Early Fall in the Moshassuck Valley

October 8, 2015

The leaves are just starting to turn at the North Burial Ground, the earliest color often on the most damaged trees, but many of the warm season critters have left the stage. The little drainage swale filled up again with the recent rains, but other than mosquito larvae, a few bees, and two or three dragonflies, the drainage swale is pretty quiet. The big pond on the other hand has much more obvious absences. Since the storms and cooler temperatures the Bullfrogs have gone completely missing, or rather there are no longer any bullfrogs along the shore, but the tadpoles that will overwinter in the pond are still visible in the afternoon sun. There must still be something around to eat, as a Great Blue Heron was preening on the turtle log. The same cooler temperatures that sent the Bullfrogs into hibernation seem to have done the same for the Painted Turtles. No turtles have been seen either sunning in the morning or swimming around the pond. I guess I will see them in early April.

Another very noticeable thing is the color of the water. All summer the water is a murky cafe au lait color with almost no visibility. Two inches of water is enough to totally obscure the life. The water is still brown, but it has a clarity that has not been seen since early spring. The algae seem to be taking the winter off too. You can see things on the bottom of the pond a few feet off shore that were totally invisible two weeks ago. Just sort of wasted with no critters to see except for a few tiny fish.

Down river in the tidewater, along Canal St, the menhaden become the dominant living force in August. This year millions of fish came into the river, slowly swimming back and forth, round and round, sucking in algae. The initial wave was young fish, with schools being dominated by 1.5 inch and 3 inch fish. As the season wore on I started seeing small schools of adult menhaden,10 or 12 12 to 14 inch fish, acting just like their smaller relatives. With the rains and cooler temperatures it now appears that nearly all of the small fry have headed for deeper waters and now the downtown rivers are filled with thousands of the adults, and a scattering of 6 inch menhaden. I have seen Great Blue herons in the tidal Moshassuck this fall, and they will feed on any of the larger sizes of menhaden, and one morning this week I saw a Green Heron right below the state house. I hope the fish stick around for a while, as when they head back out into the bay the dominant life form in the river becomes the mallards, and stays that way until spring. As much as I like mallards, they are much less interesting than fish and herons, and a daily does of the interesting makes the walk to and from the office that much nicer.

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