A few days of drizzle refresh the late wildflowers, helping them and their partners
to slake various hungers
and prepare for winter. But absent a hurricane to follow, these meager inches will not soon reach the deeper roots, leaving many woody plants vulnerable to winter’s desiccation. Indeed, much of the current fall will be sponged by tinder-dry duff and humus, neither restoring top- and subsoil nor running down and away to recharge stream, lake and aquifer.
Only recently within the “extreme” zone (and perhaps serving less lawn-intensive consumers), the mighty Quabbin—here from the Goodnough Dike, northward to a hazy Monadnock—
“is currently at 82.5% of its 412 billion-gallon maximum capacity” and within normal operating parameters. Closer to home, the Hobbs Brook basin is more deeply compromised, with consequences for both its late denizens and those of Cambridge:
Here a pair of juvenile double-crested cormorants idles in sluggish mud, disdaining for the moment a deceased koi,
while a great egret (thanks to Gwyn Loud for identifications) spends ten neck-twisting minutes
choking (owing to size or condition?) down some other finned morsel—probably another koi, as few native fish could tolerate this warm mudbath:
Closer still Flint’s (AKA Sandy) Pond, Lincoln’s primary public water supply,
is likewise at uncomfortable and declining levels:
Per a previous post, the situation is alarming but not yet critical, even without considering the Town’s backup well. As this chart shows, the heat and drought of recent seasons have driven withdrawals well below resupply—but not yet to the severity of the mid-1960s. (–Though that was before the rampant spread of large and heavily irrigated lawns…)
Above chart and Sandy Pond photos courtesy of Greg Woods, Water Department superintendent. These and more photos, charts and analysis, plus additional historical, ecological, practical and personal perspective, are available in the recorded discussion “Brown is the New Green.”
In the eye of no storm,
Farrar Pond is likewise ailing. This makes even more vital the availability of alternative drink, larder and home, especially for creatures that are small, water-bound, or otherwise unable to remove themselves to the Sudbury River or another refuge.
“Refuge” means more than a volume of water. The unique importance of vernal pools to the continuity of numerous amphibians, insects and other life-forms lies not alone in wetness, but in isolation-through-transience. No permanent water means no fish or other predators that require its continuous presence. A river is, to one or another degree, connected to all other rivers, seas, and most lakes. Only a pond with no in- or outflow connection with such is likely to be free of that hazard for enough months each warm season that the regenerative cycles may complete.
This end, however, is easily achieved by artifice. Any depression with an impermeable liner—clay, concrete, fiberglass or rubber—becomes a pond given sufficient rain or hose-time. If much more than a foot deep, it will over-winter insect larvae, tadpoles, even (when they choose are or forced to remain) adult frogs and juvenile turtles. Best for ecology all around is a handy roof downspout, whose supply is more pure, free of chlorine and well-oxygenated:
And the uphill or down-twig instinct rapidly attracts guests (here to ad-hoc poles); whatever the aesthetic shortcomings of bare neoprene, a breeding frog is forgiving,
even apparently satisfied:
Without the metabolic and waste-treatment burden of fish, oxygen requirements are normally satisfied by surface exchange, perhaps augmented by pads and filamentous algae
—though the latter is continuously nibbled from every surface but their own by snails of indeterminate origin:
Perhaps this painted turtle could take one aboard for a little hull de-fouling?
An extended hot spell or heavy winter ice-over can apparently leave the depths hypoxic enough to harm tadpoles, but that is not usual, and can be managed with a small aquarium pump. Also perhaps helpful, though mainly added for decoration and to attract hummingbirds, small solar fountains can exchange quite a bit of dissolved gas when most needed,
and with outflow chilled by evaporation, it may convect to where most needed.
So much leaf area on a tree or shrub could quickly send the whole volume skyward via transpiration. But plants here are either submerged or within the stagnant boundary layer, hence remove little water—less, perhaps, than a bare surface would lose to normal evaporation. Instead, it is wicking by plants and bricks that most rapidly depletes a full pond; once down to bare polymer, further reduction is very slow no matter the weather. And poikilothermous animals even seem to prefer the sun-warmed rubber to available rocks:
(The young is resident from last year’s hatching; the adult might be its mother, resting after laying before the trek home to the lake.)
Prime beneficiaries of a small pond include frogs, perched on (not very) high singly
within tongue-lash of food (possibly including smaller cousins);
at rest in or beneath the ripples;
or between worlds:
This pool, rich in fresh and decaying vegetables, invertebrates and other comestibles, provides for tadpoles to finish their pre-terrestrial business:
Members of the other local amphibian family, Salamandridae, also need water in which to breed and ripen. Formerly common hereabouts—turning over almost any large rock or rotting log would reveal a red-back—they are getting ever scarcer due to habitat loss and possibly environmental toxicity, increasing ultraviolet exposure and/or the chytrid fungus. Fortunately for all concerned (except their prey), they thrive in shady woodland with heavy leaf cover, and will breed here:
That tiny-eyed juvenile might even be the offspring of this spectacular adult, rescued six years ago from within a nearby dwelling and released to a pond-side thicket:
Semi-aquatic reptiles also abound. Northern water snakes spend much time submerged, apparently consuming large numbers of tadpoles,
and also strike picturesque
(and perhaps strike-ready) poses while sunning:
Nominally terrestrial species, mainly garter and eastern ribbon snakes, stalk and sun around the pond’s rim,
but also spend hours cruising (and minutes beneath) the water’s surface:
In accord with allometric power laws, the smaller will always be the more numerous, in both kind and number. Of the largest semi-permanent residents—turtles, snakes, adult frogs—there might on average be a few each of just a few species. Of tadpoles, a half-dozen-plus species, with tens of thousands of hatchlings declining to a hundred or so juveniles and dozens of surviving adults. Under the pads, flatworms, roundworms, rotifers galore, and on down to trillions (at least) of bacteria, perhaps millions of separate species. Somewhere between are the arthropods, visible in almost every image here as living organism or abandoned husk, prey for many of the fauna, and also (especially as ferocious underwater nymphs or obligate aquatic insects) predators for some.
One of the main intended beneficiaries of this particular pool was the Odonata, dragon- and damselflies. The odd structures in the early image above are maple tripods, each topped with a red dogwood whip. Until living plants took on the role, these provided a perch for fliers, a ladder for pre-adults to climb, an anchor for masses of frog eggs.
On hot bright days, with hawks and occasional eagles spiraling thermals high above, dragonflies are always darting close over the pond, too fast to photograph except when they pause beside
or above the water,
or lower down as may suit, to sit
Months or years later, naiad ecdysiasts climb any available mid-pond eminence
Other hunters, like this Dolomedes triton, skitter with similar speed and agility across the surface, though most often moving more subtlely or lurking in concealment:
And some come for more peaceful purposes,
If all the world’s a stage, then these Puddle Players may be most entertaining in their dynamic engagements. Much of the violence happens out of sight: too quick, too dark, too deep for the human eye. And when visible, not easy to photograph. Exceptions are this inter-phylum battle, and this one between similar antagonists, the former a draw. More often, if presenting no direct threat or opportunity, the parties seem to ignore each other,
especially if scaled as mote and mountain,
with an occasional slapstick startlement:
Yet withal, and however temporary, moments of peace in a world of strife…