Farmer Alan Mesman mows cattails in summer 2009. The plants had taken over his field during the three-year flooding experiment to restore shorebird habitat.
By the second year of the experiment, the cattails had grown to be 15 feet (5 meters) tall, which proved a temporary setback: The plants became too difficult for the shorebirds to navigate. Only 8 shorebird species returned to the farms in that year, compared with 15 species in the first year.
"It is pretty amazing that you let nature go and it [returns to a native state] that quickly," said ecologist Julie Morse of the Nature Conservancy. She and other conservationists are now considering plans to actively manage the flooded fields to keep them primed for shorebirds.
Photograph courtesy Julie Morse, the Nature Conservancy