Walking into Osprey Marsh in Aghaming Park before sunrise might make a person think it’s devoid of life, but as the sun rises, the cries of birds come from all around.
Osprey Marsh is a wetlands habitat of Aghaming Park, which covers a 1,500-acre area on the floodplains of the Northern Mississippi River and is home to a number of bird species.
According Richie Swanson, a local author and bird watcher for over 20 years, only about 10 percent of floodplain forests remain in the Upper Midwest since pre-settlement times.
Swanson hosts educational events in Aghaming Park in Winona to increase awareness about the species in danger of losing their habitat.
Standing on the ice at the center of Osprey Marsh, the echoing of cars driving down the highway and the clatter of trains stands as a constant reminder of the threats the area.
Some of the species that are threatened are the red-shouldered hawk, the rusty blackbird, the cerulean warbler and the lesser scaup.
Swanson said the yellow-billed cuckoo, which has been declining in numbers in Minnesota and Wisconsin, nests successfully in Aghaming, so conservation of the area is important.
Winona State University biology professor Neal Mundahl said species are threatened by sedimentation creating more dry land in the wetlands regions.
He said logging interests, development and modifying for highways and railroads are other major factors limiting the habitat for species living there.
Mundahl said the more disturbances there are, whether it be from cars, trains, boats or foot traffic, the fewer places for these species to live and breed.
The red-shouldered hawk, according to Swanson, needs 300-500 acres of floodplain forest per pair to reproduce.
Swanson said the floodplain forests regenerate poorly because of the need to keep a channel open for commercial use and the locks and dams on the river.
Mundahl said the red-shouldered hawk has not been as adaptable to human disturbances as other species, such as the bald eagle, which was thought to need the same undisturbed habitat.
“Now we know that [eagles have] become very adaptable,” Mundahl said. “They’ll plop a nest right next to a highway and they’re perfectly able to raise young. The red-shouldered hawk hasn’t been able to do that.”
Mundahl said education is the best way to help sustain the habitats for these animals because if people understand the threats to these areas, they might stand up for the area when someone wants to develop the land.
“All it takes is one event brought on by some changes that may have occurred in the past to change the whole web of what’s happening out there,” Mundahl said.
As the sun sets on Aghaming Park, the birds that cried out in the daylight fall silent, but the quiet rustling of trees is still interrupted by the resonance of industrialization, echoing an uncertain future for the species that call this place home.