Virginia Beach farmer restores wetland among crops

Farmer John Cromwell cultivates food for water birds all while growing strawberries, May peas, sugar snap peas and other spring crops for us humans.As Cromwell watches berries ripen in his farm fields on New Bridge Road, he also watches scores of long legged waders that come to dine in 25 acres of reclaimed wetlands on his farm.The other day if you looked closely, you could see flocks of white ibis, a few glossy ibis, and a group of yellow legs down among the grasses in the watery wetlands. Occasionally, the birds would lift up and fly low over the grasses to another tasty spot and disappear again among the reeds.On the other hand, taller great blue herons and great egrets could be seen easily, their heads towering above the grasses.If you looked beyond the wetlands, you could see Cromwell’s Produce farm stand being readied for the season out on New Bridge Road. canada goose parka Cromwell expects to open by May 1 with quarts of fresh strawberries for sale as well as pick your own berries. Call 721 6226.Food in the wetlands is on a different cycle from strawberries and other spring crops. Dining was good for birds all winter and still is this spring. Before the big wading birds arrived atCromwell’s, flocks of ducks mallards, black ducks, pintails, wigeons, wood ducks, mergansers and more visited to feed in the wetlands over the winter.The birds all came to dine on the abundance of marsh grass seeds that could be found in the wetlands because of the way Cromwell manages the water levels for wildlife.Many, many years ago, water birds probably frequented the area as they do now. But before Cromwell purchased the farm, an earlier farmer ditched the land, drained the marsh and turned it into crop land, Cromwell explained. Fish and Wildlife Service. The program provides financial and technical assistance to help private landowners and groups to enhance and restore wetlands habitat for wildlife.Essentially, Cromwell built dikes in the farm ditches that were draining the 25 acres of land in the front of his property. With the dikes, he can raise and lower the water levels to encourage the growing of natural food that ducks and birds love.Cromwell keeps the land dry enough in summer for the grasses to thrive, bloom and go to seed. After the plants go to seed, he floods the area with shallow water to make it more hospitable to water birds. With the dikes, he can raise and lower the water levels to encourage the growth of natives such as smartweet, fall panicum foxtail and cattails that ducks and waders love.All winter and spring, ducks and other birds root around in the muddy bottom dining on seeds to their hearts’ content. The ibis also might probe the mud with their big down curved beaks and come up with food like crayfish and worms. And the herons will dine on frogs and other wetlands critters, too.Cromwell goes to all this trouble not only because he wants to restore and conserve habitat for wildlife, but also for his own viewing pleasure. The wetlands provide some special bird watching from his home that overlooks the area.”I sit in the house with my coffee,” Cromwell said, “and just watch them.”Mike Potter was surprised to see a flock of white ibis in the wetlands behind his Highland Acres home, the first ibis Potter has seen in the two years he has lived there. His photo, found in the gallery on the left side of this web page, is a good close up of the birds that have been frequenting John Cromwell’s wetlands.The second week in April, many more hummingbirds were sighted around the Beach and it looks like they are here to stay. Jenny Johnson, Amine Tayloe, Kathleen Self, Meg Lloyd and I saw them at the North End. Stuart McCausland had a hummer in Brigadoon, Satoko Moore in Wesleyan Pines, Pam Monahan in West Neck, Marcia Pierce in Kings Grant and Lettie Dozier in Blackwater.Brown Carpenter sent photos of wildlife in Kings Grant yellow crowned night heron, wood ducks and great egrets. Kings Grant has become a “virtual wildlife refuge,” Carpenter said.Karen Beatty reported a skirmish in her yard between a house wren and a bluebird over rights to a bluebird nesting box. Last year the feisty house wren won and Beatty predicts it will win this year too.Michael Robison sent a delightful photo of a toad, its throat expanded, singing away, calling in Robison’s Courthouse Estates neighborhood. And Stuart McCausland sent a beauty of a photo a close up of an indigo bunting in his Brigadoon yard. See both photos in Thursday’s Close Encounters in the print edition of the Beacon.”Sudden invasion of warblers in the backyard this afternoon!” wrote Barbara Zimmer in Water’s Edge in Norfolk. “Yellow, myrtle and who knows what all! If only they would stop flitting long enough for a good look at them.”Woody Stephens photographed a Canada goose on a nest in a Thalia marsh, a natural nest instead of one in something like a planter that geese often use these days.Bob Capria in Great Neck photographed a young black and gray patterned black snake. Born that way, the black snake only gets black as it grows to adulthood. And Jan Eaton sent a photo of the adult neighborhood black snake checking out a bird house for eggs or young.Fortunately, the house was unoccupied, Eaton said. Compare young and old black snakes on my blog.Harvey Seargeant sent several photos from Portsmouth City Park, including a stunning close up of a yellow crowned night heron with its yellow crown in full view. See some of them on my blog.Also, the blue robin eggs photographed in last week’s column by Paul Foster in Lake Placid have hatched and you can see the new arrivals on my blog.Lou Gehosky sent a photo, found in the gallery on the left side of this web page, of a cottonmouth moccasin, one of five he saw on a bike ride to Back Bay National Wildlife Refuge and one of the less than desirable critters that wake up and come abroad in the land in spring.

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