Aquarena Center Wetlands Walk Podcast

[Aquarena Wetlands Podcast]

(recorded wetland chorus) Welcome to the Aquarena Center Wetlands Walk! Your tour is presented in six zones. Look for the zone numbers as you proceed through the wetland. When you hear the water drop (recorded water drop), stop your player and proceed to the next zone.
Zone One. What exactly is a wetland? Well, a wetland is an area of land that is either permanently or sporadically wet with shallow water or contains soil that is permanently or sporadically saturated. The combined area of the land and water supports a natural ecosystem of plants and animals that are adapted to wet conditions. Wetlands are part of the Natural Water System of Texas—a collection of aquifers, springs, rivers and streams, lakes and reservoirs, wetlands, bays and estuaries all ultimately leading to the Gulf of Mexico. This interactive system is sustainable only if viewed as a whole in which all of the parts are preserved and protected. This wetland at Aquarena Center is located in the Sink Creek Watershed. A watershed is an area of land that transports water to the lowest point in the landscape— often a lake, river, or stream. Every piece of land, then, is part of a watershed and wetlands are essential to its health for reasons you are about to discover. Scientists are even finding that wetlands help moderate global climate by storing carbon in their plants and soil. So, thanks to wetlands, this wetlands walk has many exciting things to teach us, including how we affect the health of our water, and more importantly what we can do to protect it. Enjoy! (recorded water drop)

(recorded baby birds) Zone Two. Wetlands are often called nature’s nurseries because many species of wildlife, including insects, fish, amphibians and birds require wetland habitat during their lifetime, especially when they are very young. You can enjoy watching many fish, birds, and other aquatic species throughout the year, but remember that these wetlands are their habitat, and you’re a guest in their home. An endangered species is in danger of extinction throughout most of its territory. A threatened species is likely to become endangered in the near future. Although the Fountain Darter, San Marcos Salamander, Texas Blind Salamander, and Texas Wild Rice are not typically found in this area of Spring Lake, these threatened and endangered species of the Edwards Aquifer and San Marcos River are directly impacted by the health of the wetlands. Native plants are indigenous, or natural, to one or more vegetational regions and are adapted to local conditions. Here you can see cattails, yellow pond or cow lilies, cabomba, and bald cypress trees. Exotic plants, such as elephant ears, water lettuce, hydrilla, and water hyacinth are not native to Texas and may compete with native plants, altering the habitat and food sources of native animals. Other aquatic species of Spring Lake include the musk turtle, common snapping turtle, spiny softshell turtle, Texas river cooter turtle, red eared slider turtle, and the very elusive American Eel. The floating wetlands boardwalk allows you to view aquatic and migratory birds, as well as other species, up close and personal in their natural environment. (recorded water drop)

(recorded storm) Zone Three. Wetlands Are Buffers. Wetlands provide protection to surrounding ecosystems through physical and chemical buffering. During rainfall events, wetlands create a physical buffer and slow the speed, or velocity, of stormwater runoff. Acting as sponges, wetlands absorb much of the runoff and sediment into their soils and plants. The immediate decrease in the velocity of the water protects the streambank from erosion and the sponge effect decreases flood impacts to downstream communities. During times of drought, wetlands are important refuges for wildlife. Coastal wetlands protect inland areas by creating a physical buffer from strong winds and storm surges. (recorded sound of traffic and train) Wetlands are also chemical buffers, protecting the water systems from pollution. As stormwater enters a creek or river, it is often filled with non-point source pollution, or NPS, such as fertilizers, herbicides, pesticides, oil and grease, and heavy metals from human activities on the land. These polluted waters flow through the wetland before they ever enter the river. This slows down the flow allowing solid pollutant particles to settle into the wetland soils where they are absorbed or stored. As the water moves through the wetland, plants can absorb some kinds of dissolved pollution into their tissue. As a result, water leaving the wetland is much cleaner than the water that entered. To the left of zone three, is the mouth of Sink Creek. With every rain, this creek brings water that may contain pollutants from all of the activities that are carried out in this watershed. This wetland helps to filter out those pollutants before the water reaches Spring Lake. (recorded stream) (recorded water drop)

