A Riot of Life

In late April, wetlands across the Temperate Zone of North America harbor a riot of sound and color; the Garth Wetlands, in north Columbia, Missouri, are no exception.  Characterized by a mosaic of ponds, meadows, cattail marshes and riparian woodlands on the Bear Creek floodplain, this urban refuge is accessed by a fine network of graveled paths.

Today, wild mustard, purple phlox and the brilliant bloom of redbud trees complimented the varied shades of greenery.  Additional color was provided by indigo buntings, northern cardinals and American goldfinches that flashed among the meadows and woodlands.  The calls of red-winged blackbirds produced a steady background din, broken by the calls of cricket and leopard frogs, the chatter of belted kingfishers, the squawk of a great blue heron, the musical trill of house wrens and the varied tunes of wetland songbirds. Painted turtles and red-eared sliders basked in the warm April sun, attentive Canada geese escorted their downy youngsters along the edge of the marsh, coot and blue-winged teal foraged in secluded shallows and turkey vultures soared above the valley, ever vigilant for signs of death amidst the riot of life.

Of course, my walk uncovered but a small proportion of the living species that inhabit the wetland.  A myriad of invertebrates swarm within the soil and pond muck, fueling a web of life that culminates in apex predators such as coyotes and barred owls.  Among the primary consumers observed today were eastern tent caterpillars, the voracious offspring of a nondescript, short-lived moth; active earlier than most caterpillar species, these fuzzy larvae are shunned by most birds and amphibians but are targeted by yellow-billed cuckoos, which arrive in Missouri by mid May.