Watershed Meanderings - The Blog

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  • To Relish

    To Relish



    : to enjoy or take pleasure in (something)  Meriam Webster

    Garden beckons and I must go. The old garden sat further back and this rhubarb plant, a comfrey or  ten, a mint patch,a horseradish travelling undrground and a few straggly asparagi are what is left over from an earlier time. I keep meaning to dig it it up and move it but it still sits out on its own without attention and  each year it is the first to appear. It beats even the chives. So here it is and this year I am relishing it. Oh, the beauty of spring, every single day of icy mornings and quickly warming sun.

  • Puddle Sex

    Puddle Sex

    After a long winter we might ask  "What is in that puddle?"

    First of all you need to learn to call them pools, vernal pools, vernal meaning spring and they are so labeled because they may dry up just like puddles later on, hopefully after the younguns are full grown. Vernal pools are popular with spawning frogs because there are no fish but that does not mean there are no predators. That is another story.

    The first sound you might hear on a spring evening is the intonation of the male wood frog standing in a puddle calling in the females.  If he is successful, this is followed by sometimes 24 hours of loud lovemaking. Now mind you I have only seen this once but I am here to tell you the gravid or ready females can be quite large and the males like them large . The slimmer and smaller males have to jump up on the females' backs and hang on like riding a bull at the county fair for maybe 24 hours.Yeah.

    By dawn thousands of eggs are laid and afterwards fertilized by staggering exhausted males. You might ask what was the lovemaking for if the fertilizing came after but it's all that shake rattle and rolling that triggers the egg laying and what is lovemaking for  anyway except for lovemaking? Male frogs who do not score a female have been seen wrangling salamanders. How embarrassing is that?  

    In the end the males wander off into the woods and the females collapse in exhaustion. And all around the pool are beautiful clusters of  little embryonic frogs preparing for their grand adventure. 

    The truth is one in six thousand wood frogs reaches maturity, so do all you can to help them on their journey .

  • Point Seven Miles North

    Point Seven Miles North

    Chickadees are so familiar to us in the East. In winter they might be the only  wild thing we see for weeks.The Black Capped chickadee is our state bird. So here it is: well documented evidence that the chickadee is moving north, .7 miles a year  north. Not a deal breaker like the arctic ice cap melting but it is solid evidence that climate change is happening right in front of our eyes in our everyday world. I am not going to rock the world with this information. This has no direct  impact on our ability to survive. No but -I just cannot help thinking that if this sturdy little bird that survives Maine winters so handily , much better than I do and outside, finds a need to move north, then we really should be paying attention.

    Chickadees on the Move - Portland Press Herald

  • ode to a bait fish revisited

    Jumping ahead. Will come back to topic later - 

    Alewife, river herring, razor belly fish. Everything eats alewives except humans mostly. Three years ago alewives could not be anadromous in Maine. They could not get up river to spawn.  There were too many dams in the way, dams without passage. BUT, In 1999 the Edwards Dam was breached at the head of tide below Augusta and in 2008 Fort Halifax Dam just above the confluence on the Sebasticook. The next obstacle was the Benton Falls Dam and in 2006 a fishlift was built . By 2011 the number of fish counted going up was almost 2 million. They were reaching Unity Pond and Pleasant Lake in Stetson. The excerpt of email below is with Nate Gray at Benton Falls.

    -April 15, 2011 -From Nate to Sandy: the harvest will start after we allow
    for a minimum escapementupstream (320,000) and will continue 4 days
    on 3 days off until June 5.This ensures that the run gets end loaded towards
    the spawning areas and allows for a good deal of older more experienced fish
    to get to the ponds as the older fish show up earlier.  We want to ensure that
    the run is sustainable.  Not just for the human consumption end of things but
    for all the other stuff that chases alewives as well.  Call me the first
    week in May and I'll keep you posted on when to come.

    May 3, Nate  - They're here.  Headed to start the fishway now.

    Sandy- Yippee. I have been gone all day. My friend Andrew said that the water had been too high in the Kennebec. Will you be there tomorrow? 

    First visit follows.

    May 20 - Sandy -  I have, without success, been waiting for the skies to clear. Bill and I
    went to the Sebasticook Lake ladder today. There were fish and the gates
    were wide open but the water was sure coming over the dam hard. We went
    up to Stetson and there were no fish there, and again lots of water.  I
    hope all is well despite the weird weather. I assume this has to effect
    the migration some. I would like to get over this weekend if that is ok
    with you.  I am hoping that there might be some harvesters and maybe
    some sun so I can some shots of the fish in the window. I would like to
    pull this story together.

    June 15-  Sandy - How is the season progressing? It is always a busier time of year than I imagine. I would like to come by one more time to give you some pictures for Essex and maybe take a few more pictures.  Possibly Thursday afternoon or Friday morning?

    Meanwhile, I have a couple of questions:

    Sandy - Are the alewives about done going up? If so what was the final tally? :
    Nate - Yes. 2.7 + million

    Sandy - When do they start back down?
    Nate - Now

    Sandy - Do you ever see where they are spawning?
    Nate - Yes

    Sandy - Were there any other species in the mix this year?
    Nate - Yes

    Sandy - How did the harvesters do?
    Nate - Well

    Sandy - Can I come now?
    Nate - Divers on site.  Too much activity.  Would need you to be in hard hat, steel toed boots etc, etc,

    Sandy -  Ok. I have to know. What are the divers doing?
    Nate - Divers are installing new intake grating for head pond make-up attraction water.

    Sandy - When would be a good time? Thursday late afternoon? or next week?

    Sandy - Would it be at all possible to get a copy of the cameras video of them in the peak time? 