(recorded sounds of construction) Zone Four. People Impact Wetlands. While many wetlands in the United States are protected under the Clean Water Act, according to the Environmental Protection Agency, we continue to lose approximately 70,000 to 90,000 acres of wetlands on non-federal, rural lands each year (EPA). This loss occurs from the dredging or filling of wetlands to make way for development. If this occurs, mitigation, which is the creation of a new wetland, or restoration of a previously-degraded wetland, may be required of the developer. However, these mitigated wetlands may not function as well as a lost wetland and often take time to become established before functioning at their full potential. As developments encroach upon wetland areas they bring noise and light pollution and allow the opportunity for exotic or invasive plants to move into the wetland. Noise and light pollution scare away birds and other animals living in the wetland and impact reproduction and migration patterns. Breaks in the vegetation along the edge of wetlands where they meet development provide places for exotic and invasive plant species to move in, disrupting the wetland’s natural vegetative community. One of the biggest impacts to wetlands are disruptions to water flow from development and channelization of waterways. The amount of water and the timing of water flowing into the wetland are crucial to its survival. Changes in either of these can undermine the integrity of the wetland system as a whole. Finally, nonpoint source pollution from urban and agricultural activities entering the watershed can, over time, cause a buildup in toxins in wetland soils and plants. These toxins can poison animals and plants in the wetlands. Thus, while wetlands buffer pollution impacts on aquatic systems, we need to reduce the overall amount of pollution entering our waters. (recorded water drop)

(recorded light wind in the leaves) Zone Five. Listen to the Plants. As you loop your way through this section of the boardwalk, notice the changes in the plant communities. The plants you have seen in the wetlands so far are representative of aquatic plant communities. They include plants that are completely submerged underwater, such as cabomba, that emerge out of the water, cattails, and floating, cow lilies. In this section, you see a gradual shift from aquatic plant communities to terrestrial plant communities as the elevation in land increases. However, the terrestrial plants that you see are still wetland plants as they are dependent on soaked soil and regular availability of water. These systems are called “hydric”. Plants in the hydric system are important indicators of the water regime. In order to determine the boundaries of a wetland, scientists not only measure the amount of standing water, but also do an inventory of the plants. Hydric systems do not always have standing water, thus, an alternate way to tell if this area is part of the wetland is by the waterloving plants that are present. Plants are a very important part of wetland systems and often are overlooked by the casual visitor. Wildlife use the dead trees, called “snags,” as homes and rely on the underbrush for protection and food. Indians depended on plants for many of their everyday items. Wax myrtle was used to make candles, cattails were weaved into baskets and ropes, and fern sprouts were cooked and eaten. Look for these species along the boardwalk! (recorded light wind in the leaves) (recorded water drop)

(recorded lone cricket) Zone Six. Quiet Observation. Before you leave, enjoy a quiet moment in this area; listen and look at what is around you. How many different plants can you count? You may be surprised at what appears when given the time. Reflect on what you can do to protect the wetland or natural area in your neighborhood. Here are some things you can do. Understand the benefits of wetlands and recognize how we affect them. Encourage planners, developers, and government officials to preserve natural wetlands. Prevent wastes, (recorded dog bark) leaves, and debris from entering storm drains. Dispose of used oil, oil filters, antifreeze, paints, and other household chemicals properly. Use native plants and natural fertilizers at home and avoid planting exotic plants. Conserve water. Recognize and support private landowners who are involved in preserving wetlands, and Adopt-a-wetland through the Environmental Protection Agency. Remember, the Natural Water System of Texas is an interactive system which is sustainable only if viewed as a whole in which all of the parts are preserved and protected. Be mindful of your actions… the quality of Texas water is in your hands. (sound of running water in a creek) (recorded water drop)

That’s our tour for today. On behalf of Texas State University-San Marcos, Texas Watch and Texas Parks and Wildlife, Thanks for visiting today, I’m Cecilia Nasti.

(recorded wetland chorus) Sights and Sounds.

