Tuesday, September 27, 2011

Clam-Watching (oil on canvas 5 x 7 in.) Sold

22 September finds me at the dam on the South Nation River in Chesterville Ontario, looking downstream. This is the season when brownish young Great Blue Herons are learning their trade at riffles and ponds throughout eastern Ontario, and one is fishing & catching below the bar at foot of the pool below the dam as we arrive. It flies downstream and lands in a couple of places with squawks, and then an hour later returns with squawks and lands in a dead Elm tree on the south shore, as if impatient for us to be gone. I settle down to paint and the Heron launches, a lean silhouette with trailing legs, to find a more solitary fishing spot around the bend downstream. Fred is wading along the far shore, and I capture him in my painting as well. 

As we arrived, a fisherman was spin-casting down from the top of the dam into the outflow. He asked us if we were bird-watching, and when we said we were clam-watching, he advised us that we should go downstream, as he apparently knew of the shells Fred subsequently found there. There were also a couple of boys fishing along downstream on the north shore, the younger complaining of their failure to catch anything. 

As Fred waded down the north bank and back up the south bank, finding spectacularly large fresh shells of a diversity of species, satisfied that this stretch of the South Nation is still free from Zebra Mussels, he made up this little poem:

The fisherperson hurls his lure -
Faint hope of finny prey -
The musselhead walks down the shore,
Delighted all the way.  (Fred)

Some of Fred's notes are as follows:

The water is fairly low and murky green-brown. The path down to the river past the fence along the parking area on the north shore leads down to a cobble bar that's white with dried mud, and while there's no sheets or large mats of algae, as in the similar but Zebra-dominated situation in Crysler, there are charming rifflly skirts of a coarse green alga between the stones. The river flows out of the pool below the dam in a narrow riffle only about 25cm deep
The Flowering-rush islands above this bar are battered and tousled by the high water early this season, though those downstream are dense and upright. The Acer negundo (Manitoba Maple) along the shores are turning yellow and have a heavy crop of whithered-looking brown seeds. 

At 17h25 he wades across the river, in a maximum depth of 35 cm, without seeing any living Unionids, but the water and bottom were so muddy that they'd be hard to see - and maybe they live in the Flowering-rush beds rather than the open bottom.

When I got across, the gravelly/muddy south shore is lined with huge shells. Later I regret that I did not  grope the Butomus beds for Unionids, and gone a few 100 m further downstream to look for other genera, but in stead I headed back so as to not lose touch with the rest of our party.

The shells are spectacular (upper row, left to right):  Lampsilis ovata (Pocketbook) female shells (shown) to 121 mm, and males to 93 mm, though bigger shells were left behind, since this was the most abundant species; Lasmigona costata (Fluted Shell) to 117 mm, heavy and elongate, with big teeth and weak external ribbing; Strophitus undulatus (Squaw-Foot), to 100 mm, also heavy elongate shells; Elliptio complanata (Eastern Elliptio) to 117 mm, deep compressed heavy shells, the fresh ones vividly lavender; (lower) Pyganodon grandis (Common floater) to 132 mm, with deep & inflated shell shape, looped or ripply beak sculpture; and long white Ligumia recta (Black Sand-Shell) to 173 mm. The only snails noticed were a couple of old shells of the native Campeloma decisum (Brown Mystery Snail).

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