To the casual observer, it may seem like the only bugs out on the Blanca Wetlands are mosquitos and deer flies.
While I cannot (and will not) argue that there are more of those charming little insects out there than I’d prefer to see in three lifetimes – there is something much more important going on just below the surface of the water out on the wetlands here in Alamosa. And that is what I discovered while conducting “Macroinvertebrate Survey’s” these past two weeks.
So first off, what are macroinvertebrates? Well they’re just what they sound like: “invertebrate” meaning without a spinal column and “macro” meaning large, or in our case visible to the naked eye. So they’re all the insects that buzz around when you’re near water and lay their eggs in and around the shoreline of bodies of water. Being that the wetlands is filled with standing water, the topmost layer of soil is chock full of larvae and immature invertebrate species. These are what feed our shorebirds!! So we went out to sample these many species of creepy, crawly, slimy insects and see what differences there are on the many different ponds and playas on the wetlands.
Anjelica and I loaded up with two kinds of GPS units, countless plastic bottles, uncontaminated fresh water, 2 measuring devices, a sieve, hip-high waders, bug jackets, and a bug net. The goal was to sample 8 randomly chosen sites along the shoreline of 6 different ponds, collect all the macroinvertebrates found within a half meter diameter, and get the sample analyzed for what kind and how many of every little insect in our sample. It was not a very clean or dry job, and getting to each site usually required a fair amount of getting stuck in the mud that suction cupped around our plastic waders and held us down nearly a foot below the surface at times. I kept thinking that it was no wonder birds had hollow bones and bare feet – they certainly had no problem getting around on this thick mud! And when we looked at our samples it was no wonder they preferred the shoreline – each scoop of the bug net into our little metal sieve yielded a lump of sand or soil that was literally writhing. Bugs. Were. Everywhere.
It was neat to see the insects that our shorebirds had been feeding on and connect some more of the dots as to why the wetlands are such a unique and necessary environment for them. The macroinvertebrates varied so greatly from a freshwater pond to the salty playas that the shorebirds feed at. I had been curious how big an impact the macrobiotic diversity of each pond had on the shorebirds diet and feeding habits, and now it is easy to see why bird species vary so greatly from pond to pond – it seems even shorebirds have favorite foods.