Category Archives: Water Closet Blog

SHADY SWAMPS TO OPEN PONDS AND MEADOWS

Water Closet for January 19, 2018

     In the last year of the second millennium beavers found a brook in the northern tip of Middleton.  They heard and felt the water flowing out of a large red maple swamp that extended into Boxford and North Andover.  In a valley between uplands of ledge above Richardson Farms Second Pasture they built a dam on an old farm causeway that crossed Pond Meadow Brook. The water rose behind their dam and flooded over a hundred acres of wet-footed forest. Dense Atlantic white cedar groves, red maples, and scattered white pines were affected.  In the next couple years signs of stress were seen.  The scale like leaves of the cedars turned yellow.  The red maples’ leaves and twigs began to look peaked.  The needles of white pines slowly turned brown.  All were dying from too much water all year around over their bases.  After about four years the evergreens appeared dead.  The maples were losing small branches and shedding bark.  The naked pine branches attracted great blue herons looking for nest sites.  Six years after the dam a half-dozen nests of sticks were perched on high branches that projected horizontally from the trunks.  By 2011 there were 40 nests in about 30 pines, some had two nests.  Every year or two the beavers raised and lengthened the dam. It is now 200-feet long and six-feet high.  The spreading impoundment above the dam has drowned more trees including oaks growing around the vast pond’s edges.  The light pours in unimpeded except behind still standing sun bleached trunks.  Unseen insects thrived within the slowly rotting trees.  Woodpeckers fattened up on them.  The still-standing tree trunks are pocked with their holes.   

Queen of the Hill Rachel Schneider exults after pushing the old King (left) off. No beavers emerged from this large lodge in north Middleton to contest her coup. The lodge is 30-feet in diameter at its base under the ice and seven-feet high. – Judy Schneider

     For almost two decades, we Stream Teamers, fascinated by the changes, have visited and then reported here in the Water Closet about the transformation of a shady maple swamp to an open “beaver meadow,” which might better be called a huge shallow pond with new soft, light-loving, plants and bushes instead of trees.

     What was this swamp like before the return of the beavers in the late 1990s after an over a three-century absence and before a dozen generations of fellow mammals, one-third our size without tools or machines, wrought such dramatic changes?  The old Closeteer likes to answer by telling the following story about crossing the swamp before the dam was built.

Stream Team photographer Judy Schneider took several photos of the Pond Meadow Pond beaver impoundment in north Middleton two weeks ago and spliced them together. The 120 or so acres one a shady red maple swamp, is now after 18 years, a vast beaver meadow-pond. The sun-bleached dead tree trunks seen are largely cedars and pines. Most of the drowned maples have fallen. Note the heron nests in the pines. – Judy Schneider photo

     It was probably late summer or early fall. Walking in the upland oak woods around the swamp’s edges he noticed it seemed dry enough to attempt a slog across.   He decided to beeline SE to NW.  He descended and then entered the swamp on the south edge from glacier sculpted high land protected by Greenbelt to the east of Pond Meadow Brook and Second Pasture.  He was soon in the dim light of a grove of cedars.  Progress was slow over the many fallen logs, hummocks and over roots covered knee deep by spongy layers of peat moss between tree trunks only a few feet apart.  He zig-zagged 100 yards up, down and around, to go 30 yards.  The numerous intertwining branches above kept out much of the waning afternoon light. Despite growing unease about getting across before dark or exhaustion he thought it too late to turn back.  The sun was below the knolls defining the swamp’s western edge.  Used to hiking in all kinds woodland conditions, and even in another jungle-like cedar swamp around Aunt Bett’s Pond in central Middleton, he increasingly worried about getting out.  Finally, after what seemed an hour, while making only a half-mile as the heron flies, he rose out of the swamp on to familiar upland.  An old cart path and then Second Pasture got him easily out to unpaved North Liberty Street. 

Puzzle for you. Note the pancake shaped gas bubbles that were sequentially rising in the black ice of an otter access hole in white ice and then frozen in time. How did this striking sequence form? The best explanation received will win a free Stream Team tour of the Pond Meadow Pond beaver impoundment. – Rachel Schneider photo

     That scary crossing was before the dam built two decades ago.  Since then he has been skirting the once swamp, now beaver meadow/shallow pond several times a year.  During winter cold spells he, family and friends cross on the ice.  By 2005 all the trees were dead or dying.  Without leaves the light poured in.  Each year in winter storms, more snow laden corpses have fallen.  During dry summers the hundreds of crisscrossed fallen trunks remind the Closeteer of a giant game of pickup sticks on a muddy table of hundred thirty acres.  Only the upper layers are seen.  Decades of water pickled logs lie below.  Above them in the shallow water active life thrives.  In summer floating water shield, duckweed and water meal cover the surface.  Beneath them plankton is abundant.  Fish, turtles, snakes, amphibians, crustaceans, insects, worms have shelter and plenty of food. Nutrients from them fertilize the herbaceous plants. Birds and mammals prosper.  The thick organic bottom stratum provides substrate and food for bacteria and fungi. The peat moss the Closeteer struggled through is rotting in the acidic water.

Great blue heron rookery in white pines above ice. – Judy Schneider photo

     This winter, deeply cold day after day from December through the first week January, the surfaces of our quiet water bodies froze to depths of a foot.  A five-inch Christmas snow on the ice prevented slipping thus rendering the impoundments safe and walkable.  Two days after New Years Day when the artic cold abated a bit and the wind dropped, five Stream Teamers visited the once shaded swamp and walked in full light for almost two hours on ice among its wonders:  four beaver lodges, two active, two abandoned;  windows of black ice that had been kept opened by otters for access, quite a chore in the unrelenting cold; hundreds of tree corpses still standing, others prostate on the ice;  a third-mile long colonial farmers’ ditch leading from Pond Meadow Pond to the dam across Pond Meadow Brook, on the map but out of sight under ice; Pond Meadow Pond, a three acre kettle pond about 15 feet deep, with many fish the ice fishermen hadn’t been after yet this winter; 40 heron nests high above in the dead pines; and the list goes on.  We never tire of visits on ice to this wondrous place that stretches north to another large beaver impoundment above a large dam in Boxford, and yet another easterly over and beyond a third dam almost to Bald Hill.  

     We saw no birds or mammals on our visit but there were many signs, especially tracks in the snow that showed the great expanse of ice has much traffic across it at night.  We added our wandering-about prints to the mix.  Two days later the first blizzard of 2018 made walking there impossible without snowshoes or skis.  Now we await a thaw and then cold weather to provide a crust for on foot visits.  If you go, be careful, the thick blanket of snow acts as insulation, heat up from the earth below may soften spots.  In visiting such places, you are not limited to Middleton’s beaver impoundments.  There are now hundreds in New England.  The shady red maple swamps of 20 years ago were nothing like the open beaver ponds and wet meadows in the same locations now.

     The Middleton Stream Team and Essex County Greenbelt have teamed up for a winter hike on Sunday, 28 January, to the beaver pond described above.  However, this event isn’t wholly in their hands.  We await as we yearly must for Mother Nature. If she blesses us with good hiking conditions for young and old we’ll go.  Visit the Steam Team’s site a few days before the scheduled hike for an announcement.  

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WATER RESOURCE AND CONSERVATION INFORMATION

FOR MIDDLETON, BOXFORD AND TOPSFIELD

  Precipitation Data* for Month of:  Oct Nov Dec Jan  
  30 Year Normal (1981 – 2010) Inches 4.44 4.55 4.12 3.40  
   2017 Central Watershed Actual  4.03 1.54 2.97 1.6

 Ipswich R. Flow Rate (S. Middleton USGS Gage) in Cubic Feet/ Second (CFS):

 For Jan 12, 2018   Normal . . . 52 CFS              Current Rate  . . .14.8 CFS

——————————————————————

 *Danvers Water Filtration Plant, Lake Street, Middleton is the source for actual precipitation data thru Dec..

** Middleton Stream Team is the source of actual precipitation data for Jan.

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>

SASHIMI ON PRICHARD POND ICE

Water Closet for January 12, 2018

“Otters eat perch, catfish, crayfish, minnows, turtles, snakes and even lamprey eels.  In their quests for food and in play otters surface about every 30 seconds for air.”

