Tuesday, September 20, 2011

South Nation River Flats at Crysler (oil on canvas 5 x 7)

14 September finds me standing on the limestone flats of the South Nation River in Crysler, Ontario, looking down river to the north. Banks of Burr Reed are combed by the wind and the evening sun's bold golden glow on the trees of the far bank reflect in bright ribbons of shallow water that lace across the wet clay and finely mossed bedrock at my feet. We have visited this place at least once a year over the past decade.

Fall has arrived. We expect frost tonight, but the rivers and creeks are still at summertime low levels and we are still checking them for fresh water mussels.
Fred wades around & across river where the water is 30 cm deep and downstream into the current where it is deeper and the bottom the bottom becomes crunchy underfoot with little Zebra Mussels under the coating of algae. The flat rocks in the stream are covered by the algal coat on their tops, but their sides, especially the upstream side are densely packed with 15-20 mm Zebra Mussels, though there are fewer on the undersides, perhaps because there's not space for them between flat rocks and a coating of sediment in the flat bedrock. In places of moderate current in midsteam the density goes up to a 1 cm separation, or 10000/sq m. Three small Orconectes virilis (Northern Crayfish) skins are caught in algal fluff.

Wading back across the river Fred finds that the areas where not much current flows on both sides is dense with Tadpole Snails, like raisins in raisin bread. This is a different texture from both the fluffy instream algae and the flat bright green surface of the enclosed pools. There's a whole 'nother universe of algae where the cold water of a drain of some sort comes down along the access track - including tar-like wrinkled dark mats of Cyanobacteria - all of this making one wish one had phycological training - but the dominance of the algae all across the river may be a post-Zebra phenomenon. 

For a few years after the Zebra Mussels showed up, we'd find fairly fresh native mussel shells of several species, drifted down to the cobbly patch across from where I stand to paint, but today we found only a few very old, eroded shells there. We will continue to keep this as one of our monitoring sites. Maybe someday we'll get somebody to work on the drift samples we have from back before the invasion of Zebra Mussels, and we'll be watching to see whether native mussels can possibly make a comeback. The river bottom ecology must be really changed for Mudpuppies, and there's another project for a low-water summer - to go back to all the spots along the South Nation River where we've found them in past years.

This original painting is available for $275. For information on purchase and shipping, please contact me at karstad@pinicola.ca

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