Water Closet for May 8, 2015
[pullquote] “A sample of a frog mass netted revealed clear protective jelly with embryos and swimming tadpoles. “[/pullquote] Are there quiet places without engine noises in our suburbs near where I-95 and state route 114 cross? Machines are so much a part of modern life we wonder if there are places close by without a background buzz. One of the blessings of old ears may be the fading of engine and electronic sounds. Alas, the voices of loved ones, wind sounds, water moving, and bird songs fade too.
On a Saturday afternoon this past mid April while on a trial run through the Middleton-North Reading woods for the Stream Team’s annual vernal pool hike, four old walkers complained of the whine of dirt bikes not far away. We hoped the dare devils with plastic armor and noisy steeds wouldn’t return on the Stream Team’s planned Sunday afternoon hike. We wanted the children with their nets and observation bowls to experience three hours off asphalt away from motors.
Then off to the side of a tire torn rocky trail we spotted a lovely pool with wooded ledge around quiet undisturbed water, dark in partial shade. There were no signs that humans had been near it except for a two centuries old stone wall on the knoll just to its south. The mix of mature evergreen hemlocks and white pines with still leafless red and white oaks provided some pleasant shade. Enough light came through at a slant to provide energy, especially on the north side, for the dark growing embryos in wood frog and yellow spotted salamander egg masses. The long east-west north slope, gentler than the steep south side ledge with few bushes, was declared a fine place for a couple dozen kids to sweep their nets in perimeter shallows. Within a short time the scouts found by eye, not nets, the sought after egg masses. This would be the destination for Sunday’s hike with guests.
Under an overcast but promising sky in cool air about thirty joined us. Two babies on backs, two spunky six year old boys who when introduced claimed to be “6 ½” and then the other proudly said “6 ¾”, several girls above ten but not quite teenagers, one dog on leash, and then family members and old Stream Teamers. The group, ankles sprayed with deet for ticks, ages one to 82 hiked down Old Hundred Lane. Pavement and houses soon fell behind. We were in the large wooded watershed of Middleton Pond en route vernal pools, which are puddles with streams that dry up most years so don’t have egg and tadpole eating fish. A must for certain salamanders, wood frogs and fairy shrimp.
After a mile of turns on ups and downs of glacial sculpted terrain we reached the newly discovered pool mentioned above. Kids with nets and bowls partially disappeared among the thin stands of high bush blueberries, pepper bushes, drooping hemlock branches, young white pines, and fallen logs along the north edge of the fine pool. Insect adults and larvae, crustaceans, tiny mollusks were netted among the submerged dead leaves and examined in white bowls of water before being returned to pool. A patch of wood frog egg masses that cover three square meters was pointed out as were a dozen ghostly bluish-white yellow spotted salamanders egg masses attached to barely seen twigs. A sample of a frog mass netted revealed clear protective jelly with embryos and swimming tadpoles. The dark eggs and embryos had been absorbing light for a couple weeks after being lain during mating in mid April. The heat produced results in rapid cell division and embryo development within eggs masses surrounded by still very cold water. The same thing was happening in more recently lain salamander egg masses. The once transparent gelatinous substrates of these masses were turning shades of green with symbiotic algae. The masses provide the algae with a place to live; the photosynthetic algae provide oxygen gas and later food. All in all vernal pool time is a wondrous period of mating and rapid growth before the shade from swelling buds and then unfurling leaves in the forest canopy above. We visited for but a fleeting half hour and got a feeling for but a tiny fraction of the spring activity there in a seemingly quiet pool. The old Stream Team leaders encouraged their flock to keep an eye out from the edges of pools nearer home.
The participants reluctantly left zigzagging around trees on trackless ledge and duff above on the south side of the half acre pool. Spread out over a hundred yards the vegetation subdued their chatter and stick snapping sounds. All seemed right with the world upon crossing a two centuries old stone wall out to the edge of the trail until an increasingly high roar was upon them, coming around a corner and down a steep slope. A half dozen helmeted lads on machines flew by over stones and passed by within a few feet, the pitch of their engines quickly falling off. We were back in the everyday world we’ve made for ourselves as we continued on toward hoped for quiet around a beaver impoundment. In answer to our opening question above; there are relatively quiet places in our forests but they must be sought out at better times of the week. Right now in America engines clearly have the upper hand. Some of us hope we won’t live to see and hear drones flitting beneath trees above vernal pools.
WATER RESOURCE AND CONSERVATION INFORMATION
FOR MIDDLETON, BOXFORD AND TOPSFIELD`
|Precipitation Data* for Month of:
|30 Year Normal (1981 – 2010) Inches
|2015 Central Watershed Actual
|0.0 as of 5/5**
Ipswich R. Flow Rate (S. Middleton USGS Gage) in Cubic Feet/ Second (CFS):
For May 5, 2015 Normal . . . 84CFS Current Rate . . . 54 CFS
*Danvers Water Filtration Plant, Lake Street, Middleton is the source for actual precipitation data thru March.
**Middleton Stream Team is source of actual precipitation data for April and May.
Normals data is from the National Climatic Data Center.
THE WATER CLOSET is provided by the Middleton Stream Team: www.middletonstreamteam.org or <MSTMiddletonMA@gmail.com> or (978) 777-4584