What common local mammal is shiny, black and graceful with long white whiskers?  He and she are also playful and like to eat fish.  They may be better swimmers than their prey with fins.  If you haven’t guessed by now you otter try again.  Recently Stream Team photographer Judy Schneider visited Prichards Pond, a third mile long swelling in Boston Brook created by the late Charles Prichard’s century old dam.  She spotted an otter near a hole in the ice eating a fish.  As she watched the next half hour in the cold, the fish eater went down five times and each time soon returned with a fish it promptly ate.  Leah Moreschi a neighbor just up the street says those going to and from work as she does daily often see otters on Prichard’s Pond.  Last winter Stream Team President Sandy Rubchinuk and the old Closeteer found a recently deceased male near the bank down by the dam.  They speculated that wind storms the night before might have loosed a branch that struck its head.  The excited finders then thought in 19th century ways and took the corpse to a taxidermist nearby and told him it would be the Middleton Stream’s mascot when stuffed.  A mounted otter was not delivered as agreed.  Sandy and the Closeteer have since come to their senses so didn’t push.  They’d seen too many stuffed birds and mammals gathering dust in people’s houses and museums.  Cheap photography, now available to all has rendered them something for only scholars and game hunters wanting 3D records of their victims.  President Teddy Roosevelt, taxidermist as a lad, had popularized the skill more than a century ago.  Stuffed animals have been going the way of zoos in the last half century.  We can now enjoy wildlife alive on TV without being there.  The Stream Team’s crackerjack photographers share their fine photos all the time. 

Otters maintain openings in the ice for access to their prey. They move water body to water body over large ranges around our towns. – Judy Schneider photo

     A few days after receiving Judy Schneider’s photos of otter at icy-table the Middleton COA/CC Friday hikers went forth two miles northeast of Prichard’s Pond on the thickening ice of Crooked Pond in Boxford State Forest.  In 10 degrees F air the ten hikers age nine to 85 found many mammal tracks crisscrossing the pond which is twice the size it was two decades ago due to the yearly higher beaver dam at the pond’s eastern outlet.  The outlet stream below the dam leads to Fish Brook then on to the Ipswich River. December was a dry month so the pond level is still down two feet below the top of the dam.  The tracks included those of deer, coyote, fox, beaver, and two big weasels, fisher and otter.  The latter’s trails were clearly seen by their slides up to 20 feet long, then 5 toed footprints with claws followed by another slide resembling a kid’s narrow toboggan.  Between the track a dragging tail line was clearly seen.  Fisher with similar foot prints don’t slide and their light tails don’t make distinct lines.  At one point in the white ice  a window pane of thin black ice was found about two feet in diameter.  The old Closeteer lay down face to ice and played Peeping Tom.  Nothing was seen in the clear water.  He thought this an otter access hole when kept open.  Beavers keep such openings at dams and entrances at the base of their  lodges.  Three lodges were seen on Crooked Pond.  It must be a great chore to keep openings in days of 0 degree F weather such as we had in the two weeks spanning Christmas and New Year’s Day.

River otter eats one of many fish caught recently in Prichard Pond, Middleton. These dark brown members of the weasel family with dense soft hair have long white sensitive whiskers. – Judy Schneider photo

     Beavers stay in their ponds.  Otters are frequently on the move.  Females half the size of males have ranges which they rove with young of about 10 square miles.  Males’ ranges are closer to 60 square miles, four times the size of small Middleton.  Both sexes beeline pond to pond every few days on their rounds. Fishers on the other hand zig zag place to place on dry land.  This is an easy way to tell their track patterns apart.  Otters eat perch, catfish, crayfish, minnows, turtles, snakes and even lamprey eels.  In their quests for food and in play otters surface about every 30 seconds for air.

     It is interesting to know that these 10 to 30-pound common mammals are roaming water body to water body mostly unseen by humans.  They must travel a lot by night.  We usually only see them in the water.  If you see several together they are probably mother with two to four young.  Males are largely kept away except when the female is in heat.  Otters prefer places where water enters and leaves ponds.  Prichard Pond has two convergences where pond and stream waters mix to form a rich mix of nutrients for organisms.  Judy’s photos were taken from Mundy Bridge where Boston Brook and Pond Meadow Brook enter.  Boston Brook comes  down from Holt and Boston Hills, North Andover, and Pond Meadow Brook starts up in Boxford.  So in relatively small Middleton alone we’ve seen otters or their signs almost every year in Prichard’s Pond, Tragert’s Pond, Creighton Pond, Boston Brook, Pond Meadow Pond, Webber’s Pond, Emerson Bog, Mill Pond, Middleton Pond, Nichols Brook and the Ipswich River.  They like clean water but nearby houses don’t seem to bother.  These water bodies are all within otter ranges; however, males mark their territories with scat and scent spots that don’t often overlap.  We often find their scat which consists largely of undigested fish scales. 

     These facts listed above are largely from naturalists, trappers, and wildlife researchers.  Our favorite sources for mammals in the Water Closet library of our hidden, floating headquarters moored along the Ipswich River are Paul Rezendes’ Tracking and the Art of Seeing and naturalist husband and wife team Paul and Lillian Stokes’ book Animal Tracking and Behavior.  We don’t loan them, you’ll have to get your own references.  However, it’s better to get out there and follow tracks on your own or visit water body edges on foot or in kayak.  As Harvard’s famous 19th century naturalist Louis Agassiz urged in a slogan painted on his lab’s wall:  “Study Nature Not Books.”  The Stream Team urges you to do both, the former first. After all it was Judy’s shared observations that led us to this review and book research.

__________________________________________________________

WATER RESOURCE AND CONSERVATION INFORMATION

FOR MIDDLETON, BOXFORD AND TOPSFIELD

  Precipitation Data* for Month of:  Sept Oct Nov Dec  
  30 Year Normal (1981 – 2010) Inches 3.77 4.44 4.55 4.12  
   2017 Central Watershed Actual  2.44 4.03 1.54 1.9

 Ipswich R. Flow Rate (S. Middleton USGS Gage) in Cubic Feet/ Second (CFS):

 For Dec 21, 2017  Normal . . . 52 CFS              Current Rate  . . .17 CFS

——————————————————————

 *Danvers Water Filtration Plant, Lake Street, Middleton is the source for actual precipitation data thru Nov.

** Middleton Stream Team is the source of actual precipitation data for Dec.

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>

Hooded Mergansers

Water Closet for December 29, 2017

“Supposedly, the Hooded merganser is the mildest tasting of this group of foul fowls, but I think I’ll have my fish straight off of the hook, thank you.”

   A handsome small duck, the hooded merganser, visits our woodland ponds and other quiet waters now and then in spring and fall.  We almost yearly get to admire a few on Creighton and Prichard ponds in Middleton.     We’ve seen them playing, perhaps even hybridizing with migrating buffleheads.  From a distance buffleheads and hoodies are often mistaken for one another by us amateurs.  The males of both species flash white crests.  Jim Berry, Northshore ornithologist, tells us that according to Forbush, hoodies were fairly rare a century ago.  In the 1930s the State of Massachusetts urged folks to make nest boxes for wood ducks.  Many were made.  Hoodies used nest boxes too.  Both also use natural cavities in rotting trees. Their populations have increased. The old Closeteer has kept a close eye on beaver activity since this mammal’s return in the 1990s.  They build dams.  In relatively small Middleton about fifty raise the water in our brooks and river floodplains.  The red maples, swamp white oaks and floodplain-skirting pines drown.  As they rot cavities form which are used by cavity nesters. 

Male hooded merganser. One pound of feathers, skin, muscles, bones and gumption enjoys a swim in icy water. He is displaying crest, perhaps for the photographer. – Fred Gralenski photo

Jim and the Closeteer think this increase in cavities is another reason for the comeback of woodies and hoodies.   –    Naturalist Fred Gralenski from way Down East, Pembroke, Maine sent us last week’s biweekly Quoddy Nature Notes about hoodies, which he has kindly let the Stream Team use.

