The number of merganser ducklings decreased from a dozen to two.
NORTH ADAMS, Mass. — Take a summertime stroll along the Hoosic River in North Adams and scan the river that supports a surprising diversity of aquatic life.
Where the elevated berm that flanks the Joseph H. Wolfe Field and the soccer fields, starting where the chutes that harness the river taper down, walking upriver one can scan the riversides for insects and birds, and maybe spot a muskrat and a turtle snout. There a rich array of shrubs and wildflowers abound, forming a
marginal thicket, and thanks to thoughtful river management , must be allowed to grow and provide not only shelter, but essential resources for pollinating bees, nectar for butterflies, and seclusion for nesting birds.
By midsummer the river can decline to a shallow but steady slow flow, indicating that a serious drought has affected the decreasing level of life-giving water borne from mountain brooks, going dry well before wildlife complete their life-cycles. Off to a roaring start the rites of spring gathered momentum as frequent rains provided manifold niches for the fauna. However, by mid-July, the effects from the drought result in considerable drawdown of the Greylock Reservoir, and the spillway also runs to bone dry.
Dragonflies there become absent; no ebony jewel wings. I can't help but think how do these elegant damselflies survive the lengthy stretch of no rains? And much to their credit their eggs and nymphs seek the stream bed dews and damps of still waters.
Down by the riverside the butterflies find sweet nectar at pink clover, sporadic across the sloping berm after periodic mowing for a spic and span weed free zone. Black swallowtail, pearl crescent, innocuous skippers, and ever-active bumblebees punctuate the winding footpath above. Dropping down to the shrubs flanking the river, viceroys are seen roosting on leaves outstretched. Their cryptically concealed larvae thrive on poplar saplings beyond the grassy margins, and exposed in the open stems are prey to the invasive shield bugs.
Searching the immediate poplar and cherry leaves, one may find a white furcula prominent larva at first inconspicuous so leaflike green in appearance with spiky head horns, brown bark saddle, and thorny whip tail.
Walking south toward the bridge I find a dispersed flock of vivacious cedar waxwings here and there flitting over the river to explore in their individual liberty and snatch flying bugs. Now again they fly in to alight in the thin branches, peering through their intrepid masks, curious to watch my encroaching advance to get better pictures. All waxwings have a black mask that appear to embolden them, and they may turn their questioning heads, inquisitive about my approach. They forage upstream and down the entire river in view, yet eager to remain anchored to where the flying insects abound.
Where a gap in the shrubs reveals the mild river, one may glimpse a family of common mergansers paddling lazily upriver. In 2020, more mergs appeared as siblings and offspring are more numerous, an encouraging footnote inflating our awareness. Thus the Hoosic likely can support enough fish and flora to feed more hungry fledglings once their wings grow full enough to fly.
Two years back, a sole merganser led an armada of 12 ducklings, paddling madly to start their learning to follow mother merganser, all in single file until they strove to climb up onto her back, getting a comforting free ride. One by one they disappeared, the number of scrambling chicks dwindling down to two young birds. Was their absence due to predatory hawks, eagles, snapping turtles, or heavy rains that swept them unawares
As I approach the bridge there is a sand bar formed just beyond the surging waterfall too high for the ducklings to surmount, even though mother bird may fly over the dam encouraging chicks to try their wings. Even though the drought affects the waters higher up the mountains, the extended family rests those paddle weary feet, as they bask in preening feathers and nap reposed with head tucked into back feathers, regaining energy needed to later dive repeatedly into the shallows for riverside fish. Only a few ducklings survive here, indicative of river predators, and hunters that may shoot large numbers for sport or to eliminate threats to fish stocks.
Cedar waxwings flock together frequently to fortify flock unity and awaken mate selection in time.
A shortage of aquatic invertebrates, insects, crawfish, other arthropods may indicate why not many ducklings survive. Trees and shrubs add shade and keep water temperatures cool to hold oxygen.
On my way back there on the branches dipping into the riverside was a very deliberate green heron. The more I followed its means of fishing, the more I gained respect for its agility at spearing some bate fish. With 100 percent concentration on what was stirring, with nimble stealth those large yellow feet brought it within range, and the climatic dart of its long bill, the heron showed its proficiency as a hunter par excellence. With adept stroke and slash it swallowed its picean prey, displayed its very long neck that when extended reached farther than its full body length.
Reports say green herons experience difficulty in surviving in coastal zones, salt marshes, brackish water where its accustomed tidewater fish namely silversides, herring, mummichogs are vanishing or in serious decline. Untreated outfall pipes spew mud and toxic ooze over once pristine sand essential for inshore fertile nurseries. Long-awaited revision to brook trout habitat in the Coonamessett River in Cape Cod are under way, as mud and sand swept downstream will bury and prevent oxygen vital for brook trout eggs, whereas they need pebbles, stones, and cobbles to thrive. All these creatures deserve a welcome place in their ecosystem, that we people share, and always promote as home for these stirring denizens.
A small glimmer of that tropical orange yellow verging with green bursts from the riverside bushes and, the vivacious yellow warbler by mid-July has fed and fledged its offspring, completing a wonderful day on the river for me, so appreciative of such a teaming diversity. although some life-giving components are missing, apparently there are enough aerial insects to feed them all. I found myself humming a familiar hymn "Down By The Riverside," and strains of Frederick Delius' tone poem "On the River" drifted through my mind, from his Florida Suite, confirming today I am an eyewitness of living serendipity!
Tor Hansen is a naturalist writer, photographer, and musician. His column Berkshire Wild looks at especially butterflies, birds and other small creatures at home in the Berkshires and Massachusetts. He does talks and presentations and can be contacted at email@example.com,
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CLARKSBURG, Mass. — The town's staffing woes have continued with the departure of Select Board member Allen Arnold.
Arnold submitted his resignation last weekend leaving the town with only one Select Board member, Chairwoman Danielle Luchi.
Luchi said she has been in contact with town counsel and the state on keeping the town functioning through Tuesday, Dec. 7, when a special election will be held to elect a new board member.
"Through the help of our legal services, we have come up with a plan to continue day-to-day operations at Town Hall," she said by email on Saturday. "This means warrants will be reviewed and signed for vendor and payroll payments. ... There will be no Select Board meetings and no big decision making from now to after the election on Dec. 7."
This debate was sponsored by iBerkshires.com and the MCLA Political Science Club, and hosted by the MCLA. It was held at the Church Street Center and attracted a robust audience of more than 150 people.
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