Water Closet for March 31, 2017
The other morning Middleton Stream Teamers while spring cleaning the park at Farnsworth Landing on the Ipswich River compared notes on Aix sponsa, wood ducks, recently seen. We agreed that there has been an increase of this species in the last couple decades.
Sometimes on a paddle down river we’ll scare up several while rounding each of its many meanders.
“See the mating pair on the dark and shaded flood of a little woodland river; they seem to float as lightly as the drifting leaves”
This discussion led one member to the Closet’s treasured volumes by ornithologist extraordinaire Edward Howe Forbush. A century ago he gave us three thick books, entitled Birds of Massachusetts and other New England States. This monumental work was published by the Commonwealth of Massachusetts in 1925. We have a set in the Closet thanks to Francis Masse who passed on this gift from his father, the late Chester Masse, who served the area as a state game warden.
We can’t resist starting with an old fashioned bit of what some would call Victorian purple prose. Flashes are found throughout Forbush’s pages between more objective passages and anecdotes. Authors then didn’t have the media we have, illustrations in books at the time were black and white photos, ink sketches and a few expensive colored plates of paintings, hence the need for word pictures. Here is Forbush peeking from a riverside hiding place:
“See the mating pair on the dark and shaded flood of a little woodland river; they seem to float as lightly as the drifting leaves. The male glides along proudly, his head ruffled and his crest distended, his scapular feathers raised and lowered at will, while his plumes flash with metallic luster whenever the sun’s rays sifting through the foliage intercept his course. She coyly retires; he daintily follows, exhibiting all his graces, the darkling colors of his plumage relieved by the pure white markings of head and breast and the bright red of feet and bill and large lustrous eye. What a picture they make, as, intent on one another, they glide along close together, she clothed in modest hues, he glowing and resplendent.
He nods and calls in low sweet tender tones and thus, she leading, he pursuing, they disappear into the shadows where the stream turns upon another course.”
Wow! Maybe we should end here and leave them to imagined bliss.
The courting Forbush so delightfully and anthropomorphically described may lead to a snug high-rise apartment with the female sitting on 15 eggs. Wood ducks are cavity nesters. We wonder if the increase in wood ducks isn’t due to an increase of holes in trees. In the last half century there has been a significant increase in protected forests and less cutting in others. The trees are getting older hence more holes. Also people like Middleton’s Red Caulfield have put up wood duck boxes. Along our rivers and streams since their return two decades ago beavers have been drowning many acres of trees. The upright corpses attract wood peckers, insects, and fungi, hence in time more hide-a-ways. Then there is the change in people’s behavior so vividly remembered by old timers who lived in rural areas. Just 70 years ago there were shotguns and twenty-twos, often loaded, in barns, workshops and farmhouse entryways. To some any wild thing that moved was fair game. Most hawks and owls were deemed chicken killers. Ducks were shot and eaten. Other animals, even small birds were practice targets. Another 60 years before those waning agrarian years, the hunting of birds occurred on a massive scale along our coast by market hunters. The “good old days,” so nostalgically remembered by many old timers were bad ones for wild creatures. According to Forbush, wood ducks in the mid-19th century darkened the skies at times and by the end of the nineteenth century were almost extinct. European poultry fanciers were sending wood ducks raised there back to the states from whence their ancestors came. The good news is they are coming back in the wild. Jim Berry Ipswich ornithologist, who has been working with colleagues throughout the state on the Massachusetts Audubon Bird Breeding Atlas, reports that wood ducks were reported in 377 of 1077 area blocks inventoried three decades ago in Atlas issue 1. Atlas 2, 2012, has them in 664 of the 1077 blocks. Jim warns us to take these numbers with a grain of salt. The inventories for Atlas 2 have been more intensive, the areas better covered. However, he a life-long North Shore birder, agrees with us Stream Teamers that there are more of these very beautiful-dabbler ducks that are roughly half the weight of common mallards, also dabblers.