QUODDY NATURE NOTES by Fred Gralenski

Hooded Mergansers

     We sort of have four species of mergansers here in the Western Hemisphere; the Common merganser, seen most often in our lakes and rivers; the Red-Breasted merganser, seen mostly in sheltered bays off our coast; the Hooded merganser, seen in our rivers and estuaries, and the Smew, which is very seldom seen in the Quoddy region, but may be seen in the Aleutian islands as a vagrant from Eurasia.  These ‘mergansers’ are pretty separate, and the Hooded merganser, like the Smew, has a unique genus that no other existing critter has.  Nevertheless, they are generally all called mergansers.
     Mergansers are generally fish eating birds, and have the equipment necessary for their survival.  They have long, thin serrated bills to catch and hold slippery fish, and easily dive and pursue their prey for considerable distance underwater.  Most other ducks, like Black ducks and Mallards, have shorter heavier bills, and seek vegetation and also filter the mud for invertebrates for their meals.  Sportsmen that came to Maine in the later 1800’s generally did not appreciate either loons or mergansers, and, before the advent of game laws, shot them at will.  One writer noted that he appreciated the breech-loading rifle because with the older muzzleloader the loon would spot the puff of smoke from the hunter’s muzzleloader and dive before the bullet got there.  With the breechloader and smokeless powder, the writer claimed he had more success in ridding the area of those dratted fish-eating birds. 
     I like the current philosophy about hunting much better.  These birds do eat fish, but the type of fish consumed by mergansers is usually the smaller minnows and not the trout and salmon pursued by sportsmen.  This is especially true of the Red Breasted and the Hooded merganser, who typically inhabit calmer waters, not those of the desired Maine game fish.
     Hooded mergansers are sort of making a comeback in numbers.  They like wooded areas, and even nest typically in hollow trees.  In the early 1900’s when the eastern forests and beaver swamps were at their most depleted, Hooded mergansers, along with birds like Wood ducks, suffered from habitat loss.  Nature writers, like Forbush (1912), noted that there was no record of Hooded mergansers breeding in Massachusetts, and Knight listed it as a rare breeder in Maine, but since then, with a little help, many species have made good recoveries.  Our Hooded mergansers usually hang around here in the Quoddy region on some open water like on the Pennamaquan unless all of the fresh water freezes.  Courtship begins in mid-winter, with displays by both partners, and in the spring the pair will select a nesting site near a small pond or slow stream in a wooded area.  The female will lay upwards of a dozen eggs in her own or the nests of her neighbors.  These unsuspecting moms can be Wood ducks, Buffleheads, or other mergansers.  Daddies are usually pretty busy also, as hybrids with Buffleheads and other small ducks have been noted, although fertile hybrids have not been reported.
     Maine has a hunting season for ducks that includes Hooded mergansers, and in the coastal zone, with proper license and rules, continues until January 4, 2018.  Fish-eating ducks like mergansers are notoriously unpalatable, and I have never tasted one.  Supposedly, the Hooded merganser is the mildest tasting of this group of foul fowls, but I think I’ll have my fish straight off of the hook, thank you.
Footnote:   Ornithologist Berry and naturalist Gralenski both refer to Edward Howe Forbush.  The Massachusetts Department of Agriculture published Forbush’s monumental work entitled Birds of Massachusetts and other New England States in 1925.  The three volumes with 1500 pages of descriptions, anecdotes from hundreds of the author’s correspondents, and colored plates by Fuentes have been invaluable references for almost a century.  The Water Closet’s treasured tomes were a gift from outdoorsman and Stream Teamer extraordinaire Francis Masse.  They were given to  him by his father, game warden Chester Masse.  Forbush frosts the rich cake of facts about each bird with soaring descriptions of behavior in Victorian prose.  His observations of hoodie courtship include these lines. “. . . The males, in all the splendor anew in their elegant spring plumage, seek and pay court to their prospective mates. Gallantly they dash back and forth, rippling the dark waters, expanding and contracting their fan-shaped crests, now proudly rising erect on the water, bill pointed downward and head drawn, now speeding in rapid rushes to and fro.  . . .”  This in only the preview of observations made while “lying prone amid grass and underbrush.” 

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WATER RESOURCE AND CONSERVATION INFORMATION

FOR MIDDLETON, BOXFORD AND TOPSFIELD

  Precipitation Data* for Month of:  Sept Oct Nov Dec  
  30 Year Normal (1981 – 2010) Inches 3.77 4.44 4.55 4.12  
   2017 Central Watershed Actual  2.44 4.03 1.54 1.9

 Ipswich R. Flow Rate (S. Middleton USGS Gage) in Cubic Feet/ Second (CFS):

 For Dec 21, 2017   Normal . . . 52 CFS    Current Rate  . . .17 CFS

——————————————————————

 *Danvers Water Filtration Plant, Lake Street, Middleton is the source for actual precipitation data thru Nov.

** Middleton Stream Team is the source of actual precipitation data for Dec.

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>

RETURN TO BOYHOOD PLAYGROUND WITH A FRIEND

Water Closet for December 15, 2017

” The cows, cats, and Artie’s horse are long gone.  Wildlife is thriving.  The native artifacts and mounds are still there but are overgrown and not easily found” 

 A few days ago the old Closeteer returned to a favorite part of his world.  As a child it was the only part of the world!  He took a dear friend from Salisbury with him to look for spots remembered.  She lives on Rings Island across the river from Newburyport whose ships once sailed the seas from Canton to Liverpool and most places in between.  The Closeteer grew up on a farm just north of Rings Island on Ferry Road given that name because it went to and from the ferry before the first bridge across the Merrimack River. 

     He and his friend found that the once farm fields all along much of Ferry Road are now supporting houses and trees.  From Ferry Road they turned east on Sweet Apple Tree Lane where three-quarters century ago old Baldwin apple trees still grew along with hayfields and pastures.  Baldwin apples were once a favorite for winter storage and export to England. 

     The Closeteer’s childhood playground increased in area each year.  Red maple swamps where cord wood was cut, blueberry patches around pastures, cultivated fields of sandy soil, and salt marsh laced with meandering cricks spread out to him all within a twenty-minute hike from a great river emptying into the Atlantic between barrier beaches off Salisbury and Plum Island, the once shifting, treacherous gates to the Merrimack River.  Much of the Merrimack’s water descends over a hundred miles from the White Mountains of New Hampshire.  The Closeteer has long loved knowing the estuary had been the summer agricultural lands and playgrounds of 150 generations of people who before Columbus did not call themselves Indians.   

Mouth of the mighty Merrimack River where it enters the Atlantic between the barrier beaches of Salisbury and Plum Island. Natives played, fished, dug clams, hunted, and grew corn, beans and squash here each summer for millennia before the English. – USGS map, Newburyport quadrangle

     Sweet Apple Tree Lane leads to Massachusetts Fish and Wildlife Managed Lands where the natives left many signs.  One is a thirty or so foot diameter circle of large stones, quite unlike an English wall, now somewhere in an overgrown field he knew as Hatch’s hayfield.  The rumor around town was that it had been a native grave site for their smallpox victims.  Boys and girls in passing to the salt marsh skirted it and wondered.  The old visitors’ other destination was a symmetrical mound of sand, ten feet high, 200-feet in diameter.  As a boy in the 1940s he and a friend dug into it looking for arrowheads.  Using a screened sifting-box they found many clamshells but only one point, a beautiful spearhead of white stone.  The arrowheads they usually found in fallow fields nearby were small bird points, small triangles of black flint.  Had the boys gone deeper they’d have found skeletons stained with rusty-red hematite.

      The visitors passed where he thought these places were and without stopping proceeded down the lane which ends on a peninsula of upland projecting out between salt marshes to the river.  When the Closeteer was a boy the abandoned pasture there was going over to bushes and trees.  The peninsula’s end is punctuated by a 12-foot high rough cone of ledge, base diameter 50-feet, called Morrill’s Rock on the edge of the river.  The Closeteer, his sisters, friends, and surely generations of other children found it a favorite spot to play.  It has depressions to hide in from the wind.  At high tide they sometimes swam around its river edge.  Wide clam flats stretch out from it at low tide to the river channel.  Older returnees just sit on the top of Morrill’s Rock to watch wildlife on the flats, marsh, and air above and boats passing while remembering days gone by.  The couple last week sat in crevices and stood on its peak.  The woman, her house one of two score houses on a ten thousand-times larger knoll of granite a mile up river called Rings Island, was regaled with memories from his boyhood.  We all had such retreats before the world caught us up.  She knew Morrill’s Rock as seen from the river when she’d rowed past dozens of times in Rings Island Rowing Club dories.  Their dory days have largely passed; now they paddle a canoe on smaller rivers like the Ipswich and Parker.

