the swatting of mosquitoes.
In past years, we collected and mapped plant community and soil moisture data in the Lower Blitzen and OO sections of the Malheur Wildlife Refuge. This year the focus was on private lands in the Silvies River floodplain. The managed wetland-pastures associated with the Donner and Blitzen River and the Silvies River are a critical part of the habitats that support the immense flocks of migratory waterfowl and other water birds that pass through or nest in the Harney Basin. Floodwaters from melting snowpack in the surrounding mountains are diverted onto fields and pastures on private lands and the refuge, creating shallow ponding among short grasses with an abundance of seeds and invertebrates for water birds to feed on.
The results from the plant surveys will help us better understand the ecology of wet meadow ecosystems in relation to changing water regimes. The next steps will be developing management options and tools to maintain wet meadow conditions for spring migratory water birds that depend on these habitats.