Important Bird Areas

Woolsey Wet Prairie Sanctuary

Arkansas

Woolsey Wet Prairie Sanctuary IBA includes a 46.5-acre wetland mitigation site constructed in 2006 to offset the permanent alteration of 9.88 acres of wetlands during the construction of the City of Fayetteville's Westside Wastewater Treatment Plant (Phase I). The IBA also includes an additional 87 acres of adjacent city-owned land that the Fayetteville City Council has targeted for Phase II ecological restoration into a wetland mitigation bank.

The site still has intact upland mounds that appear to have never been subjected to plowing, and depressional areas between mounds where water seasonally ponds, forming wetlands. Such mounds and wet prairie depressions were common in the area prior to the western expansion by settlers in the early to mid-1800s. Recognizing that this is a very rare and endangered natural resource in northwest Arkansas, the designers developed a wetland mitigation strategy with the objective of restoring the natural prairie ecosystem that once existed on the site.

Ornithological Summary

Woolsey Wet Prairie was established as a wetland mitigation site in the fall of 2006 and in its 6.5 years of existence many regionally rare wetland and grassland birds have colonized the site, demonstrating the importance and success of habitat restoration. Further, the site has already provided several state and county birding records including Brewer?s Sparrow, Cassin?s Sparrow, Northern Shrike, and Purple Gallinule. To-date, 182 species of birds that have been documented.

The success of restoration efforts at WWP represents a tiny living laboratory of a once vast ecosystem for present and future generations to see and touch instead reading about prairies in books. We cannot bring back the bison, the Greater Prairie-Chickens, or the eastern elk that once roamed this region of Arkansas, but we can restore and maintain an endangered ecosystem that perhaps will be of ecological significance to the birds that depend upon this habitat type. Such examples are as follows:

June 24, 2008: Bruce Shackleford photographed two female Blue-Winged Teal with 18 ducklings. According to the Arkansas Audubon Society Bird Records Database this was the 8th breeding record for Arkansas as well as the 1st state record of Blue-Winged Teal with more than 1 set of young.

December 19, 2010: Andrew Scaboo and Brandon Schmidt photographed a Grasshopper Sparrow during the 2010 50th Annual Fayetteville Christmas Bird Count. Since the conception of the Christmas Bird Count by Dr. Douglas James in 1961, no one had previously detected this species on the count.

March 11, 2011: A Northern Shrike was first observed by Mike Mlodinow and photographed by Joe Neal. This is the second state record.

April 26, 2011: A Purple Gallinule was observed by Mike Mlodinow on this date and then again on May 3, 2011. This was the first record of the species in the state north of Cleburne County.

July 1, 2011: Don Steinkraus observed two Black-Bellied Whistling-Ducks, which was only the sixth record for Northwest Arkansas.

October 22, 2011: Mike Mlodinow observed a Cassin?s Sparrow that was photographed by Joe Neal. This was the second state record.

October 2011: A Henslow's sparrow was observed and photographed by Jacque Brown, as was a Spotted Towhee. Annually, only one or two spotted towhees are seen in Northwest Arkansas, and not every year.

December 1, 2011: Mike Mlodinow found a Brewer?s sparrow that was photographed by Jacque Brown, David Oakley, and Mitchell Pruitt. This was the first state record.

December 16, 2012: Andrew Scaboo photographed a Prairie Falcon, a first county record and also a first for the Fayetteville Christmas Bird Count.

April 24, 2013: Regionally rare White-faced Ibis were photographed by Joe Neal and Joan Reynolds.

April 25, 2013: Regionally rare Wilson's Phalaropes were observed and photographed by Mitchell Pruitt, Joe Neal and Joan Reynolds.

Conservation Issues

As with any natural landscape there is predation. There is no evidence to suggest that Woolsey Wet Prairie has an atypical level of natural predation compared to similar sites. Invasive plants threaten to alter habitat structure. Consistent control is required to keep this threat low. Foot traffic by visitors is limited to the earthen berms that surround the wetland cells; therefore, disturbance to birds is minimal. Signs around the perimeter state that there shall be no hunting, no disturbance, no vehicles, ATVs, or motorcycles, no dogs, and that foot traffic is limited to the pathways along the earthen berms. Droughts and floods occur but do not pose a significant threat to birds or their habitats because the site is designed to flood during periods of abundant rainfall, and hold water during times of drought. A prescribed burn is conducted at WWP once annually during the late winter or early spring, prior to when most birds nest. A site survey is always conducted prior to the burn, and any early nests found are flagged and avoided by the burn crew. The fire is never a direct threat to birds as they can fly away. Raptors take advantage of burns as they circle high above on the lookout for the numerous small rodents escaping the blaze. Birds always return quickly after the burn has been completed new growth occurs. A few weeks after the burn the birding can be excellent. Burns also open up mudflats just shorebirds are migrating through. Another potential short-term disturbance to birds is spot spraying of non-native plants. This typically occurs from May to October on a weekly to biweekly basis, and is done with a backpack sprayer. There is an overall net benefit to bird habitat by reducing the density of non-native species.

Ownership

Woolsey Wet Prairie is wholly owned by the City of Fayetteville.

Habitat

Woolsey Wet Prairie is a remnant tallgrass prairie of the original Osage Prairie on the Springfield Plateau. Soils are composed of shallow depressions of sandy loam that are underlain by a fragi-pan of impervious clay. The depressions retain water for extended periods after rainfall, providing a competitive edge for grasses over trees and producing wetland-prairie habitat. Mounds or ?pimples? scattered throughout are small hummocks five to fifteen feet in diameter and one to four feet high.

The Phase I mitigation site is a mosaic of habitat types: wet meadow prairie, marsh, open water, mudflats, forested wetlands, and upland tallgrass prairie. The plant community changes with topography, which affects soil moisture. The future restoration sites (Phase II) consist of well drained tall fescue pasture; wetland depressions between prairie mounds; farm ponds with emergent vegetation; a savanna with a mix of native and introduced grasses; and a narrow, wooded riparian zone along Owl Creek. The former prairie on these acres has been highly degraded due to non-native, invasive plants, and drainage ditches.

Land Use

Woolsey Wet Prairie was established by the City of Fayetteville in 2006 as part of wetland compensatory mitigation requirements under Section 404 Permit 14207 issued by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers Little Rock District. The 46.5-acre mitigation site was constructed to offset the permanent alteration of 9.88 acres of wetlands from construction of the City?s Wastewater Systems Improvement Project. WWP is permanently protected by a deed-restricted covenant in perpetuity as a wetland mitigation site. The adjacent 87 acres are targeted for Phase II ecological restoration into a wetland mitigation bank. This area is hayed annually but cut before the tall fescue forms mature seed heads; this reduces the number of fescue seeds added to the seed bank, which will facilitate future ecological restoration.

Many people come to WWP to walk the trails along the berms, take photographs of the numerous wildflower and bird species, or conduct research. WWP has also provided many educational opportunities for students at both the undergraduate and graduate levels, allowing them the opportunity to get a hands on educational experience in the field. WWP provide excellent opportunities for both botanists and birders alike. As of April 2013, more than 400 species of plants and 182 species of birds have been observed.