The Marsh

The marsh
The freshwater marsh is saturated with water even during the driest periods of the year. Visitors are cautioned to keep to the paths to avoid soaking their feet. (Photograph: Joey Robichaud)

Le Petit Bois marsh is wet lowland where groundwater and rainwater collect. It is a large flat area marked by a field of cattails. It has been said that a cattail looks very much like a ‘hot dog on a stick’. The hot dog part of the cattail is made of densely packed female flowers and a pointed yellow spike above it that is the male part.

Cattails routinely grow to 160 cm (6 feet) tall and can grow to nearly 275 cm (9 feet).  Just like some of the bulbs in a perennial garden, the cattails can spread by multiplying at the root, and the cattails keep enlarging their area as long as there is standing water available.

Cattails in the marsh.
Spent cattails
In spring, only a cottony plume is left of the ‘hot dog’ part of the cattails. (Photograph: Denise Saulnier)
Marsh frog
Some of the inhabitants of the marsh are well camouflaged and blend into their surroundings. Careful observation is needed to spot these marsh dwellers. (Photograph: Angel Flanagan)

Although it looks like a quiet place, the marsh is actually bustling with life. It is a perfect environment for insects like deerflies, horseflies and mosquitoes, and is also the breeding ground for insect-eaters such as frogs, salamanders and other amphibians. Ducks nest and raise their young among its grasses. It is also home to tree swallows and the beautiful and very vocal red-winged blackbirds.

Red-winged blackbird
The Gazebo bordering the marsh on the north side offers an excellent spot for bird watching if you have binoculars. The male red-winged blackbird is very easy to spot because of its flashy red and yellow bars on each wing, and because it rarely hides when humans are present. (Photograph: Wikipedia)

You will see small wooden boxes in and around the marsh. The faculty and students of the biology department maintain these 6 nesting boxes for the tree swallows. These are beautifully coloured birds with dark blue iridescent backs and white fronts. They chase after flying insects over the marsh, performing acrobatic twists and turns in the air.

Tree swallow
Tree swallows have long pointed wings, short tails and short flat bills. They are easy to spot because they spend time sitting on and flying around their nesting boxes in the marsh. (Photograph: Wikipedia)

Marshes provide a valuable service for us. They help maintain the health of the environment. Each marsh breaks down wastes and removes contaminants from the groundwater. Years ago, people thought it was a good idea to fill in marshes so that the land could be used for other purposes. Now we understand that marshes are an important part of the ecosystem and that they perform a valuable service for us.

The Visitor Information Centre in the Rendez-vous de la Baie on campus can lend you some binoculars, if you’d like to spend some time bird watching.

Proudly powered by WordPress