One old Stream Teamer reports seeing more wood ducks each passing spring. This March 2017 he spooked 70 in scattered small groups in a half hour’s hike along Boston Brook in Middleton.
We digressed above and left the developing embryos in the tree cavity under mother where they will be for four weeks until hatching. They’ll then hang out in their protective apartment fasting for a day before venturing forth in the open air dressed in light down. Now observations become dicey. John James Audubon observed a brood jumping from a high exit hole to water far below. Their mother rounded them up and then led them on a much longer more dangerous adventure through to fledging. Other observers have seen them with their sharp claws and a bill tip, called a nail, climbing down trunks to ground and water. Still others say they’ve seen mothers carrying them one by one to the water where they’ll feed until fledging if the snapping turtles, large fish and snakes don’t get them first. Life for young ducklings and goslings is precarious.
The Closet’s small copy of Audubon’s famous elephant portfolio is open now to his wood duck painting.
Audubon, without camera, shot his subjects with gun and then wired them into dramatic poses. Here before us are two “glowing and resplendent” males and two females “clothed in modest hues.” One of the females is looking out from a hollow tree.
A few years ago stream teamer Glenice Kelley, while spring cleaning at Farnsworth Landing, accidentally touched with rake a well hidden female mallard, distant relative of the wood duck. She was incubating a dozen eggs in a ground nest. Mother mallard moved, hence was revealed. We’ve returned several times since to peer in at her on a nest among the leaves at the base of a red cedar just twenty feet from major highway Route 114. She sometimes has her wings spread over the sides of her nest, feathers somewhat extended, almost a perfect match for the brown oak leaves. May her brood and those of all ducks survive to be led by mothers to water and then on to fledging and flight. We can only wish; predators will determine.
* Essay was frist published in April 2011. This is a March 2017 revision. Wood ducks are back here in numbers again this spring. Each year we see more.
WATER RESOURCE AND CONSERVATION INFORMATION
FOR MIDDLETON, BOXFORD AND TOPSFIELD
|Precipitation Data* for Month of:||Dec||Jan||Feb||March|
|30 Year Normal (1981 – 2010) Inches||4.12||3.40||3.25||4.65|
|2016/2017 Central Watershed Actual||4.41||4.02||3.46||1.5** as of March 24|
Ipswich R. Flow Rate (S. Middleton USGS Gage) in Cubic Feet/ Second (CFS):
For March 24, 2017 Normal . . . 189 CFS Current Rate . . . 78.2 CFS
*Danvers Water Filtration Plant, Lake Street, Middleton is the source for actual precipitation data thru Feb.
**Middleton Stream Team is source of actual precipitation data for March.
Normals data is from the National Climatic Data Center.
To all the Members, friends, and supporters of the Middleton Stream Team, I thank you. Your hard work, dedication, and enthusiasm for protection of our river and local wetlands is very much appreciated. If I may speak for the river, it would say, “I need you more than ever, this summer only a few of my tears trickled through the river bed as my finned and aquatic insect friends lost the life giving flow of my waters. I have hope you can help me and truly teach people that water is life!” Our Stream Team is blessed with extremely talented and knowledgeable folks, we have small numbers but great depth and passion. I am looking forward to an exciting, productive and fun year together!
The Middleton Stream Team photo contest awards were announced on November 27 at the Lura Woodside Watkins Museum in Middleton.
The 2016 first place award, a colorful photograph of salamander eggs discovered in a vernal pool, went to Donna Bambury of Middleton. Second place was awarded to Jennifer Buonaorsa of Middleton, who entered a beautiful photo of a sunset and moon over a low Middleton Pond. Third place was awarded to Susan Piccole of Middleton for a photo of trees and cat tails in the rookery.
Honorable mentions were awarded to Pam Hartman of Middleton, Elaine Gauthier of Middleton, and Alison Colby-Campbell of Haverhill.
Ella Bernard was awarded first place for under 18 for her photo of a beaver sculpted tree.
