Wolf Creek and the Arboretum
Wolf Creek is a highly important waterway in Overland Park. It is a headwater of the Blue River which takes flow from Wolf and Coffee Creeks and runs through eastern Kansas and Missouri, eventually dumping into the Missouri River east of downtown Kansas City. Impacts on Wolf Creek can resonate into huge problems downstream in the Blue, Missouri and Mississippi Rivers, eventually impacting the Gulf of Mexico. The “headwaters” for Wolf Creek begin In Spring Hill and the streamway winds its way through the Arboretum before turning north, joining Coffee Creek and becoming the Blue River.
Overland Park is dedicated to maintaining clean streams and waterways. Overland Park’s Water Quality Specialist, Ian Fannin-Hughes, makes twice yearly visits to monitor Wolf Creek on the Arboretum property. He is looking for levels of sedimentation, pH, nitrates and other chemicals. He is also looking at the presence or absence of invertebrates in the streamway. While Wolf Creek qualifies as an impaired stream, meaning the levels of sediment and chemicals are a bit high, Ian’s testing shows that several pollution sensitive species still live in Wolf Creek. Stream monitoring interns regularly find dobson flies, flathead mayfly, water scorpions, freshwater mussels and stonefly at the sites in the Arboretum. If pollution levels are too high, these critters will not be found.
The water quality in Wolf Creek can be heavily impacted by stormwater, which picks up sediment, nutrients (like phosphorus, potassium and nitrogen from fertilizers and livestock waste), bacteria (from human, pet and livestock waste) and other pollutants like oils, solvents, household hazardous waste, heavy metals and pesticides. Though staff and volunteers are not typically using chemicals near Wolf Creek, we stay aware that any actions around Margaret’s Pond, can find its way down to the creek. Similarly, the prairie is quite removed from Wolf Creek, however, the acreage north of the prairie is a steady downhill grade to Wolf Creek.
If you haven’t explored the trails, your efforts will be rewarded by paralleling or crossing Wolf Creek.
Fig. 1 – Stone Fly Fig. 2 – Flathead Mayfly Fig. 3 – Dobson fly
All pollutant sensitive species that are almost exclusively found at Wolf Creek in the Arboretum
Picture looking upstream from the stream site on Wolf Creek at the Arboretum.
Stormwater interns performing habitat assessment for stream monitoring.
Bird Migration and Energy Efficiency
Seasonal migration involves about 50 million birds or about 15% of all bird species of all shapes, sizes and habits. A study published in the journal Nature, Ecology and Evolution presents a model of why birds migrate; energy efficiency. Specifically the energy costs of flying long distances is balanced out the energy saved in being in a place where there is abundant food and little competition for it.
This model proposes that migratory behavior is driven “by a global mechanism to redistribute birds. It is the biosphere arranging birds in the most logical fashion”. In other words energy and vegetation translated into energy is the why behind this annual event.
We know that during migration birds seek food and track the “green wave” as spring growth moves north into temperate areas. Evolution has favored this behavior. In this model the tropical areas offered birds plentiful food with little expenditure of energy for temperature regulation. Because of this bounty these areas became crowded with increased competition for food resources. As winter turned to spring in temperate zones of the world and food source in these zones increased some species migrated. Over time natural selection favored this behavior. The birds produced more fertile offspring and the migratory instinct became heritable; switched on by hormones sensitive to day length.
There is no obvious reason for why some birds migrate and others don’t.
Eastern Kansas is in the Mississippi Flyway or the Central Flyway depending on which government agency’s map you look at. Either way, there can be a varying variety of birds flying through depending on the year.
Don’t forget to visit the Bird Watching Station the next time you visit the Arboretum!