Harrison's Bubbler-Creek

Approximately seven miles east of Troy, Missouri (Lincoln County) sits a patch of land that once served as a baseball field, hunting ground, diamond mine, and a myriad assortment of other habitats for my three brothers and me. Purchased in 1974, the land and the home built upon it by my father and grandfather is still what the brothers refer to as "home".

Growing up, the front and back yards were mostly grassy fields that we mowed weekly. As we each left the nest, our parents began to landscape the areas around the house. They added a number of bird feeders and bird baths and now there is mixture of trees, shrubs, and flowers that support a fine birding habitat. These include: Silver Maple, Sugar Maple, Red Maple, Burr Oak, Pin Oak, White Oak, Catalpa, Mimosa, Corkscrew Willow, Weeping Willow, Linden, Black Walnut, Red Horse Chestnut, Service Berry, Cinnamon Frost Birch, River Birch, Sycamore, Ornamental Pears, Green Ash, Shade Locust, Sweet Gum, Red Bud, Dogwood, Tulip, Kwanzan Cherry, Japanese Maple, White Pine, Fat Albert Blue Spruce, Hawthorne, Apple, Cherry, Peach, Plum, Pear. We have Cottonwood, Persimmon, Sassafras, Red Cedar, Wild Plum, Black Cherry, several Oaks, Hickory Nut, Purple Ash, Red Mulberry and White Mulberry, Black Locust that were here when we came. We have 6 different Clematis Vines, Red Honeysuckle Vine, Yellow and Orange Trumpet Vine, Virginia Creeper Vine, Lilac, Itea, 2 different Magnolias, Red Twig Dogwood, Burning Bushes, Spirea Bushes, Rose Bushes, Boxwood Bushes, Fountain Type Grasses, Hibiscus Bushes, Diablo Ninebark, Snowball Bush, Butterfly Bushes, Junipers, Yews, Smoke bush, Golden Vicory, Weigelia, Vibernum, Peonies, Rose Of Sharon, Hibiscus, and Sand Cherry.

Prior to the construction of the "Bubbler-Creek", the yard list was diverse but not enormous. Sitting in the shade of the trees or the porch, one would routinely see Wild Turkey, Northern Bobwhite Quail, Blue Grosbeak, Ruby-throated Hummingbird, and many other species. The birds came to feed at the many feeders (thistle and black-oil sunflower). A birdbath or two dotted the front yard and the Sugar Maple, Linden, Sweetgum, Dogwood, Redbud, Kwanzan Cherry trees provided many of the birds places to hide.

Our parents decided that they wanted to build a "bubbler-creek". Out of concern for their grandchildren's safety, they waited a number of years until they felt the little ones were old enough to understand that the "pond" was not a place to play. During the waiting period, they visited nurseries and landscaping businesses around Lincoln, St. Charles, Pike, Warren and Montgomery counties. Making a list of the things that they liked about the various bubblers they saw, they eventually came up with a design that they wanted and with the help of Jason, their youngest son, the construction began in June of 2010.

For more than 45 years our parents have collected a large assortment of rocks to be used in the general landscape of their yard. These rocks were used in rock gardens at each of the places that they have lived and each time they moved, the rocks moved with them. Yes, our dad is tired of moving rocks! Many of these rocks are better described as boulders and it was decided that all these rocks, little and huge, would be used in the make up of the bubbler.

Many hours were spent sitting on the front porch trying to decide exactly where to place this feature. It was decided to nest it under the protective umbrella of a Silver Maple. This was done to offer the birds a sanctuary right above the bubbler and also to create a natural ladder for the birds to work from the upper canopy down to the creek-bubbler.

A few problems immediately became clear upon picking this location. My parents did not want to harm any of the trees and digging into the ground was going to require cutting through dozens of tree roots. It was decided that the only excavation that was going to be done was for the pond basin. So with minimal digging, the pond basin was placed in its final resting position.

Our next obstacle was the grade of the ground around the pond basin. My parents wanted to be able to sit on their front porch and see the birds easily without having to stand up or move around. However, the ground sloped down and away from this primary vantage point. The solution was to create a large berm behind the pond basin that gradually sloped down to the basin. Using a Skid-loader, several loads of dirt were placed behind the basin. This mound of earth was shaped and reshaped until it met with the approval of our mother. By using fine, good topsoil dirt, moving the dirt around with rakes and shovels was much easier than using other types of soil.

Once we got that shaped, we then put a couple inches of fine glacial sand down the middle where the stream would flow. We did this for a few reasons: 1) it offered a nice soft bed upon which the liner would rest and 2) it was much easier forming the "creek" of this feature using sand that was mixed with dirt. Next came the actual forming of the creek bed. We had a bags of "tube sand" left over from last winter's driving season. These tubes can be found at stores like Home Depot and Lowes. The sand-filled tubes are used to add weight to vehicles during inclement weather. We used 12 of these to create the creek banks and shape the creek itself. Creating a curved stream bed was a relatively simple matter because of the flexible nature of the tubes. We then added another few inches of sand to the creek bed and covered the sand tubes with a couple inches of top soil.