     They left the river and returned rising through cedars, then patches of hickories and black locust he knew as bushes when a boy.  They passed the site of Doctor Wheeler and his family’s house.  The state had torn the house of its benefactor down after taking over the land he gave them for conservation and open space.  Also gone were the half-burned house of Artie Dow and the small house of Peg Leg Marshall, interesting characters who lived near Doc Wheeler at the end of Sweet Apple Tree Lane.  Peg Leg was an old mason with a wooden leg.  Artie had a horse and wagon he used to carry fish scraps to a nearby field for dozens of feral cats.     

     The cows, cats, and Artie’s horse are long gone.  Wildlife is thriving.  The native artifacts and mounds are still there but are overgrown and not easily found.  As the visitors returned to their car a friendly man came down the driveway from a handsome new house built between where Artie’s and Peg Leg’s had been.  We told Steve Battle what we were doing and found him immediately interested.  He invited us into his house to meet his wife Patricia. He showed us a monograph describing the archeological work at Sweet Apple Tree Lane in the 1970s as we looked easterly through the Battles’ large windows across the marsh and river to the beaches and ocean beyond.  In a glance we were seeing what the natives from upriver came for each spring.  It had been their playground and agricultural land too.  After more reading and questioning amateur Salisbury historian Wayne David, who the Closeteer knew as a boy, the visitors will return and bring Viet Nam veteran Battle with them to find out more about the people who enjoyed the place for thousands of years.  Wayne says the digs he helped with have charcoal, bones and artifacts that go back seven millennia.  The four assembled at Battles’ windows couldn’t see the people here before the English but somehow felt they weren’t alone.  The old Closeteer as a boy had often felt that way.  In mid-life he wrote:

                LOOKING FOR ARROWHEADS

We often did this fallow field
Eyes in competition down
Sharp out for glint of flint
A chip, a flake, a sign
Or perhaps the product still intact
We’d found there before.
Every time in passing by
Hope rose anew and held us
To our random downcast wander
Perhaps just to be there was enough
Salt hay smells joined those of the woods
Across the marsh the river shone
Always beckoning to us boys.
After the rains we sought again
Surface rocks stood in relief
Each must be checked for telltale marks.
I still look down in kindred fields
Without a hope of much to find
But out of habit of another time
When cool spring soil met naked feet
My full attention on its skin,
Seeking signs from those before. 

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WATER RESOURCE AND CONSERVATION INFORMATION

FOR MIDDLETON, BOXFORD AND TOPSFIELD

  Precipitation Data* for Month of:  Sept Oct Nov Dec
  30 Year Normal (1981 – 2010) Inches 3.77 4.44 4.55 4.12
   2017 Central Watershed Actual  2.44 4.03 2.6 0.9

 Ipswich R. Flow Rate (S. Middleton USGS Gage) in Cubic Feet/ Second (CFS):

 For Dec 9, 2017     Normal . . . 59 CFS    Current Rate  . . .15.4 CFS

—————————————————————–

 *Danvers Water Filtration Plant, Lake Street, Middleton is the source for actual precipitation data thru Oct.

** Middleton Stream Team is the source of actual precipitation data for Nov and Dec.

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>

THE MIDDLETON IRONWORKS REMEMBERED

Water Closet for December 8, 2017

     The Middleton Historical Commission decided in 2016 to mark the site of an important industry here that was started three centuries ago on what is now called Emerson Brook.  A dam was built; a mill pond formed behind it with water down from Andover and Reading to provide power.  A sluiceway and water wheel were built to run a trip hammer for an ironworks. 

     Lover of stones Vito Mortalo, here half a century from Italy near Rome, removed a huge stone from a retaining wall around his   handsome yard overlooking Emerson Bog and generously donated it to Middleton.  He has given and placed for the Stream Team a score of fine stones for its river landing projects in the past two decades.  Stream Teamer Leon Rubchinuk, with stone cutting tools and the old Closeteer with hammer and chisel, flattened out a two by three-foot rectangle on one surface of the “manatee” shaped six-foot-tall, three-foot diameter, unevenly fat, natural stone.  Other volunteers working on the project called it “lumpy whale” and “bull walrus.”  Despite unflattering names, we knew that if Vito approved, it was a good looker for the job.  At the May 2017 Town Meeting $2000 was voted for a bronze plaque to tell the Ironwork’s story gleaned from Middleton’s late historian Lura Woodside Watkins’ crackerjack book, The Cultural History of Middleton.

Left to right: Leon Rubchinuk, David Burch, and David Florance maneuvering the three-ton ironwork’s commemorative stone into place. – Sandra Rubchinuk photo

     After the hundred-pound plaque arrived from a foundry in Florida, master mason Gerry Gerrior volunteered to attach the bronze to stone.  On a fine afternoon with Leon’s help and advice from four old townies looking on and telling stories, the plaque between beers, went elegantly into place.  All this in Vito’s lovely yard graced with hundreds of diverse stones collected over the years and nicely arranged. One old timer thought the Manatee would be sad to be moving down stream two miles.  Leon then sought help from a friend, a popular businessman in town.  Tree man Dave Burch has a large truck with a crane for lifting logs.  Leon thought it might be able to transport the town’s stone to its new home where the DPW had prepared a place beside the ironwork’s sluiceway below the dam.  Transport went well.  At the site on Friday, November 24, things changed.  Dave, helper Dave Florance, and Leon, all used to moving heavy things around, found that Manatee had a mind of its own.  Maybe it didn’t want to be away from Vito’s where it had been part of a nice wall with long-time friends.  After over two hours of tricky maneuvering, the three strong men helped by beams, bars, and three chain falls finally got Manatee, not exactly as planned, into a place.  Dave had told us, “It will take its natural position and end up how it wants to rest.”  Instead of a vertical plaque as envisioned it stands at a slant and thus is easier to read for those passing on the road.  Maybe Manatee gave up and decided further dangerous twisting was only endangering well-meaning volunteers.  At one-point Dave yelled at an old kibitzer trying to help by pushing on the swaying stone. “Please! Move away!”  We’ll visit now and then to see if homesick Manatee is behaving.

Left to right: David Burch, old Closeteer, Leon Rubchinuk, and David Florance standing behind commemorative stone for the Ironworks just put in place at its 18th century site just below the Mill Pond dam in Middleton – Sandra Rubchinuk photo

     If you get a chance drive up Mill Street from Liberty Street or down from Peabody Street to where Emerson Brook flows between the fine old sluiceway walls down under Mill Street to the Ipswich River floodplain.  Read the inscription below cemented and bolted to poor Manatee’s back and then walk up the road, parallel to the 200- foot long dam.  In your imagination go back 300 years and listen to the turning water wheel and the great trip hammer beating on molten, bog iron ore. 

THE IRONWORKS

     From about 1710 to 1780 the energy from this dam was used to turn a wheel that powered a trip hammer which extracted valuable iron from batches of local bog iron subjected to intense heat.  The process was called blooming.  Visit the Saugus Ironworks just down the road for details.  The famous Saugus works was only in operation for 25 years.  Its restoration is now a National Park.  Middleton’s ironworks, operating much longer, is marked by this sign.

     The John Nichols’ grist mill, a third mile up stream, competed for the water turning his mill stone and tripping the hammer here. The owners of the mills negotiated schedules for water use to keep their mill ponds high enough to run their wheels.

     In the latter part of the 19th century water power from this dam was used to run the machinery for a knife factory at this site.  The shop made fine quality knives for the shoe industry.  The well-built sluiceway for the ironworks is seen here still intact.  The two-acre pond above was one of three mill ponds on Emerson Brook.

Watkins, A Cultural History. Chapters 4 an 8. Middleton: Massachusetts: A Cultural History. 1970

Middleton Historical Commission and Middleton Stream Team 2017

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WATER RESOURCE AND CONSERVATION INFORMATION

FOR MIDDLETON, BOXFORD AND TOPSFIELD

  Precipitation Data* for Month of:  Aug Sept Oct Nov
  30 Year Normal (1981 – 2010) Inches 3.37 3.37 4.44 4.55
   2017 Central Watershed Actual  1.22 2.44 4.03 2.6

 Ipswich R. Flow Rate (S. Middleton USGS Gage) in Cubic Feet/ Second (CFS):

 For Nov 30, 2017   Normal . . . 67 CFS    Current Rate  . . .18.18 CFS

——————————————————————–

 *Danvers Water Filtration Plant, Lake Street, Middleton is the source for actual precipitation data thru Oct..

