Water Closet for April 17,2015
[pullquote] “Then faster than we could see, the skinny neck thrust its lance. As the head almost instantly arose from the water, they got a glimpse of a fish before it was swallowed”[/pullquote]Last week Stream Teamers and friends visited area rookeries to see if the herons had returned. They had. In nests supported high in dead white pines were singles and pairs standing on nests above quiet waters still partially sealed in ice. A stranger walking by one rookery said he’d seen herons there the afternoon before Saint Patricks Day when the snow lay deep upon the land and the ice covering all bodies of still water.
This week’s Water Closet is to remind folks of where these great birds gather to start another generation. Active rookeries are quite a sight. Last Friday Middleton’s Council on Aging /Conservation Commission Hikers walked to a 17 nest rookery just SW of the west end of Middleton Pond. All the nests seemed occupied. The beaver impoundment below them is now clear of ice. Foragers were coming and going. One caused a noisy, unwelcome commotion upon arrival. It was rushed and fanned, maybe even hit, with large wings. We heard such rough cries several times as we circled the aerial village one mile off Boston Street on the ‘round-the-pond gravel road.
Other rookeries also checked last week, were again all well populated with herons. The Pond Meadow Pond rookery in the northern tip of Middleton near the Boxford State Forest line has over 40 nests all occupied. Another rookery in Middleton above Emerson Bog between Forest Street and North Main Street (Route 114) can be seen from Route 114 by parking on the road shoulder in front of Meritor Academy. At last count from safe ice about four winters ago it had 38 nests. This past Sunday three old timers on a heron census ride saw herons there on nests. If you want a close look from a paved road visit the half dozen nest rookery above a beaver impoundment on Foster Road in North Andover. Bring binoculars on visits to these and other lively rookeries and be prepared to play Peeping Tom for awhile. Such places are even more exciting in June while the hungry young are rapidly growing.
The Closeteer recalls two past Water Closet essays about great blue herons. Included here are a 2013 piece describing a heron consuming a heavy meal and a Father’s Day 2010 sighting on the Exeter River in New Hampshire.
A HERON’S LIVELY, HEAVY MEAL (WC October 4, 2013)
On a recent early fall afternoon a Great Blue Heron caught a large fish it couldn’t easily swallow. An old Closeteer visiting Logbridge Landing on the Ipswich River in Middleton watched for five minutes as the attempt to get uncut sashimi into gut where it belongs went on. The fish, about a foot long, at 200 feet unidentified by the human, might have differed with this assertion, The poor beast struggling in the predator’s long beak was repeatedly dropped. On the river’s edge among heron-head high Smart Weeds the one sided struggle went on. The heron lanced its lively prey flipping around on the ground several times. The human voyeur looked away for a second and missed the beginning of the swallowing. As he turned back a great swelling quickly moved down the heron’s long neck. During the moment of success and after, the heron’s head was high. The scene wasn’t comfortable for the Closeteer. He felt a lump in his throat and thought of a glutton at table eating too fast. The solitary heron, accustomed to catching large cumbersome prey, gave no thought to manners. Its ancestors had been eating fish tens of millions of years before humans evolved.
The Closeteer wasn’t the only one watching. In the water nearby the heron at lively feast was a cormorant fishing. It stayed close, diving and rising after prey, perhaps encouraged by the heron’s big catch.
GREAT BLUE HERON (Father’s Day 2010)
Just a couple hundred feet below Exeter, New Hampshire’s busy center, the Exeter River tumbles over two dams and rocky rapids to tidal water. The mills once powered by this descent are gone. The same can be said for a hundred other New England towns so sited.
Several years ago a Closeteer and friend put a canoe in just below the slope of white water and leisurely paddled seven miles on an ebb tide to Great Bay where the Lamprey, Exeter, and Piscataqua rivers mix with seawater. Twice daily, a fast flood through Portsmouth Harbor fills the bay and enriches it. The mix then leaves as quickly as the cold seawater came.
On the edges of these dynamic movements, the brackish marshes teem with life. The most noticeable inhabitants were Great Blue Herons. On rounding the paddlers encountered these solitary giants standing in water stalking fish as they have done since the last continental glacier’s ice a dozen millennia ago and who knows how many thousands before that.
On Father’s Day, in drizzle riding in on cold nor’easter air, an old Closeteer, son-in-law and five-year old grandson after lunch at the Loaf and Ladle, perched on a bridge above the upper dam just down from the square to see the sights. The water in the wind off the sea blew around them as that collected as runoff from much of a county descended underneath the bridge. Below just downriver on a submerged boulder, stood a Great Blue Heron stalking fish we couldn’t see. Every few minutes he leaned down from an upright stance, great beak pointing down. The legs slightly spread as the whole body and long neck cocked. Then faster than we could see, the skinny neck thrust its lance. As the head almost instantly arose from the water, they got a glimpse of a fish before it was swallowed. In two seconds he was erect and waiting.
In fifteen minutes four fish were caught. Their eyes were as intent upon the fisher as his upon the rapid flow. The last victim was alewife size; he shook it a few times while shifting its position to head first in his beak. They wondered if it could be swallowed; it was, a bulge quickly rippled down its neck.
Great Blues are four feet tall with handsome wings spanning six feet and yet these athletes weigh less than eight pounds. They concluded that their subject was largely bone, cartilage, tendon, trim long muscle, and feather perfected over countless generations. No wonder it held their eyes so long. They, hesitant to leave, suspect that despite acres of supermarkets just down the road, stalkers and fishers are still in us.
_____________________________________________________________________________WATER RESOURCE AND CONSERVATION INFORMATION
FOR MIDDLETON, BOXFORD AND TOPSFIELD
|Precipitation Data* for Month of:||Jan||Feb||March||April|
|30 Year Normal (1981 – 2010) Inches||3.40||3.25||4.65||4.53|
|2015 Central Watershed Actual||3.67||3.55||3.62||1.1 as of 4/14**|
Ipswich R. Flow Rate (S. Middleton USGS Gage) in Cubic Feet/ Second (CFS):
For April 14, 2015 Normal . . . 117 CFS Current Rate . . . Unavailable
*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.
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