Now that we had the foundation set for the creek, we put the liner in place and added a few rocks to hold things tight. Once we got it positioned correctly we placed the main boulders at the head of the creek and began laying rocks down the edges of the creek to refine the form of the creek. Using the Skid-loader, we placed the large boulders that weighed over 200 pounds each. Once that was accomplished, we laid other smaller rocks around and on the raised berm to form and hold it in place. We did this in a specific way to allow us to later come back and plant native plantings around the feature to create a more natural feel for both the birds and for its appearance as a feature in the yard.

The plantings we used include: Prairie Dropseed, Little Bluestem, Palm Sedge, Switch Grass, Scarlet Elder (Elderberry), Lead Plant, Smooth Sumac, Fragrant Sumac, Ninebark, Hazelnut, Silky Dogwood, Golden Currant, Leatherwood, Pussytoes, Prairie Dock, Goldenrod, Columbine, Poppy Mallow, Purple Coneflower, Missouri Primrose, Witch Hazel, and Spice Bush. Once the planting was done, the remaining areas of top soil that were left exposed were covered in standard mulch.

The pond basin is approximately 6 x 4 feet in size with a capacity of around 165 gallons. It is 18 inches deep and houses a 750 gallons per hour submersible pump that pumps water from the basin up to the bubbler rock. This water cascades down the bubbler rocks and into the creek. The creek is approximately 24 inches wide, 1-4 inches deep and 12 feet long. Due to the length of the creek and height of the berm, the actual output of water flow is considerably less than the advertised 750 gallons per hour. The higher and further you have to push or pull the water, the rate drops.

It took about a solid week of work to get his done. Since that time in mid June, the plantings have grown in some and next year that process will continue. In the next few years as the plantings mature the whole feature should really begin to fill out. This will create a natural area for the birds to sit near the bubbler and relax and be protected from various predators on the ground and in the air

To the pond was added fourteen bait goldfish that are now about 4-6 inches long and are usually fed once a day. The plan is to keep this bubbler going through the winter with the added use of heat tape and a tank heater. Once the water reached 50 degrees F., fish feeding stopped as they go into a state of semi-hibernation. The fish helped control the algae. A pond treatment once a week is employed to help keep the water chemicals in balance. During the hot summer water was added to the pond once or twice a week due to evaporation. This fall, skimming the pond and creek for fallen leaves once or twice a week was required. To date, as many as eighteen birds bathing at one time, with others sitting on the rocks or in the trees and bushes waiting their turn.

The "bubbler-creek" list (includes birds seen at the feature and at feeders near the feature):

Green Heron, Killdeer, Wild Turkey, Ring-necked Pheasant, Northern Bobwhite Quail, Sharp-shinned Hawk, Cooper's Hawk, Red-tailed Hawk, Red-shouldered Hawk, Bald Eagle, Turkey Vulture, Mourning Dove, Yellow-billed Cuckoo, Whip-Poor-Will, Ruby-Throated Hummingbird, Red-headed Woodpecker, Pileated Woodpecker, Common Flicker, Red-Bellied Woodpecker, Yellow-bellied Sapsucker, Downy Woodpecker, Hairy Woodpecker, Eastern Kingbird, Eastern Phoebe, Acadian Flycatcher, Easter Wood Pewee, Eastern Meadow Lark, Horned Lark, Purple Martin, Barn Swallow, Tree Swallow, Rough-winged Swallow, Chimney Swift, American Crow, Blue Jay, Black-capped Chickadee, Tufted Titmouse, White-breasted Nuthatch, Brown Creeper, House Wren, Winter Wren, Carolina Wren, Bewick's Wren, Ruby-crowned Kinglet, Brown Thrasher, Gray Catbird, Northern Mockingbird, Eastern Bluebird, American Robin, Cedar Waxwing , Yellow-rumped Warbler , Red-winged Blackbird , Brown-headed Cowbird, Rusty blackbird, Brewer's Blackbird, Common Grackle, Great-tailed Grackle , European Starling, Orchard Oriole, Baltimore Oriole, Summer Tanager, Scarlet Tanager, House Sparrow, Eurasian Tree Sparrow, Junco, Northern Cardinal, House Finch, Purple Finch, American Goldfinch, Pine Siskin, Blue Grosbeak, Indigo Bunting, Rose-breasted Grosbeak, Eastern Towhee, White-throated Sparrow, White-crowned Sparrow, Chipping Sparrow, Field Sparrow, Swamp Sparrow, Lark Sparrow, Fox Sparrow, Song Sparrow

Co-written by: Patrick & Jason Harrison