** Middleton Stream Team is the source of actual precipitation data for Nov.

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>

Muskrats

Water Closet for December 1, 2017

“Muskrats, like most rodents, have a high reproductive rate.  This far north a healthy female in a good environment may have upwards of 3 litters of 6 annually, but here these youngsters don’t mature until they are about a year old”

2017 may be good year for muskrats along our Ipswich River, its wetlands and elsewhere.  In early November Middleton Stream Teamers (MST) and friends paddled upriver from Farnsworth Landing off Route 114.  Near the channel for a mile, twenty striking new structures of mud and soft vegetation that hadn’t been there a few weeks earlier stood three feet above the beaver impounded water.  The paddlers in previous years had never seen so many muskrat lodges.  They are under a tenth the size of beaver lodges and not made of sticks.  The paddlers immediately recognized them as muskrat lodges quite different than the muskrat tunnel homes unseen along the river’s banks.  Has the muskrat population increased here to where the labyrinthine bank tunnels will no longer hold them all?  The paddlers, never trappers, plan to ask trappers who long ago as lads trapped muskrats and other aquatic mammals for pelt money.  A few days ago MST received the following essay about muskrats from naturalist Fred Gralenski  200 miles Downeast in Pembroke, ME.  Included with his piece, which he has kindly allowed us to publish, is a photo of a Downeast marsh with lodges like those the Stream Teamers and friends saw here. 

QUODDY NATURE NOTES by Fred Gralenski

Muskrats

     Muskrats are critters that are pretty common here in the Quoddy region, as we have a lot of swamps with reeds, cattails, sedges, water lilies and other aquatic vegetation to their culinary liking.  It is a little confusing as to how they got their name.  My Passamaquoddy reference book lists muskrat as ‘Kiwhos’, but another reference states the Wabanaki native word as ‘Moskwas,’  Supposedly the early English colonists spoke this as ‘Musquash’, and we know that there are dozens of lakes, swamps and streams in New England now named ‘Musquash.’

Ipswich River flooded by beaver dams makes ideal muskrat habitat. How many lodges can you see in this photo of the floodplain in Danvers and Middleton above Route 114? –
Judy Schneider photo

     Whatever we call them, muskrats are interesting members of our wildlife.  They can live anywhere there is at least a quarter acre of fresh water, and that water doesn’t have to be very clean by anything else’s standards.  They have been known in sewage lagoons and streams polluted by mine tailings.  Muskrats can live in salt water but they need a source of fresh water to hydrate.  Apparently some of the outer islands around here and in the Canadian Maritimes had been stocked with muskrats in an effort to enhance the trapping industry.  I remember meeting a fellow that had participated in this effort, and he claimed that the offshore pelts were prized and a premium was paid for them.  This enterprise was not appreciated by bird lovers, as although muskrats are primarily herbivores, they were not averse to adding a few eggs and even some baby birds to their diet.  The trapping industry used to be quite lucrative and in the early 1900’s some farms were even started to raise muskrats.  It was for this reason that muskrats were introduced to northern Europe, South America and Asia, but worldwide and especially in the Western hemisphere the demand for animal fur has greatly decreased.  Maine does have a trapping season, and in the Quoddy region muskrat trapping season for licensed trappers is from October 29th and, with additional restrictions, through March 31st.  The price per pelt is anticipated to be in the $4.00 range.

Muskrat lodges and pushups on the Pennamaquam River in way Downeast, Maine. Fred Gralenski photo

     Muskrats, like most rodents, have a high reproductive rate.  This far north a healthy female in a good environment may have upwards of 3 litters of 6 annually, but here these youngsters don’t mature until they are about a year old.  As the population expands a noticeable change may occur in the area, as favorite foods like cattails may disappear.  If a farm is nearby, the corn crop and many types of vegetables are at risk.  Farm ponds with an earthen dam are often damaged from the burrowing rodents.  In many European countries like the Netherlands and Belgium, muskrats are considered an invasive pest, and in New Zealand the muskrat is classed as a “prohibited new organism”, however in sparsely populated Canada, muskrat fur is valued and used to make the winter hats for the Royal Canadian Mounted Police.

Middleton muskrat lodge among button bushes in floodplain near Ipswich River channel.
This lodge is one of twenty counted in November within a mile upriver from Route 114. – Judy Schneider photo

     By this time of year the muskrats are ready for winter.  Some muskrats live in the banks of the water body and their home sites are not readily visible, but if you look out on the shallow marsh that is their neighborhood, you will see two sizes of piles of aquatic weeds.  The biggest pile is the lodge.  This is like a small beaver lodge, but with few if any wooden pieces and only a little mud.  Inside is the living chamber, which is above the water level and dry, there is room for 2-4 animals and with up to two plunge holes to the water.  The smaller pile of weeds is the feeding shelter (pushup), and this is large enough for one adult muskrat.  There may be more than one pushup per lodge, but that’s the typical setup.  Bring on the Montreal express!  Our muskrats are ready!

_________________________________________________________

WATER RESOURCE AND CONSERVATION INFORMATION

FOR MIDDLETON, BOXFORD AND TOPSFIELD

  Precipitation Data* for Month of:  Aug Sept Oct Nov  
  30 Year Normal (1981 – 2010) Inches 3.37 3.37 4.44 4.55  
   2017 Central Watershed Actual  1.22 2.44 4.03 2.6

 Ipswich R. Flow Rate (S. Middleton USGS Gage) in Cubic Feet/ Second (CFS):

 For Nov 24, 2017   Normal . . . 55 CFS    Current Rate  . . .34.8 CFS

 *Danvers Water Filtration Plant, Lake Street, Middleton is the source for actual precipitation data thru Oct..—————————————————————–

** Middleton Stream Team is the source of actual precipitation data for Nov.

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>

PHOTOS FROM THE WATERSHED

Water Closet for November 24, 2017

 

 “The results of such persistence over the years have provided us with many fine pictures of hard-to-capture wildlife”

    Last week photographs from around the watershed were exhibited at the Ipswich River Watershed Association’s (IRWA) lovely headquarters, “Riverbend.” This eyrie on a pine covered bluff above where the Miles River up from the south joins the Ipswich was a perfect place for an exhibit by a dozen of photographers showing some of their  best photos from the watershed.  Judy Schneider, Pam Hartman, Elaine Gauthier, and Donna Bambury, four photographers from the Middleton Stream Team, whose photos have graced our Water Closet columns and MST bulletin board in the Middleton Post Office for years, participated. So did the locally famous salt marsh photographer Dorothy Monnelly whose large entry was in her trademark black and white. She has been dubbed by some as the Ansel Adams of our salt marshes. Adams dramatized the already huge and majestic.   Monnelly raises the low profiles of estuaries to new heights. Suzanne Sullivan, upriver champion from Reading, exhibited a striking sunset which glowed on metal impregnated paper.

Valley off Middleton Pond the morning after a wet snow storm. – Pam Hartman photo, IRWA show

      Hartman, a world traveler and prize-winning photographer, showed many of her snowy photos of winter scenes around Middleton Pond taken this past decade. We fans of snow and ice hope for more after storms and cold weather this winter.

Close up of shimmering water reflecting light filtered through pine boughs above. – Elaine Gauthier photo, IRWA show

Gauthier recognizes and captures lights we can’t begin to describe.   She surprises as in one photo of shimmering water reflecting light filtered down through the pines above Middleton Pond. No one we know had seen such an abstract photo of water before. The old Closeteer now proudly hangs it on his wall.  Last winter after a wet snowstorm a spectacular sunset had everything glowing pink.  Gauthier rushed from her house to the wide floodplain at Farnsworth landing and captured many views.  Asked about doctoring the colors she said “no” which we who remembered the storm and evening can confirm. We too had admired the unusual scenes but hadn’t the sense of timing and gumption to capture and share. 

Fall mosaic by Mother Nature on water canvas. – Judy Schneider photo, IRWA show

        Schneider, a director on the IRWA board and vice president of the Stream Team, has been taking wondrous shots of her river, its tributaries and wetlands for a decade.  Water Closet readers have seen scores of her photographs here.  Hers are often very artistic in subject matter, composition and color. She had a couple beauties at the Riverbend show.

