The Pond – January – Terry Thormin

Winter rains have filled the ponds, causing them to overflow their banks, flood the gravel bar at the southeast end and the low area between the two ponds, and create a single, large pond. It now looks much like it did when I first saw it, causing me to name it in the singular – Little River Pond. It will remain like this until the rains stop and the heat of summer evaporates much of the water. Most of the gravel bar is under water and much of what isn’t, is just barely above the water level. I have to wonder how the tiger beetle and sand wasp larvae can survive in these conditions, but every spring the adults appear again. For now, though, the gravel bar is devoid of life.

Little River Pond flooded in winter 1c

Little River Pond showing flooded narrows

Not all life is silent, though. The bald eagles  regularly fly overhead, giving their weak, high-pitched chirping whistles in antithesis to their massive strength. An occasional crow or raven gives out its rasping call and the local flock of red crossbills flies from tree to tree looking for seeds to eat and calling “jip, jip” as they go. chestnut-backed chickadees and song sparrows forage in the bushes around the pond, and from the small patch of woodland across the pond a spotted towhee gives a raspy “zreeee.”

Red Crossbill 8d

Red Crossbill (photographed in 2007 in Edmonton)

On the pond you may hear an occasional “quack quack” from a mallard as the small resident flock forages among the flooded bushes between the two ponds. There are other ducks as well. The ring-necked ducks are usually present, but wary, frequenting the far shore and swimming into the bushes if they feel threatened. The two female buffleheads that are usually present don’t seem to be as wary, and if you are quiet they may swim close by you, diving regularly for whatever they can find on the bottom of the pond.

Bufflehead females 2b

Bufflehead

Earlier in the winter I had noticed a large number of freshly cut branches at the entrance to the beaver lodge. It was obvious that the beaver was stocking up on food for the winter. Beavers will remain active all winter long but will stockpile branches in the fall to minimize how frequently they have to go out foraging for food in the winter. During the summer months they feed on fresh green shoots and roots of plants, but in the winter they have to feed on tree bark, and for this purpose they will sometimes cut down quite large trees.

Beaver lodge at LRP 1b

Beaver lodge

On one of my visits to the pond I had the opportunity to talk with a local resident, who told me that the beaver had finally felled a large tree at the west end of the pond earlier in the winter. I walked down to the west end and found the tree the beaver had cut down, a large cottonwood with a diameter where the beaver had cut it of about 60 cm (2 feet). Most of the side branches had been cut off and much of the bark on the main trunk was chewed away. Obviously this was the beaver’s source of food for the winter.

Cottonwood cut down by beaver 2b

Cottonwood stump

Cottonwood chewed by beaver 1b

Cottonwood trunk stripped of bark

January has been rather average weather-wise, although I suspect that we have had less sun than average. Daytime highs have generally been up around five degrees and the warmest day hit nine. Although we have had a fair bit of rain as usual, and the occasional wind storm that typically comes down the Strait of Georgia, there has not been a major winter storm with a dump of snow this month. At Little River Pond no ice formed other than overnight ice in the shallow, flooded areas, which quickly melted as daytime temperatures rose.

Life in the water slows down in winter, but activity never completely stops. The only evidence of any fish I saw was a single fish jumping on January 1, most probably a sea-run cutthroat trout. This doesn’t mean that the fish aren’t there; they are simply not rising to the surface for insects. The adult cutthroats, which are typically found in sheltered estuaries and tidal lagoons, return to fresh water in late fall and early winter and spawn in late winter to early spring. The young stay in fresh water for two or three years before they migrate to the ocean.

I did a couple of sweeps with my insect net to see what I could find in the water. My net has a very fine weave so it collects even the tiniest arthropods.

The first sweep was shallow, through the vegetation, so that I avoided getting any of the bottom muck. I transferred it to a large plastic jar that I keep just for that purpose and immediately, even through the murky water, I saw life. A tiny predaceous diving beetle, probably less than 3 mm long, rose to the surface for a bubble of air. Then I noticed several damselfly nymphs swimming in the murky water. I decided to bring the jar home to let the silt settle out of the water.

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Damselfly nymph

By the time I got home it was obvious that the water was teaming with life. There were at least a dozen damselfly nymph, a number of caddisfly larvae, a couple of daphnia, several cyclops and numerous tiny arthropods that I finally decided must be clam shrimp. The last three were all around a millimeter or less in length, just barely visible to the naked eye.

