Migrating birds are finding fewer weeds, more native grasses, and more open water at Kachina Wetlands this fall. These changes are also a bonus for Audubon members, and fall birding at Kachina Wetlands is excellent.
The reduction in weeds is the result of an assertive weed abatement strategy by Kachina Village Improvement District (KVID), the utility district that manages Kachina Wetlands for the evaporation of treated waste water from Kachina Village. Last spring, KVID was awarded a two-year grant for weed abatement from Arizona Department of Forestry and Fire Management.
Given their small staff and budget, KVID used the grant funds to contract Natural Channel Design to do the heavy lifting. Natural Channel Design has abundant experience with weed abatement, and in past years, was instrumental in assisting Northern Arizona Audubon with restoration of Picture Canyon Natural and Cultural Preserve, one of NAAS’s Bird Sanctuaries.
Using herbicides that are not harmful to wildlife or water, Natural Channel Design targeted the worst of the weeds at Kachina Wetlands—diffuse knapweed, scotch thistle, and musk thistle—with the goal of withering mature plants before they could set seed.
The chemical treatments were not the only part of the strategy, however. Over the span of three weekends, 96 community members volunteered a total of 278 hours toward hand-pulling the remaining flowering plants of the targeted weed species. Among the volunteers were several members of Northern Arizona Audubon. Other represented groups included Master Gardeners, Mountain Dew Landscaping, American Conservation Experience, and Arizona Conservation Corps. Interested residents of Flagstaff, Kachina Village, and Mountainaire also pitched in. What an amazing difference these volunteers made! If you were one of them, know that your efforts are greatly appreciated by everyone!
The other change is Kachina Wetlands is an increase in open water, as KVID diverts water from Pond 2, the pond that is dominated by cattails and bulrushes, into Pond 5, the large pond immediately to the west of Ponds 1 and 2. The need to divert water into Pond 5 was prompted by the realization that Pond 2 was not filling beyond a certain level, implying that the clay layer used to seal the pond had become weakened over the years. Although Pond 2 will gradually dry out as Pond 5 fills, KVID anticipates that Pond 2 will partially refill next spring, primarily from precipitation over the course of the winter. The shallow water will likely be sufficient to sustain emergent vegetation so that Virginia Rails, Soras, and other marsh-nesting species can breed next year.
The future of Pond 2 is, however, unknown at this time. Over the next year, KVID will assess the water-holding capacity of all of ponds in order to decide which ponds are suitable for the evaporation of waste water. After water-holding capacity is determined, Northern Arizona Audubon will play a key role in ensuring that desired marsh plants are transplanted to new ponds, so that marsh-associated birds and other wildlife can continue to flourish.
In the meantime, come out to Kachina Wetlands and enjoy the new look! Bring a friend, or join one of the monthly bird walks offered by Northern Arizona Audubon.
–Christina D. Vojta, Steward, NAAS Kachina Wetlands Bird Sanctuary