First light on Ipswich River, day of 2017 summer solstice. The sun evaporates the early morning mist. – Donna Bambury photo, IRWA show

         Bambury, owner and trainer of sheep dogs, likes other animals too.  With a good camera and better eyes she stalks insects, amphibians, birds and mammals. If she fails to get a good shot she returns repeatedly to the spot where sighted.

Spider webs catching early morning light grace the Ipswich River. – Donna Bambury photo, IRWA show

The results of such persistence over the years have provided us with many fine pictures of hard-to-capture wildlife.  Audubon used to shoot his subjects and wire them in poses. Donna’s camera is much easier on its subjects. With digital images our Stream Teamers leave no loud noises or lead ridden trees behind. 

Middleton Pond after a snow storm greets the morning sun. – Pam Hartman photo, IRWA show

      Schneider, Bambury, Hartman, and Gauthier have become the team’s “Four Phototeers.” In the last couple years they’ve taken classes and gone on numerous field trips together. Their quests have produced pictures that make Stream Teamers and Watershedders proud and in some cases inspired.  We hope someday to see a Four Phototeers’ album on coffee tables and libraries throughout the watershed and beyond.

A stick rising from the fast flowing Ipswich River plays whimsically with water and light. – Elaine Gauthier photo, IRWA show

     While you are waiting for such a gift visit the foyer at the Middleton Post Office and Santander Bank to see the Stream Team’s exhibits in its large display cabinet.  After January it will feature the winning 2017 entries to the team’s annual photo contest.

Note: Past years’ Water Closet columns and photo contest entries are available at this team’s website: Middletonstream.org

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WATER RESOURCE AND CONSERVATION INFORMATION

FOR MIDDLETON, BOXFORD AND TOPSFIELD

  Precipitation Data* for Month of:  Aug Sept Oct Nov
  30 Year Normal (1981 – 2010) Inches 3.37 3.37 4.44 4.55
   2017 Central Watershed Actual  1.22 2.44 4.03 1.2

 Ipswich R. Flow Rate (S. Middleton USGS Gage) in Cubic Feet/ Second (CFS):

 For Nov 17, 2017  Normal . . . 43 CFS              Current Rate  . . .23.1 CFS

——————————————————————

 *Danvers Water Filtration Plant, Lake Street, Middleton is the source for actual precipitation data thru Sept.

** Middleton Stream Team is the source of actual precipitation data for Oct and Nov.

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>

OYSTERS AND ESTUARIES

Water Closet for November 17, 2017

Dark and light green grasses
In cowlicks swirl ’tween soft mud creeks
Levied by dune and upland rock
Watering place for more than ducks,
Has depth and breadth
Beyond its bounds.
Where larval travelers get their start
And subtler cycles turn
To nourish out a thousand miles.

     Estuaries made up of salt marshes, submerged eel grass beds, creeks, tidal flats, sand bars, and oyster reefs are nurseries for many marine animals.  Several Middleton Stream Teamers rake oysters at low tide in Ipswich’s Eagle River.  In August team members took an evening cruise from downtown Portsmouth up into Great Bay, the area featured in the following article from The Working Waterfront, November 2017 issue.  

FATHOMING*
Restoring wild oyster beds, one acre at a time:  Projects underway in New Hampshire and Phippsburg, Maine, to clean waters
By Heather Deese and Susie Arnold

NEW YORK CITY has its Billion Oyster Project, and now New Hampshire’s Great Bay has its own 25-acre project, with help of from fishermen in Phippsburg.

     Like many estuaries along the U.S. Atlantic coast, Great Bay was once a maze of channels flowing through a complicated oyster reef system that covered more than 85 percent of the bay. Over the centuries of harvest and other human activities, oyster populations decreased dramatically, until only about 10 percent of the bay supported reefs.  Now that trend is reversing, as neighbors around the bay are working with the Nature Conservancy of New Hampshire, the University of New Hampshire, and others to restore the oyster reefs.

“Fran,” “Frank,” Francis Masse of Middleton thigh deep in winter water with oyster rake. He is hunting the largely unseen bottom for sedentary prey. In the background are the low tide flats of Eagle River, Ipswich. – Judy Schneider photo

     Since 2009 the project has restored 20 acres of reefs. The oysters pump massive amounts of water through their systems, improving water quality as they remove excess nutrients and particles, resulting in clearer water.  This means the oyster reefs help deal with sedimentation, which is currently a major issue for Great Bay, which is fed by seven rivers.

     Clearer water also helps sea grasses thrive because more sunlight can reach the seafloor. Seagrass beds, and the oyster reefs themselves, provide excellent habitat for juvenile fish and other species.  An estimated 70 percent of commercial marine fisheries species in the northeast U.S. live in estuaries for part of their lifecycle; better estuary habitat should benefit our commercial fisheries in the long-term.

     This past summer the project was in high gear.  Over the course of three long days, 500 cubic yards of clam shells were deployed from a barge to the bottom of the bay, creating a new reef with a five-acre footprint.

     Baby oysters are grown by volunteers with waterfront access to the bay, who monitor oyster spat, or baby oysters, for about 12 weeks over the summer.  Once the oysters get to be approximately an inch to an inch and a half in length, they are towed out and hand seeded on the reef and supplemented with additional baby oysters grown by the team in a growing facility.

Middleton Stream Teamers on annual outing under an overcast sky cross Great Bay off the Piscataqua River. Two fathoms beneath them are oyster reefs and eel grass beds. – Sandy Rubchinuk photo

     While the project’s goals are focused on the environmental and ecosystem benefits of oyster restoration, Alix Laferriere, The Nature Conservancy’s coastal and marine director for New Hampshire, believe that what may be more important than the ecosystem benefits are the community engagement outcomes.

     “The volunteer oyster conservationists who are growing oysters at 91 sites around the bay have become vocal, energetic advocates for oyster restoration,” he said.

     The project has been such a success that the Maine chapter of The Nature Conservancy has started a pilot project in the Basin Reserve in Phippsburg.  Due to the undeveloped nature of the Basin, pilot project partners aim simply to see if they can successfully grow oysters on the seafloor at a place known to previously be habitat for wild oysters.

      Project leader Jeremy Bell, The Nature Conservancy’s river and coastal restoration director for Maine, initially pitched the idea to Phippsburg’s shellfish committee, and the response was positive.

      “They said there used to be a lot more wild oysters in the Basin, and they whipped out the map to show me where you could grow oyster,” Bell said.

     With a limited purpose-aquaculture lease in hand, Bell and partners from the University of New England, Casco Bay Estuary Partnership, and Maine Department of Environmental Protection and with advice from Maine Sea Grant, settled a half million oyster larvae onto tiles and in baskets of shells.  After two weeks in the lab they were deployed in the Basin.

     “Just putting the tiles and baskets out increased the bottom complexity and attracted critters – baby lobsters, fish, crabs,” he said. “And the oysters went from microscopic to fingernail size in just three months.”

Stream Teamers at low tide rake oysters in Ipswich at sunset. – Judy Schneider photo

      Fortunately, we aren’t starting from scratch with these efforts.  There is much to be learned from efforts elsewhere.  Oyster restoration is occurring around the country and internationally.  The Nature Conservancy and other groups in Massachusetts, Long Island Sound, and Chesapeake Bay as well as Australia and Europe have major oyster restoration projects underway.

     Success stories are ripe for the picking, even if the oysters are to remain on the bottom.

    Dr. Heather Deese is the Island Institute’s executive vice president.  Dr. Susie Arnold is an ecologist and marine scientist with the organization. Their column in the Working Waterfront is called FATHOMING. The Working Waterfront is published by the Island Institute in Rockland, Maine.

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WATER RESOURCE AND CONSERVATION INFORMATION

FOR MIDDLETON, BOXFORD AND TOPSFIELD

  Precipitation Data* for Month of:  Aug Sept Oct Nov
  30 Year Normal (1981 – 2010) Inches 3.37 3.37 4.44 4.55
   2017 Central Watershed Actual  1.22 2.44 5.8 0.3

 Ipswich R. Flow Rate (S. Middleton USGS Gage) in Cubic Feet/ Second (CFS):

 For Nov 9, 2017     Normal . . . 49 CFS    Current Rate  . . .11.6 CFS

—————————————————————–

 *Danvers Water Filtration Plant, Lake Street, Middleton is the source for actual precipitation data thru Sept.

