Tag Archives: winter

Wetlands in the Winter: What’s Happening?

Winter and early spring is an important time for wetlands across North and South Carolina. First, wetlands are easier to find in the winter with high rainfall and no vegetation growth allowing water to sit at the surface.  This standing water provides needed habitat for migrating birds and breeding amphibians. Also, lack of leaves and pesky mosquitoes make winter the perfect time to explore the different types of wetlands across the landscape.

Water Level (a.k.a. Wetland Hydrology)

Wetlands are defined by the amount, duration, and occurrence of standing water or saturated soil (referred to as wetland hydrology). Non-tidal wetlands like headwater wetlands, riverine swamps and pocosins fill with water in the winter and early spring until plants and trees start to grow and pump the water out to the atmosphere through evapotranspiration. If you explore a wetland in the winter, you may need to wear rubble boots to keep your feet dry.

Hydroperiod for several wetland types show surface water in the winter and early spring. (Source: National Research Council. 1995. Wetlands: Characteristics and Boundaries. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. https://doi.org/10.17226/4766. )

Import Habitat for Migratory Birds

Wetlands across North and South Carolina provide refuge in the winter for migratory birds like snow geese and tundra swans that fly south to avoid harsh winters in the Northern US and Canada.  The loss of wetlands across the Southeast US has forced some species to adapt by feeding in fallow agriculture fields. Luckily, many state and federal lands across the Coastal Plain of the Carolinas provide vital habitat for these birds and create opportunities for us to catch a glimpse of these majestic animals.

Tundra swans at Lake Mattamuskeet (Photo by Alvin Braswell).

Where can you find tundra swans?

Breeding Grounds for Amphibians

Wetlands are also critical habitat for many reptiles and amphibians because they depend on water for part of their life. Most amphibians lay eggs under water or on moist land. Once the eggs hatch, the baby amphibians must live in water until they form lungs and leave the water as adults. Eggs of some species are laid in the fall and survive in a gel-like substance until wetlands fill with water.  Even as adults, wetlands are an important source of food for amphibians. Step carefully and keep your eyes looking down for signs of salamanders and other amphibians. To learn more about these creatures, join us at the NC Museum of Natural Science’s Reptile and Amphibian Day on March 14.  

Southern Leopard Frog (Rana sphenocephala) egg mass. (Photo by Alvin Braswell.)

Go Explore a Wetland!

Wetlands in the winter are working just as hard as they are the rest of the year and provide opportunities to see species that you can’t see other times of the year.  Here are some resources to help you find a wetland near you : 

Share pictures of your favorite wetland with us on Facebook!

Article written by Kim Matthews (kim.matthews@carolinawetlands.org).