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Caddisfly larva

I did my second sweep almost three weeks later, and this time I went deep into the muck, looking for larger aquatic insects. Sure enough, I dredged up two dragonfly nymphs, which was not in the least surprising as this pond has such a high number and diversity of dragonflies.

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Dragonfly nymph

I also got a water boatman and a small predaceous diving beetle larva, also known as a water tiger, and this time there were lots of caddisfly of at least three types. It is these larger creatures that are necessary to sustain the fish population.

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Water tiger with cyclops at lower left

With temperatures often ranging into the high single digits, I really expected to see at least a few insects and other terrestrial invertebrates. I was not disappointed – on almost every visit I saw at least one or two small flies, most likely midges of some sort. On one occasion I took the time to overturn a few logs, and on my third attempt I found several very active European sowbugs.

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European sowbugs

That same day I found a larger fly lapping up some juices from bark remaining on the cottonwood tree trunk that the beaver had felled. This is probably an anthomyiid, or root maggot fly, although according to Matthias Buck at the Royal Alberta Museum, there is a possibility it is a muscid. Flies in these two families are often so similar that it is impossible to identify them to family, let alone genus or species without collecting them.

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Fly, either anthomyiid or muscid

Now, as the end of the month draws near, the days are getting noticeably longer and soon the first signs of spring will start to appear. But I’m not holding my breath; I know how cruel winter can be, and a serious winter storm is always a possibility in February. My one consolation is that here on the coast such storms are often followed by rain that quickly melts the snow away.

JANUARY

 

As winter’s winds roar down the strait

the pond lies silently,

broken only by eagle’s screams,

a small cacophony.

But all’s not dead, for in the pond

life stirs ’gainst winter’s hold.

A caddisfly, a diving beetle,

a dragonfly nymph bold.

And on dry land a thorough search

‘neath logs and dead leaf litter

reveals more life that’s active still,

sowbugs and other critters.

But most are dormant, most await

in silent slumber too,

for the first sign of spring’s return,

to begin life anew.

©Terry Thormin

Note: I am posting this blog on World Wetlands Day, a day that is meant to draw people’s attention to the need to protect wetlands everywhere in the world. If you have read this this blog and not read the introduction, which was the previous post, I reccommend that you read it as it will set the scene for this ongoing blog and will also reflect the need to protect wetlands. You can find more information on World Wetlands Day here and you can find the introduction to The Pond blog here.

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About annieandterry

This is a blog shared by two friends who have never met in person, Annie Pang and Terry Thormin. We both live on Vancouver Island, Annie in Victoria and Terry in Comox. All communication to date has been either by email or telephone. We are both passionate about nature and conservation and we are both nature photographers. Annie is also a very fine poet and was a concert violinist, while Terry worked as an entomologist for the Royal Alberta Museum until he retired in 2005. We hope you enjoy this joint effort to share our nature musings with anyone who is interested.

Posted on February 2, 2013, in environment, Nature, Photography, Poetry and tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. 5 Comments.

  1. Thanks for the rundown of activity at the pond, Terry – time well spent for sure. The photo of the crossbill is magnificent!

  2. I have always been curious about what happens during the winter with insects. I know that most of the actual insects that I have seen have died off, but I’ve never before seen what the “next generation” looks like. Thanks for sharing the cool photos and fascinating information.

  3. Those photos are breath-taking! You are a master of capturing animals, all great shots without a flaw!

  4. Most enjoyable, Terry. Your dabbling in the pond confirms that activity abounds beneath the surface and it is so simple to explore this wonderful world of aquatic life. We share a passion for that world and I’m thrilled at the chance to learn more about Little River Pond. Many, many, many years ago, I had the opportunity to take a bunch of elementary teachers in training into a series of aquatic environments in a place I had never explored before. I was thrilled to discover that the aquatic assemblage in freshwater environments is made up of similar ingredients seemingly everywhere, water boatment, dameselfly nymphs, various crustaceans, etc., even in far distant places. The teachers were New Zealanders. They loved the adventure and exploration in their local ponds. The place was Dunedin, NZ. I’m looking forward to learning more about your ‘far distant place’ and to revisit some great discoveries above and below the waterline!

  5. Hi Terry, Water Tigers are so cool, one of my favorites to photography, we should get together again email me.

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