Monday, July 14, 2008

Conservation Commission Hosts "Fish Fry"

photos by Laurie Meeder

Volunteers from the Effingham Conservation Commission assisted biologists from the New Hampshire Fish and Game Department and environmental scientist Rick Van de Poll in electroshock fish sampling today on the Pine River and Wilkinson Brook. The sampling is part of the Wildlife Action Plan study in Effingham, which is the state's first.

The team entered the river downstream from a beaver dam on Long Point in the Lost Valley development and worked up against the current. Fish and Game personnel operated three battery-powered units and directed the netting.

The shock briefly stuns fish and other aquatic creatures which the netters can scoop up and place in buckets. It causes far fewer fatalities than other sampling methods and yields a vastly larger number of specimens according to Van de Poll. He and the other ECC volunteers were surprised, however, that the ones gathered today did not float as visibly as he had observed them to do in previous samplings. That and the silt made the netting challenging.

The river bottom contour changed radically in places. The bottom varied between sand and mud, with boulders and water-logged tree trunks. A knee-deep section could give way to a hole several feet deep. But the day was warm, and so was the river. The only danger was the electricity, but no one got shocked in any of their dunkings. The shockers responded instantly to any outcry or large splash.

Species included brook trout, pickerel, yellow perch, fallfish, white sucker and a couple of crayfish.

Naturally I netted the primo crustacean for the day. Anyone surprised?

After lunch, which did not include seafood, the team moved on to Wilkinson Brook, a much narrower stream. I managed to forget my camera when I nipped home on the lunch break to pick up some other things I'd wished I had, like binoculars (still looking for that heron rookery), so I have no pictures of that jungle slog. For a small stream it had some surprisingly deep holes. We also missed capturing a brook trout large enough to laugh off our puny voltage. We did gather a number of burbot, more perch, a catfish and more brookies.

Monday, July 07, 2008

Eagle Hunt Delayed by Sparrow

The Anti-Eagle

I was pretty wiped out after work on the Fourth of July and had to take care of a few things, so I ran out of time for the eagle hunt. I'm hoping to get to it today.

Work on a holiday weekend is hectic enough. My duties grew more complex when the patriarch of the shop called me over while we were all out front watching Wolfeboro's parade.

"There's a baby bird here that fell out of the nest, and these kids are all upset and can't enjoy the parade. Can't you do something about it?" he said.

I suppose he imagined I would take it out back and club it with a tire iron to "put it out of its misery." You'd be miserable, too, if you'd fallen out of your safe nursery into a scary, noisy world full of huge creatures, indifferent at best, hostile at worst. One young thug had been winging rocks at the bird.

What I saw was a viable nestling, if only I could get it back to its parents or into a suitably quiet environment. I scooped it up and carried it into the shop. We lock up during the parade, so I had more than an hour to work this problem in peace.

I looked for succulent bugs I could squish in imitation of regurgitated food, but all I saw was ants. I've never seen a bird chow down on ants. Rather than waste a lot of time on it, I moved on to rehydrating the little bugger. He (she?) would take drips from a paper towel. Then I went on line to look for a rehabilitator. I'd dealt with a woman in Madison a couple of years ago with a young squirrel. I hoped I might find someone closer, but I had to start somewhere.

One phone call at a time, to Madison, then Meredith, I was able to arrange foster care and get instructions to help keep the bird alive. Every ten minutes I dripped diluted sports drink onto its beak until closing time. Then my associate in the workshop, who had overslept and had to drive instead of bike, kindly transported it to a rendezvous with the rehabilitator.

In the early stages of this process, when I still cradled the bird in my right hand, I saw bird lice swarming up my arm. I was pretty sure I interdicted all of them before they invaded my armpit and moved on to hairier pastures. Once I had the bird in a nest cup to await transport I executed the straggling lice with a bike spoke heated over a butane lighter as they crawled up the tissue paper away from the nestling. But when I got home, Laurie suggested a thorough shower and immediate laundering of all my garments. Probably a better idea than going paddling in my buggy shirt. Then it was 5 p.m. and I'd really had enough. Figure a minimum of two hours start to finish for the most cursory trip to Province Lake...not worth it. I still had to work full hours on Saturday.

