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My first encounter with a wetland ecosystem was in the springtime, on a vacant lot where the frogs’ chorus drew me like a magnet to the ponds in the flooded field. The hidden frogs lured me with their songs, compelling me to explore the elusive source of the sound. I was a young girl then, and I have been searching the water’s edge ever since. Many towns’ sewage ponds are their only marshy area and are frequently the local birding hot spot. The combination of water, abundant organic material, and few people lets the wildness spill into these unique areas.

Wetland habitats teem with life. Water and the underlying sediments, rich in nutrients, support diverse life forms, from bacteria and algae through every classification of organism. The productiveness of the wetland habitat provides a banquet for birds, who feast on life in the mud and water. The calm water of wetlands is a primordial soup, with frog eggs, water striders, crustaceans, marsh beetle nymphs, mayflies, and dragonflies all feeding in this richness.

Shorebirds use wetlands for resting and foraging during migration. Each type of bird has a niche, and the shape and length of its bill is designed to probe for food in a specific microhabitat. Ducks and geese depend on watery places for food as well as breeding sites. Rails, blackbirds, wrens, and herons also can be found in wetlands, eating, nesting, and trying to survive.

When I visit the West Eugene Wetlands or Fern Ridge Reservoir, I like to watch the reddish sun rise over the misty valley. Water droplets on the marsh grass glisten in the first weak rays of the sun. I notice a slight movement at the water’s edge. A Great Blue Heron, standing motionless, blends into the grey of a spring morning. He seems like a dinosaur remnant, stoically poised, ever watchful, staring at the water. Interrupted from his dream of fish, he squawks and with slow deep wingbeats lifts into the mists above the water.

Wetlands are a place where time seems to stand still. If we preserve them.