Monday, January 3, 2011

Ice and Water - a walk to the Platte

I took a short walk down the Nature trail this afternoon to check on the river and see what was new down there. We still have a blanket of snow on the ground. That is good for showing tracks and signs of the prairie residents who live out there. I was able to watch a rather loud red-tailed hawk over the river, a northern harrier, turkeys, white tailed deer and a northern shrike. I also saw tracks and signs of all kinds of mice and smaller birds in the snow.

We have a lot of water flowing in the northern channel of the Platte right now. This is the result of ice jams to the west in the main (south) channel causing more then the usual amount of water to spill into the north channel. It's a relief valve of sorts. The water flow is as high as I've seen it. This is good for the riverbed where the ice acts like a bulldozer cleaning and scouring the sandy bottom as it moves along. I also noticed that the main channel has shifted from one side to the other. This is a natural process that helps to shape the platte as we know it. The geomorphology of the platte is based on sand constantly shifting due to various forces of ice and water. When the flows move elsewhere, the trees and prairie grasses begin to sprout up quickly filling the area with vegetation.

Hit the jump to read on...

When the vegetation goes unchecked, it can quickly impede water flows forcing the water out of its banks. This is one of the ongoing battles that conservation efforts are dealing with. The work that the ice is doing right now is mechanically replicated with heavy equipment to open up the channels providing the wide-open habitat that area wildlife need for their survival, including the famous sandhill cranes of Nebraska.

As I continued my walk on the river trail through the riparian area, I found that much of the footpath is now under shallow water. This forms a sheet of ice and would collapse a few inches with each footstep making a thud sound. I wasn't going to be sneaking up on any wildlife with all that noise I was making! This also managed to fill my boots with water. All of this water had made its way down our trail and no doubt was washing away some of the work that our volunteers has done earlier in the fall! Time will tell if the water will rise any further. My best guess is that the ice will stay around for some time.

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