Donna Bambury was also recognized for best drought photo and best wildlife photo. The last was a photo of an osprey perched in a tree beside Middleton Pond.
All the entries can be viewed at MiddletonStreamTeam.org. The winning photos are on display at the Middleton Post Office Lobby display case for your viewing enjoyment.
The Middleton Stream Team Annual Nature Photo Contest is Underway!
New this year! Photos are encouraged to be submitted on-line!
The Middleton Stream Team encourages you to enter your photos taken on or near waterways and wetlands in Middleton. We are especially interested in photos depicting the effects of this year’s drought on the river, streams and wetlands.
Cash prize of $200 for first place photo, and $100, $50 respectively for second and third. Under 18 years first place prize is $50.
The Stream Team encourages you to explore and photograph Middleton. Photos must be received by November 1.
Details for rules and submission forms available here.
Billboards Highlight Ipswich River
The Ipswich River Watershed Association is highlighting the organization’s effort to bring attention to the impacts on the Ipswich River on billboards adjacent to the Peabody Mall and near Kappy’s on the Malden//Saugus line. They went up at midnight last night (9/30/16) and will run until October 13th.
Look for our two youngest Middleton Stream Teamers on one of the signs!
The two billboards are located at:
North Shore Mall
Viewable from Route 128 South bound or parking lots of Cheesecake Factory and JcPenny
Route 1 Northbound
Viewable from Route 1 North bound right before Kappy’s
The weather was cool and a bit of rain fell upon us but hundreds of people of all ages joined the Middleton Stream Team at Creighton Pond Camp for an exciting afternoon. People still rowed out to see the beaver lodge across the serene pond, found out just what an owl ate for dinner, tested soil samples and pond water with Essex tech students, and enjoyed an interactive and creative ocean pollution exhibit by the Masconomet environmental students. Bob Andrews of Mass Fish and Wildlife and the local Peary Family did a great job teaching between 50 and seventy kids to fish, and many fish were caught and released. The scouts cooked delicious cake in a Dutch oven over nice warm coals and shared with many. Children were amazed at the quick sequence of life for meal worms at the exhibit from Mandal Garden Farms of Middleton. North Shore Nature had tanks with snakes, turtles, crayfish and frogs for an up close and personal look at what lives in and near the pond. Starting at noon instead of one due to the weather, families enjoyed pizza, Sol Bean coffee, Artisan Ices and creams, Messenger’s infused waters, popcorn and even the dogs that joined the event had treats from Patty’s Biscuits! Many liked the earlier start time to have lunch so that might be a good change for next year! The Flint library promoted caterpillars and North Shore Bank’s Green Team led a litter pick-up hike! Essex County beekeepers educated people about the importance of bees. The Cellar Door of Ipswich had delicious meat rubs and the mammal display demonstrated that we all share different passions for the wild! The Daisy troop had bird feeders to make and other vendors offered crafts as well as Kathy Davis nature bags, essential oils, and the Stream Team’s tees and new cloth grocery bags. The Boutillier family started each child with a booklet to stamp when each station was visited. The Ipswich River Watershed educated people about how to protect our river. Liz Cameron made folks giggle but didn’t scare any children as a roaming beaver. The Letterboxing activity by Katie Bernard and Marion Duval could be challenging on such wooded and diverse lands. The Creighton Pond Day Camp is such a huge and beautiful area, with the covered pavilion, the big lodge and the pond, it is never too crowded even though the entire back field was filled to capacity with patron’s cars. The Stream team is very thankful that Lynn Boys and Girls Clubs offer us the use of the facility and it is truly a joint venture due to LeLand Boutillier’s contributions. We thank each and every one of you, both the groups that helped make it such a successful event and the people that came out even in a cool sprinkle to enjoy the day with us. Our mission is to encourage you to keep enjoying and protecting our local wild places, including our precious river and wetlands. Many species, including humans, depend on healthy natural ecosystems! As you remember all the Mother’s this month, please take a moment to help Mother Earth!