** Middleton Stream Team is the source of actual precipitation data for Oct and Nov.

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>

POND MEADOW POND VALLEY

Water Closet for November 10, 2017

“Natural music from the brook, wind in the trees, and rain drops pattering on leaves and clothes accompanied the hikers.”

 After three months with little rain five inches fell here in the last week of October.  The Ipswich River rose a foot bringing it up to average depth and flow for this time of year.  Water in its tributaries has resumed.  Middleton Stream Teamers and guests recently visited a brook little known except to cows that drink there May to October.    Stream Teamers call this lovely stream down from Boxford “Pond Meadow Pond Brook” a name used by the late Middleton game warden Chester Masse.  His son Francis passed the name along to friends.  The pond labeled on the USGS map as Pout Pond was “Pond Meadow Pond” to Chester.  Pout Pond was too common a name on our Yankee maps for him.  Two ponds so named on the federal map in Middleton are just two of thousands of ponds where horn pout are caught.  The mystery becomes, where is the other pond in the sequence, pond-meadow-pond?  In the last two decades, after a three century hiatus, beavers have come back giving us an argument to justify the name.  The brook’s headwaters in Boxford State Forest include a huge beaver impoundment (“pond”) above a large dam just north of the Middleton line.  Its overflow moves south a quarter mile to a kettle pond Chester called Pond Meadow Pond, which is now the deep part of a very large beaver impoundment (another “pond”) behind a 200 foot long dam with a 6 foot head at the north end of “Second Pasture” off North Liberty Street.  Its overflow continues as Pond Meadow Pond Brook two miles south to Boston Brook a major tributary of the Ipswich River.  In farming days many of our cleared red maple swamps were meadows for pasture or hay so change pond meadow pond to “impoundment-meadow-impoundment.”  It is too bad the English ignored the Naumkeag names which were descriptive.  The Indians had beavers as we do again so maybe the name translated from Algonquian might have been impoundment-meadow-impoundment but with a better sound.

Ground is receiving fall leaves from the maples above; their trunks and branches are reflected in the brook. – Judy Schneider photo

     Well that’s all water over the dam; let’s return to the Stream Team’s recent hike up the Pond Meadow Brook Valley.  Notice a Pond missing in the name.  When Stream Team sign maker Francis Masse routed the brook’s name on a vertical signpost he ran out of space so omitted the second pond.  Sorry but we don’t seem able to get away from name calling.  Our nation’s capital is having that problem now.

     The only problem the fall walkers had was warm rain and a Patriots game which cut down on attendance.  They started at Mundy Bridge, now culverts, through which Boston Brook down from Andover flows into Prichard Pond.  Charles Prichard, Joan Cudhea’s grandfather, in the early 20th century built a dam one-third mile downstream and voila he had a “pleasure pond” for his family.  Ooops, more names again, this one from an early 20th century Essex County dam inspector who had to call it something; since it didn’t power a mill he did the best he could with “pleasure.”       

     Mundy Bridge, where 20 started the hike in a gentle rain also needs explanation.  The old Closeteer used to think it was simply a place where washing was once done on Monday the traditional wash day of old.  Monday was somehow corrupted to Mundy.  The stone rapids falling to North Liberty Street seemed perfect for washing and wringing out clothes in clear fast moving water.  Stream Teamer Red Caulfield tells the story of a woman who weekly walked a half mile there to launder her family’s clothes.  There must have been many since colonial times and up until washing machines. Alas, in an old deed Mundy in Mundy Bridge is for a lady who lived nearby and perhaps long ago owned the land.   

     The fall walkers left their road machines, and after instructions from Stream Team President Sandy Rubchinuk about things to look for during the hike, got underway.  The directions resembled those for a children’s treasure hunt but even the old timers wanted to play.  The hike leaders couldn’t keep grandparents from participating and giving the kids hints. 

Stream Team fall hikers gather in a mysterious basin some think was made by meteor because of its shape and different stone found in its center. In the spring it will be full of water. – Judy Schneider photo

The group crossed the steel bridge over Pond Meadow Brook where it enters Prichards Pond.  Beneath its upstream edge was the first of four beaver dams between Prichards Pond and Boxford.  Fukiko Cudhea, a Japanese woman, co-owner of Prichard Pond and surrounds stepped off the gravel driveway to the Prichard-Cudhea cottage on to a rocky path beside the turbulent brook.  The hikers followed.  She had made the rough but pretty path for family, passers by and guests.  It is very Japanese with running water, stones, mosses, ferns and pleasant shade.  After walking the path the hikers turned north up the brook’s valley on a skidder trail which after just six years since selective logging is green with flowering plants.   

     Off the skidder road where logs were dragged by a huge machine, they bushwhacked along the brook in forested floodplain.  To their east rose exposed ledge and thousands of stones cracked off it by ice for 12,000 winters since and before when the continental glaciers passed our way and later melted.  Along the brook stand the corpses of red maples drowned since the beavers returned two decades ago and raised the water.  The land between ledge and swamp is graced by handsome white and red oaks and a few big white pines.  Outlining onetime farm parcels are 200 year old lichen-painted stone walls.  You are urged to get off our roads and enter mature woods which were once rough pastures.  We are blessed with many in the area.  The feeling among these now relatively undisturbed places soothes the soul.  Trees have taken over; their fallen leaves are thickening and softening the living soil.  The walls and plants, farmers and livestock long gone, are fine habitats for fellow creatures here long before humans.  Natural music from the brook, wind in the trees, and rain drops pattering on leaves and clothes accompanied the hikers.

     Rain sounds comforted us upon entering Richardson’s “First Pasture.”  The cows were gone for winter.  Their pasture beside the stream, surrounded by oaks just turning color and hickories bright yellow, was beautiful even under a gray sky.

     The hikers turned away from the brook; and like two woodland fires there in the last decade moved on eastward.  The fires had killed small and sick trees.  The woods of fire culled mature hardwoods and occasional pines, their canopies above waist-high huckleberries, were open and very pleasing to the eye.  The trunks of thin barked young pines done in by the fires lay chris-crossed on the forest floor.

Pond Meadow Brook in north Middleton. This year’s warm October has fooled many plants into blooming. Here skunk cabbages are seen peeping forth. A thermometer was inserted into one where the temperature was 4 degrees Celsius higher then the water in the stream. – Judy Schneider photo

     The oak canopy above, already thinned by wind and rain, became even sparser as the walkers moved into a large circular area eaten by gypsy moth caterpillars these past two late springs and early summers.  The 2016 infestation affected about ten acres.  In 2017 the caterpillars moved out to take in eighty more.  Brown oval patches of egg masses were found on the bases of many tree trunks.  If a certain virus and fungus don’t kill the eggs or caterpillars next year’s affected areas may be much larger.

     The hikers turned south at a woodland crossroads and left the gypsy moth changes for another kind left by man.  What seemed a great mess in the winter of 2011-2012 left by loggers after departure is now oak sprout land up from the acorns exposed to light when parent trees were taken down over a dozen acres. The logger left a few trees in this clear-cut to provide seed.  The thousands of young oaks racing for the sky and light are now six to twelve feet tall. It reminds one of the start of a marathon when 1000s of runners are crowded together.  In trees such density makes for tall straight trunks, the kind the New England Forestry Foundation people will like to see when they return decades hence to harvest from the land under their care again.  In the past few years berries have thrived in the clearings between the sprouts.  

     Stream Teamers and other hikers will return yearly to marvel at the changes.  From a wildlife point of view it is not about human names overdone above, but rather habitat edges.  The walkers saw a dozen edges in just two hours.  They were:  pond-woods, beaver impoundments-woods, pasture-woods, burned woods-unburned, wetlands-uplands, clear cut-selective cuts, stream-pasture, stream channel-floodplain, gypsy moth affected-unaffected.  Within each one these ecosystems are more subtle edges and resulting diversity.  It seems wildlife and some people thrive on the edge.

_________________________________________________________

WATER RESOURCE AND CONSERVATION INFORMATION

FOR MIDDLETON, BOXFORD AND TOPSFIELD

  Precipitation Data* for Month of:  July Aug Sept Oct
  30 Year Normal (1981 – 2010) Inches 3.89 3.37 3.77 4.40
   2017 Central Watershed Actual  3.43 1.22 2.44 5.8

 Ipswich R. Flow Rate (S. Middleton USGS Gage) in Cubic Feet/ Second (CFS):

 For Oct 27, 2017    Normal . . . 23 CFS    Current Rate  . . .59.2 CFS

—————————————————————–

 *Danvers Water Filtration Plant, Lake Street, Middleton is the source for actual precipitation data thru Sept.