You will hear a variety of sounds anytime you visit a wetland…anytime of day…anytime of year. However, since you will probably not hear them all on this visit, we’ve compiled sounds of common wetland birds, insects, frogs and a reptile. After listening to this presentation, try to identify the natural sounds around you. Wetlands are among the most productive and diverse ecosystems in the world. The creatures that live in the wetlands harmonize in a complex food web where each is dependent on another for survival. Commonly sighted fishes at the Aquarena Wetlands include a variety of sunfish, spotted gar, bass, and tilapia. From about April through June you may see large holes in the aquatic vegetation where tilapia nest and spawn. November through January is a great time to spot osprey, ducks, vultures and many other migratory birds. Anytime of the year is a good time to see the commonly sighted great blue heron, great egret, belted kingfisher, and red shouldered hawk. On special occasions you may also see or hear a yellow-crowned night-heron and other waders, Carolina chickadee, Carolina wren, summer tanager, or yellow-billed cuckoo. Did you know over 110 species of birds have been recorded here?! You may notice a black bird with an injured left wing— this is our resident double-crested cormorant, Lefty. Because of his wing, Lefty cannot fly very far and stays here all year long, but he is an avid fisher and some say he has a girlfriend who visits him on her migration south every winter. Springtime…the time of the year when birds create their nesting territories. During this time of year you often hear the “tea-kettle-tea-kettle-tea-kettle” of Carolina wrens…(call of the Carolina wren)… and warblers, like the “wichity-wichity-wichity-wich” of the common yellowthroats…(call of the common yellow-throat) and the konk-la-reee of red-winged blackbirds…(call of the red-winged black-bird). Other birds commonly heard in wetlands include the metallic rattle of the belted-kingfisher…(call of the belted-kingfisher)…green herons…(call of the green heron) red-shouldered hawks…(call of the red-shouldered hawk) and killdeer…(call of the killdeer). Wetlands provide homes to reptiles and amphibians. Most commonly sighted is the green anole lizard. Occasionally a water snake is spotted. Turtles include red–eared sliders, Texas river cooters, smaller common musk turtles (or stinkpots), common snapping turtles, and spiny softshell turtles. A very observant visitor may see green tree frogs clinging to a tree, cattail or pole …(call of green tree frogs)…or hear the calls of the cricket frog, which sounds like marbles being clicked together. They will often answer if you tap two rocks together…(call of cricket frogs)…Other common frogs include bull frogs…(call of bull frogs). You may hear leopard frogs in cooler weather, or late at night, like the Rio Grande leopard frog…(call of a Rio Grande leopard frog)… In many parts of Texas after a good rain, listen for Gulf Coast toads (call of Gulf Coast toad). Some common wetland singing insects are crickets…(call of crickets)…katydids…(single call of katydid)…(mass call of katydids)…and cicadas…(call of cicadas). Other amazing wetland sounds come from bellowing alligators…(bellowing alligators)…See you later, alligator, and thanks for listening.

That’s our tour for today…with support from Texas State University-San Marcos and Texas Watch. For Texas Parks and Wildlife…I’m Cecilia Nasti.

Narrator and Executive Producer
Cecilia Nasti, TPWD Passport to Texas

Sound Engineer
Joel Block

Lisa Elena Korth, TPWD Freshwater Resources
Eric Mendleman, Texas Watch
Annette Paulin, San Marcos Greenbelt Alliance & Live Oak Initiative
Zoe Ann Stinchcomb, TPWD Texas Freshwater Fisheries Center
Greg Bryant, TCEQ

Script Development Coordination
Dorothy Ibes, Texas Watch

Special Thanks
Tom Heger, TPWD
Cindy Jiminez, GBRA
Jennifer Key, TPWD
Leeann Linam, TPWD
Rollin MacRae, TPWD
Marsha May, TPWD
Melissa Parker, TPWD
Mike Quinn, TPWD
Francis Rose, Texas State
Cliff Shackelford, TPWD
Dianne Wassenich, San Marcos River Foundation

Guadalupe-Blanco River Authority
Passport to Texas
San Marcos Greenbelt Alliance
San Marcos River Foundation
Texas Commission on Environmental Quality
Texas State University-San Marcos: River Systems Institute, Texas Watch, Aquarena Center, & Aquatic Biology Dept
Texas Parks & Wildlife Department

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