After a morning of enthusiastic and exhausting pheasant hunting, with a bird each in the bag, Rob and I trudged through a final field of marsh on our way back to camp.
I glanced over to my brother, and he pointed skyward – above our main duck hunting pond. A large flock of mallards was circling and other flocks were appearing on the horizon. No telling exactly why, but our pond was loading up with mallards.
The last field was devoid of pheasants. Just as well, I was pretty tired and one more chase was not what I really wanted. In camp, Rob grabbed his binoculars and glassed the sky.
“You’ve got to see this,” he hollered.
I grabbed my field glasses and joined him.
From a half mile away, the sight was impressive. Dozens of mallards floated over the pond in preparation to land. Above them a second layer of mallards was circling at the base of the “grind.” Above those birds mallards could be seen bee lining from afar, like flocks of darts pointed in one direction. The target was our main duck pond approximately 75-acres in size.
Several times I mentioned to Rob that we’d better come back out duck hunting in a couple days, but it was the satisfaction of knowing what we’d created that really hit home. This duck club was a field of corn until fifteen years ago when we purchased it. Since that time Rob, with the support of the rest of our crew, undid the “improvements” made by many men and converted the rows of crops into a shallow-water seasonal marsh that is one of the most wildlife intense properties on earth.
The attraction of a seasonal marsh to wildlife is undeniable. In California, managed seasonal marsh, such as ours, is very rare. With agriculture utilizing every acre of farm ground for maximum production, the only producers of intensively managed marsh are waterfowl hunters – and most duck hunters have tight budgets which limit their ability to work the ground, irrigate and effectively manage their property.
(Caption: Other than duck clubs, the primary occurance of managed seasonal marsh is on waterfowl refuges, which are often funded by hunters and revenue related to excise taxes on guns and ammunition throught the Pittman Robertson Act. These pintails are resting on the Sacramento National Wildlife Refuge.)
Our 75-acre pond would hold thousands of ducks by day and the surrounding 100 acres would hold even more by night as they fed on the almost endless supply of natural foods.
To think that we were largely responsible for making a home for this frenzy of wildlife activity. However, it’s discouraging to know that it is so rare.
This type of habitat is relatively easy to create, if one can escape financial boundaries. Hunting creates an economic incentive to set aside land for wildlife habitat. That’s why hunting is so important to the future of wildlife populations especially in California where wildlife habitat is the endangered species.
In addition to dozens of species of ducks (such as mallard, pintail, green-wing teal, cinnamon teal, spoonbill, widgeon, wood ducks, canvasback, redhead, golden-eye, bufflehead) and geese (white-front, Canada, snow, Aleutian) other game birds that flourish on the property include pheasants, dove and snipe. Non-game species are far too plentiful to list.
Here’s a short list of birds we see on almost every trip to the property: Red-tailed hawks, Coopers hawks, sharp-shinned hawks, harriers, white tailed kites, barn owls, great horned owls, short eared owls, turkey vultures and kestrels. Water birds include curlews, stilts, avocets, phalarope, sandpipers, great-blue herons, American egrets, black crowned night herons, bitterns, grebes, moor hens, Virginia rail, sora rail, coots, various gulls and even white pelicans.
We have warblers, marsh wrens, black phoebes, mocking birds, towhees, doves, pigeons, redwing blackbirds and starlings by the thousands.
Mammals not as easy to spot, but always nearby are coyotes, skunks, possum, raccoon, river otters, mice, voles, mink and beaver. We once had a tule elk living on our property.
There are crayfish by the thousands, which attract the river otters, which leave their smelly markings at every corner of the property.
(Caption: Above is an aerial view of Mayberry Farms duck club, located on Sherman Island in the Delta, in late winter. After migrating waterfowl have fed here for months, this seasonal marsh continues to provide valuable habitat for wildlife.)
All this is there, only because we decided that the property was more valuable as a marsh than as a cornfield. Interestingly enough, this could happen more often, but hunters don’t often understand how to create habitat. All it takes is fertile ground, water, money and a plan. In return, one can be rewarded not only with great hunting, but a fullfilling sense of good will.
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