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Now is the time!!!
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It is 5 a.m. and I am getting a cup of coffee. The cat is impatient for me to plop in the recliner so he can start his day with a nap in my lap while we check the news and, more importantly, the weather. It is a routine that we follow almost every day. A lap full of joyful purring is truly a great and happy way to get the day started. Hammer agrees.
Sunrise is 6:33. That means that the east side of the Bottoms will be in the sun which is difficult for photography. I will drive past Redwing to the Odin turn-off and go south to the east side of the Bottoms below Alfred Hammeke’s place. He and his family have been icons for wildlife and goodness in this area for many years. He and Bones Prosser gave me expensive lessons in Pitch when I first got here in the early 1990s. I always remember and grin — Bones could count “game” and have the cards shuffled before anyone else even remotely tried to figure it out — I’m certain there was no cheating. I miss those guys!
Kim has been digging the canal along the road heading west to the pumps. It is illegal to take any dirt out of a wetland, so it has to be leveled. That always makes photography out of a vehicle a bit tedious, but she is a genius with those big machines and we do fine. The slanted light from the east is almost palpable — early and late make for some nice pictures.
I am always amazed at how quiet everything is in the first light of day. The sounds of our marsh tell a story. Blackbirds provide background noise. A Great Blue Heron lifts off and has a awful squawk of indignation at being disturbed. The night herons are here and they have their song. I’m learning to identify different ducks by their calls. The whistles of teal and pintail ducks are unexpected and different. Duck calls used by hunters are programmed for different species — the mallard hen is the most common duck call since mallard hens are social and eager to talk to any duck in the territory and have no shame about shouting their heads off — their location is seldom a secret. The Avocets and Black-necked Stilts have a beautiful voice and will protest mightily if you get too close. Killdeer have a penetrating and piercing sound and ramp it up when they first fly. There are Killdeer babies around now, and the parents have a lot of difficulty managing these kids and chirp fairly constantly in parental concern which is largely ignored by these babies. Frogs are croaking and the gulls and terns are squabbling over shad and small carp in the areas where water is moving and the fish are confused enough to surface and become sushi. I certainly enjoy the luxury of just parking and rolling down the windows and listening to the heartbeat of the Bottoms. This process is now starting to get tedious because the mosquitoes are coming out in force. It won’t be long before spraying will start in our towns.
Moving water is big business at the Bottoms. I was always amazed at Karl’s wisdom in knowing where it was, where it needed to go, and which gates and pumps needed to be activated to move it. If you can find the moving water, you will most likely find the fish and the birds. Egrets, herons, pelicans, gulls and terns are just spectacular right now with the recent rains and rapid water. Video with sound would be the best way to share this stunning sight with you, or even better — you should go see it. I am still amazed at how much I see and how few people I see on the roads. We have a gift in our back yard. The migration is really going right now—Snowy Plovers, White-faced Ibis, Black-crowned Night Herons, all the egrets, Avocets, pips and squeaks — beautiful Spotted Sandpipers and Upland Sandpipers and Scissor-tailed Flycatchers — it is rocking!
The morning is my favorite time — you can actually participate in the waking of the marsh and watch it unfold in front of you with stereo sound and Technicolor vista vision — all for free!

Doctor Dan Witt is a retired physician and nature enthusiast.