In the rural Southeast, roadside ditches – known as “bar ditches” – carry on for miles. The term bar ditch probably comes from their construction, when dirt was "borrowed" to build up the road. The ditches are full of water and full of life, these narrow wetlands. Herons stalk the shallow water, stabbing at minnows. Common Gallinules, like this one, swim on the surface. Reeds and bulrushes provide cover for secretive marsh birds like King Rails. Red-winged Blackbirds flash crimson epaulets as they sing, and Boat-tailed Grackles offer their own rough music.
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A Drive Along a Bar Ditch
Written by Bob Sundstrom
This is BirdNote.
[Selection from “The Piedmont Rag” by Cephas and Wiggins]
Driving through marshes, fields, and pastures in the rural Southeast, you might not notice the watery ditches along the country roads — but they’re worth a look! These channels — known as “bar ditches” — run for miles, providing narrow slivers of wetland habitat that are often teeming with life. Herons stalk the shallow water, stabbing at minnows. Plump waterbirds, called gallinules [GAL-in-oolz], swim on the surface.
[Calls of a Common Gallinule – formerly Common Moorhen]
Reeds and bulrushes provide cover for secretive marsh birds like King Rails. [Calls of King Rail]
Red-winged Blackbirds flash crimson epaulets as they sing,
[Song of Red-winged Blackbird]
and Boat-tailed Grackles offer their own rough music.
[Boat-tailed Grackle song]
Many of these ditches are man-made, created when earth was dug up — or borrowed — to create roads. They’ve created conservation challenges, draining wetlands and changing the natural flow of water across the landscape. But many birds have adapted to this artificial habitat — great news for the car-bound birder.
[Red-winged Blackbird song]
For BirdNote, I’m Mary McCann.
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Producer: John Kessler
Executive Producer: Sallie Bodie
Producer: Mark Bramhill
Associate Producer: Ellen Blackstone
Music selection from Cephas and Wiggins “The Piedmont Rag,” Sweet Bitter Blues album, 1983 L & R Records.
Bird sounds provided by The Macaulay Library of Natural Sounds at the Cornell Lab of Ornithology, Ithaca, New York. Common Gallinule 136259 recorded by M. Fischer; calls of King Rail 130910 by G. Vyn; Boat-tailed Grackle song 135406 M.J. Andersen; song Red-winged Blackbird 57196 by W.W. H. Gunn.
© 2012 Tune In to Nature.org July 2012/2020 Narrator: Mary McCann
ID# barditch-01-2012-07-25 barditch-01b
Inspiration: Home Ground: Language for an American Landscape, by Barry Lopez