** Middleton Stream Team is the source of actual precipitation data for Oct…

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>

LATE OCTOBER ON THE IPSWICH RIVER

Water Closet for November 3, 2017

“One of the delights this fall are the female winterberry bushes loaded with shiny Chinese-red clusters of blueberry-sized fruits which seems redder and more numerous this year”

    The beavers have the river passable for paddlers despite only five inches of rain since the end of July. Their dams, one encountered every mile or so, keep the water from draining quickly to the sea.  On the Watershed Association’s Trick or Treat for Volunteers afternoon1, a warm one, Saturday, October 21, the old Closeteer paddled Leon Rubchinuk’s new canoe from Farnsworth Landing to Peabody Street Landing.  A hundred pounds of ballast stowed forward provided trim.  He took three and one half hours without exerting himself except when passing over four beaver dams with heads of about  4, 2, 3 and 1 feet. He had to step out on two dams and lower the canoe down on a line.  Two were scooted over by shifting his weight back and forth.  It was slow going through rafts of dying water plants between dams over half of the five miles paddled.  He imagined at times he was in the Sargasso Sea.  It sounds hard but wasn’t; the late summer-fall phenomenon of odorless eutrophication2 just slowed him down a bit.  The river water was still relatively warm for mid-October.  There hadn’t even been a hard frost here yet.

Debris draped kayaker’s paddle above Ipswich River water filled with dying plants floating on and suspended in the upper layers. The emergent wetland plants of the floodplain along the floodplain have turned brown. The upland trees above are still largely green even in late October. – Sandy Rubchinuk photo

     The meandering river under a clear October sky was pleasant and peaceful despite the dying changes taking place in the water.  Half the emergent herbaceous plants on the channel’s edges still had some green as they turn various shades of gray and brown.  Many smart weeds were still green and with spikes of white and pink flowers.  They constitute much of the watery road’s shoulders in many places.  The reed-canary grass so common since it took over from the purple loosestrife in the last decade has been brown since late August.  Until then the shoulder-high leaves were lush green.  One of the delights this fall are the female winterberry bushes loaded with shiny Chinese-red clusters of blueberry-sized fruits which seems redder and more numerous this year.  Their leaves are still dark green; a couple of bushes were passed on the edge of the river every hundred or so yards.  After the leaves are gone winterberry branches are cut in December by many for Christmas decorations.  On Halloween of this unusually warm fall the leaves may still be green.  Here and there the ghostly gray vines of climbing hemp weed, twining up button bushes and swamp dogwood, gave the river a somber mood but not for long.  The red maples along the floodplain still with leaves were in glorious shades of maroon, some had several shades of red, light to dark, in between.  These glowed in the late afternoon sun.  The maples more than made up for the lack of warm colors in the uplands this strange fall.  The fall color show this year seems two weeks behind and much drought affected. 

Kayaker photographed these arched red maples putting on a fall show along the Ipswich River. A low beaver dam can be seen in the background. – Judy Schneider photo

Many tree leaves are skipping the annual show and curling up to turn shades of gray or brown and then prematurely falling.  Maybe it’s due to the drought and warm temperatures.  In the river valley there was plenty of color thanks to the red maples, a few swamp oaks with yellow-green leaves, and the bright yellow-brown of hickory leaves.  These trees along the river do not overwhelm with continuous color, but flare up at intervals below the greens of upland oaks and the dark year-round blue-greens of white pines.   All that was seen by looking outward from the canoe underneath a blue October sky.  The water below was murky with algae, fungi, and bacteria among dying floating Potamogeton, coon tail, and other submergent plants.  Floating in the upper few inches on rafts of debris were bright green patches of filamentous algae shining in the sun.  The shine was reflected off layers of tiny bubbles of oxygen from photosynthesis.  The other gas, always high among rotting and burning things, was carbon dioxide, the unseen food for photosynthesis.  The Closeteer liked the idea he was breathing the oxygen of green plants and algae even though we all do so all the time.  Here he could see its pure bubbles.  With a microscope and still platform he might have studied the many species of microorganisms in the water cloudy with plankton.  He’d brought no sampling bottles. 

Ipswich River water cloudy with organisms beneath a collapsed old willow felled by beavers. Blooms of algae, bacteria, and fungi fill the upper layers of long stretches of the river among dying plant debris. This occurs each late summer and early fall in slow flowing, warm water bodies. Many of our rivers and streams the last decade have been a series of impoundments behind beaver dams. – Sandy Rubchinuk photo

     The larger organisms besides plants he admired were mallard ducks, black ducks, and wood ducks.  On rounding almost every turn he spooked a dozen or two.  It is gathering time for movements south.  They were fattening up for long flights.  On one of many still standing drowned red maple trunks a belted kingfisher perched watching the canoe’s approach.  At about 100 yards it swooped away down river chattering as kingfishers do. The Closeteer expected to see it perched around the next turn perhaps waiting again as kingfishers and great blue herons often do.  It was.  Several herons stalking fish, solitary as they usually are outside of their rookeries, were spooked.  They too flew down river to fish, only soon to be interrupted again.  One beauty gracefully on great dark gray-blue wings flew low across river two hundred feet from the canoe.  It dramatically defecated a long yellow stream.  Was she just showing contempt for past human indignities or just lightening her load a pound for flight?   Adults four feet tall weigh only eight pounds.

A new muskrat lodge, one of several seen, in the shallows just off the Ipswich River channel. Muskrats don’t use large sticks as do beavers. Their smaller homes are of soft plants and mud. – Judy Schneider photo

     A more modest hero of the river who defecates underwater was never seen by the lone paddler on the trip.  The beavers that have shaped our streams and small rivers since the mid-1990s and have retained the water much longer in the watershed generally go about their work without fanfare, no FACEBOOK posts for them.  Now and then we see them swimming in the Ispwich River.   signs are everywhere along the streams and out a hundred feet or so into the uplands that they usually avoid.  Now is the time they are raising their dams in preparation for thick river ice.  If you don’t have a canoe or kayak drive down to the Stream Team’s parklet on Logbridge Road, off Route 114, east of Market Basket, and admire the handsome recently renovated dam with a Hoover Dam shaped upriver arc with a four foot head.  Stream Team photographer Elaine Gauthier meditates on a park bench just above the dam on Sunday mornings.  A few weeks ago a colleague found her napping in her pew during Sunday service.  The sound of water flowing over the dam is a lovely sermon no doubt promoting contentment and sleep.  Do the beavers also love that sound?  We know it is partly the sound of flowing water that instigates their dam building.

     In her free time from work Elaine goes forth on area waters in her kayak with camera. At night she wears a miner’s light.  Upon returning home she shares spectacular photos that celebrate the lights we landlubbers often miss.  Get out there on the river Wilmington to Ipswich while the water is still relatively warm and see the changing  colors for yourself.

1 The Ipswich River Watershed Association had staff members at each of four of the Middleton Stream Teams landing passing out candy, beer, an IRWA cap, gift certificates, and discount coupons to volunteers who stopped by in car or vessel.

2 Eutrophication is when dense plant and algae populations crowd each other out in water bodies with excessive nutrients, especially during periods of warm, slow-flowing water.  These dying and death processes are a natural in many ponds, lakes, and beaver impoundments in late summer and early fall.

__________________________________________________________

WATER RESOURCE AND CONSERVATION INFORMATION

FOR MIDDLETON, BOXFORD AND TOPSFIELD

  Precipitation Data* for Month of:  July Aug Sept Oct
  30 Year Normal (1981 – 2010) Inches 3.89 3.37 3.77 4.40
   2017 Central Watershed Actual  3.43 1.22 2.44 2.8 as of Oct 27

 Ipswich R. Flow Rate (S. Middleton USGS Gage) in Cubic Feet/ Second (CFS):

 For Oct 27, 2017    Normal . . . 18 CFS    Current Rate  . . .10.4 CFS

 
*Danvers Water Filtration Plant, Lake Street, Middleton is the source for actual precipitation data thru Sept.
——————————————————————

** Middleton Stream Team is the source of actual precipitation data for Oct…

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>