    Sandy - I think I will try to get to Stetson Friday to look for eggs. Maybe with Jennifer Irving.
    Nate - Looking for eggs will be VERY difficult.  They kinda just float around.  Non-adhesive and very small.

    So many thanks for answering all of my questions, Sandy


  • It Doesn't Take Much

    It doesn't take much to wake us up to Spring. The sun sends warmth through the windows almost from dawn to dusk. The smells of outdoors become more complex. Pine is no longer the dominant scent. Even  snowflakes look more relaxed. I no longer rush from house to woodpile and back.

    I stand on the front deck and breathe in the air. The back deck is still two feet in snow which is icy enough to hold a fallen red maple in its grasp since a storm put it there in December, but every day I give the back door a shove to see if I can release it. I want out.

    I find my snowshoes that I abandoned when the temperature struggled every day to reach 15 degrees.  I can see the snow melting away from the trunks of trees as they warm with rising sap, the swelling of buds receiving the warm sap, the rock wall revealing itself.

    I savour each of these moments of Spring unfolding. Live Spring as a season unto itself not just the conduit to Summer. I know too soon it will get away from me. It is the season of the renewal.  Every year we get another chance to experience birth. Why would I want to hasten that?

  • Frogs Eggs and Black Flies

    Frogs Eggs and Black Flies

    Right now my mind is taken up with the return of moving water and all that brings: frogs, osprey, migrations of hawks and sea birds, the return of leaves and alewives and yes, Black Flies. The sun  thermometer says it's 35 degrees but the shade one says it's 08.  When in late March we are being held hostage by a particularly long and frigid winter, we all get that look in our eyes. We are distracted by the pictures in our heads of our favorite places the feel of the sun and the smell of the pine.  We are stunned by the false starts. Just when we think the sun will have its way the arctic air shows its strength. In the true north this can go on until July.  We know how our calendar  starts: with maple sap not freezing in the taps and the ice on the Kennebec breaking up and moving  out and finally the spawning fish on the run up stream. Bears wake up, and wood frogs and salamanders head for shallow pools. Osprey nests are occupied along the highway once again and someone hits a deer.    Right now It's like I can feel the whole Gulf of Maine  begin to shift ever so slowly but it won't let go. In a frustrating year like this one the signs of what's ahead are small and somewhere some ancient god or goddess is laughing at us. One Cooper's Hawk spotted Down East , one Hooded Merganser  just above the Clinton bridge. Other than that we are stuck counting robins, imitating snowbirds , and admiring turkeys crossing back and forth on two feet of frozen snow looking for anything edible.

  • Watershed Meanderings

    Watershed Meanderings

    My watershed traverse began in the spring of 2002 with the discovery of a small vernal  pool down the road from my house. It seemed simple at first, a local pool within walking distance.

    Every morning that spring I got up and walked down to the pool, and the eggs laid by a female wood frog and fertilized by a male would get larger and one day they were tadpoles and another day they had back legs, and then four legs and no tail, and they were gone off into the woods.

    When the wood frogs had moved on and the raspberry patch surrounding the pool turned dense and impassable I began to broaden my attention.

    In my mind I followed the small seasonal stream out of the pool down to Carlton Bog which flows into Carlton Stream which forms the inlet to Unity Pond. From there 25 mile Stream and the Sebasticook. In Winslow the Kennebec

    Before too long and for many years, I have been exploring the watershed up and down the length of the Sebasticook River and on to the Kennebec. Early on the human history of the watershed became part of my exploration. Central Maine is beautiful and beyond the beauty strip it is layered in history.  It is home to a living, breathing  mongrel culture, part rural, part suburban; part small town, part  backwoods; part Tea Party, part Green Party.

  • Rudy Knows Freedom

    Our neighbor's ass escaped the other day in defiance of our never ending snowbound winter. He did what any intelligent animal would do having been penned too long by less than warming weather. He walked up the snowbank and down the other side of his fence.

    I looked up this morning to watch the dripping on the south side of the house. Robins have been back and forth across the road trolling for Sumac and other of last season's seeds . Snowbird flocks have been arcing and turning in unison above the crusty snow. Still spring is hard to imagine. 

    Yet, the sun is having it's way  with this stubborn cold. If I were to put my head up against a maple trunk I would hear the sound of sugar rising. Sweetness rising.

  • spring will come. the sap will run.

    and then what?

    I have been poking around this morning thinking about time. I know once winter let's go that time will speed up. There will be a million things that must be done but right now with mushy snow covering the icy crusty driveway I can think and make plans. One of my plans is to spend more time after dark looking up.

  • Sap Turn To Sugar

    The season is upon us. This winter especially I am grateful for the sweetness that comes from our  iconic trees.  We still have an ice rutted driveway and piles of snow.This morning it was 0 degrees  when I got up but the sun has such strength now that the thermometer on the porch where the sun first hits is already registering 20 degrees.  Spring is upon us albeit hidden. This Sunday is Maple Sunday here in Maine.  If there ever was a year for celebration, this is it. 

    As always H. D. Thoreau says it best.

    Thoreau's Journal: 16-Mar-1856

    "The red maple is now about an inch deep in a quart pail,—nearly all caught since morning. It now flows at the rate of about six drops in a minute. Has probably flowed faster this afternoon. It is perfectly clear, like water. Going home, slipped on the ice, throwing the pail over my head to save myself, and spilt all but a pint. So it was lost on the ice of the river. When the river breaks up, it will go down the Concord into the Merrimack, and down the Merrimack into the sea, and there get salted as well as diluted, part being boiled into sugar. It suggests, at any rate, what various liquors, besides those containing salt, find their way to the sea,—the sap of how many kinds of trees!"