My associate reported that the he passed the bird, still cheeping, to its next custodian. So it made it that far.

Tuesday, July 01, 2008

Herons and Eagles

As the designated crazy who paddles and hikes inconvenient areas, I get the call to look for things where other people probably won't. This week it's herons and eagles nesting along the jungle shores of two minor rivers.

Following reports of adult heron pairs on Pine River, I was asked to check downstream from the Elm Street bridge for signs of a rookery.

Pine River meanders so tightly that you can often look onto the next bend from the one you're rounding, unless the vegetation is too thick or the water level drops you too far below bank height. It cuts through glacial till, undermining the trees that grow along it. Nearly every bank-side tree can look forward to falling in eventually. Some fall along the course. Most fall across. It's surprising anyone can paddle through at all. There have been years in which it didn't seem worth the trouble.

Nature never stands still. The logjams cook down. Floods add or remove debris. On many of the more permanent ones, different water levels offer different options for crossing. At high water, float over a low spot. At low low water, limbo underneath. At varying mid levels the climb over may be harder or easier depending on what odd projections and additional logs might be exposed.

Yesterday the river was up at a high medium level, following several days of afternoon downpours. The swirling current was a dark reddish brown. The flecks stayed below the surface, so it didn't look like coffee with cream, but more like onion soup. Cold onion soup.

I hit the first log jam right where I expected it. It's been there for enough years that I thought it might have rotted down enough to let me pass easily. Instead I had to hop out of Scruffy, the kayak that loves to go sideways, onto a fat log that turned out not to be as buoyant as its bulk might suggest. I didn't go in, because I move very carefully, but it complicated my crossing.

One of the owners of my local Java haunt came by, walking her chocolate lab along the bank. She and her husband own a house formerly owned by other friends of mine, which includes a fair amount of unbuildable shore frontage. She said she thought it got worse downstream. As unwelcome as this news was, it still fell within normal variation on the Pine. I was doing this for Science. If Rick, the naturalist, could stick to a compass course through a chest-deep, basically uncharted bog, I could crawl through a few logjams.

A long stretch went by with no major obstacles. I'd reached the shore frontage of the shooting preserve on river right. I hadn't looked at it in years, since we aimless explorers were posted out. Early on they had bulldozed the bank to make what appeared to be a canoe launch, but that has grown back in. Only the signs forbidding entry, peeling from every other tree, reminded me of what had been a fine place to wander and watch the post-glacial terrain evolve.

A side channel invited entry but contained no nest sites. Then I came to the second stopper.

This picture is taken from the bank after I had hauled the boat out on that tree trunk.

A couple of boat lengths dragging through the grass and I was underway again.

Below that jam I passed a lagoon to the left. Someone's building a magnificent dwelling overlooking it, so I doubted herons would find it attractive.

Herons like tall pines, I was told. I figured since they're large and stork-like, they might have similar tastes, so I looked at all tall trees. I found nothing.

The forest opens out into flood plain with isolated hardwoods, many dead from the ice storm of 1998 and various flooding episodes. There are tons of birds. I saw one adult great blue heron, wood ducks, some other crested water bird, a kingfisher, a selection of woodpeckers, warblers, redwing blackbirds, cedar waxwings, phoebes, grackles and more.

When I reached an area I knew could be surveyed from roads on shore, I headed back upstream. Traveling two directions gave me another angle from which to tell there were no nests. I was briefly tempted to push on down to the public boat launch at Route 25 and call for a pickup, but I was less than halfway there. And I believe that you should get yourself out of whatever you get yourself into.

Paddling upstream into obstacles is easier in some ways than coming down on them with the flow. You don't get pushed into things. On the other hand, you have to pull for every inch. The crossings were a bit trickier, but somewhat familiar.

With arms and shoulders sore from the sudden surge of paddling, I pulled my way back to the launching site. We paddled the lower Pine on Sunday and ended up racing thunderstorms home.

The eagles may have to wait. These jungle cruises have a way of eating up time, even if you don't cover much ground. I have chores to do to get ready for next week.