Tag Archives: Strange Wetlands

Sleuthing Out the Truth About Snapping Turtles (Part 1)

As a kid spending summers on Little Sebago Lake in southern Maine, I was used to seeing snapping turtles. My brother, Tad, and I liked to hang out under the dock,—and we stared down the snapping turtles. Their trapezoidal heads poked up out of the water, nostrils flaring. When the snappers, or mud turtles, weren’t swimming in the lake, they hid in the marshy grove beside our camp. Neither my brother nor I were ever bitten by a snapper, but the possibility was there, under the dock—a thrill that propelled us a little faster through the water some days. Until this summer, I had not seen a snapping turtle at the lake since the early 1990s. One snapping turtle is back in our cove this summer, making a home near Fish Rock. We recognized its dark brown shell and distinctive-shaped head and hooked beak-like snout, used for capturing prey and self-defense, as it periodically inspected the surface, hiding beneath a mat of weedy reeds.  Since the arrival of the snapper, the ducks and their babies have not made their usual pass through our cove.

So far, the snapper is alone, which makes sense since snapping turtles are not social creatures.  She or he has made a home along a reef beside a peninsula that points to the Sand Bar, a favorite destination of boaters in the three-basin lake. Little Sebago is on the state’s top ten list for “most threatened by development,” and there has been a milfoil problem due to increased boat traffic after the town’s approval for a public boat launch. A number of local nonprofit organizations, such as Lakes Environmental Association and the Little Sebago Lake Association, have led projects to improve water quality and educational efforts about algae and wildlife habitat in the lakes region of southern Maine.

But common snapping turtles (Chelydra serpentina) are not unique to Maine; in fact, Maine falls within the northeast part of their range, including Nova Scotia. Snappers are found in the Gulf of Mexico—in Florida (along with a different species, the Florida snapping turtle) and the Texas coast, all along the Atlantic/east coast, and as far west as the Rocky Mountains. These turtles have been paddling in and out of North American wetlands for 80 million years. Adult snapping turtles prefer marshes, swamps, muddy still water, shallow lakes and ponds, while the hatchlings and juveniles live in small streams. Juveniles have small toothy ridges on their carapace called keels. When snapping turtles are young, they are easy prey for predators, including herons, bullfrogs, snakes, alligators and fish like bass or pike. Once a snapper is an adult, nothing messes with it, besides a human. The mobility of the turtle’s neck, which never fully retreats into its shell, allows it to reach out and snap—surprisingly fast.

Because they are poor swimmers, snappers do not like deep water, and can drown if they can’t reach the surface, or get to land easily. They need a combination of wetland habitat types to thrive, but can be found in both urban and rural areas. Oddly enough, they can gowithout water for a couple of weeks and even swim in the ocean while they are migrating from a stream or river to a pond or marsh. Large males are territorial and choose a fixed spot for their home but females tend to move around, possibly going back and forth between “homes” along the shoreline of lakes, ponds and marshes or swamps. For some amazing photos of snapping turtles in Virginia wetlands, visit:http://www.fcps.edu/islandcreekes/ecology/
common_snapping_turtle.htm

When wetland habitat dries up and there is less water, a snapping turtle will be forced to move to another location to live. Sometimes this involves crossing roads, which explains why we sometimes see a crushed turtle on the side of the road, and wonder, “why did the turtle cross the road?

Despite their intimidating reputation, snappers are omnivorous, eating mostly aquatic vegetation. If ducklings are readily available, a snapping turtle might take one, but it’s incidental. Snappers may eat frogs and other amphibians, small mammals (like a mouse), mollusks and other invertebrates, and rarely—small birds. Snapping turtles may be poor swimmers but they are clever.  When a wetland is matted with algae, snapping turtles use the cover to hide beneath and grab shorebirds by the feet. The turtles’ effect on game fish and shorebirds populations is minimal. For more information about their interactions with waterfowl, visit:http://www.tortoisetrust.org/articles/
snappers.htm

Next week, I will uncover the Legends of Snapping Turtles.

Further reading on blogs about common snapping turtles:

“Detroit Wildlife: Common Snapping Turtle” by Laura Sternberg, July 2011
http://detroit.about.com/b/2011/07/12/detroit-wildlife-common-snapping-turtle.htm

“Snapping Turtle Expresses Displeasure at Being Plucked from Pond” by Mark Frauenfelder, July 2011 http://www.boingboing.net/2011/07/12/man-grabs-angry-snap.html

“The Secret Life of Snapping Turtles” by John Marshall, January 2009
http://www.grit.com/Animals/The-Secret-Life-of-Snapping-Turtles.aspx

“The Snapping Turtle” by Ted Levin, Vermont Public Radio, October 2008:http://www.vpr.net/episode/44552/

To read Part 2: Legends of the Snapping Turtle, click here.

Fun Wetland TV Shows

In a past SW post, I recommended some good wetland documentaries and educational films in this previous post. But wetlands show up in other types of media. Some TV shows take a less serious approach to using wetlands to set the scene. Others are educational. It’s nothing new to feature a wetland-rich setting for a TV series. But it seems like wetlands are gaining ground in popular shows like True Blood, Swamp People and The River, which premieres Feb. 7, 2012.

Mysteries of the Amazon. A new dark mystery-drama set in the Amazon called “The River” will leave you at the edge of your seat. See a trailer and explore this thriller-mystery series here.  The River looks eerie and suspenseful, and reminds me of Peter Benchley’s1999-2000 mini-series, “Amazon,” which beat the show “Lost” to the punch! Benchley’s story took place in a remote part of the Amazon rainforest, where a community of people were so isolated, they still spoke Elizabethan English and didn’t have modern conveniences—until a plane crashed, making for an intense, weird drama. (I liked it a lot, but then I am a big fan of all of Benchley’s stories. Just to get you hooked, watch Part 1 here.)

Reality TV has been the “in” thing for over a decade now. There are two wetland-related reality shows of interest. “Swamp People,” a History channel show, features the lives of alligator hunters in Louisiana. Also, an episode of Dirty Jobs: Wetland Warrior, followed TV host Mike Rowe on his adventure in the Florida Everglades.

Public Television Programs. Iowa Public Television featured a series of programs on lakes, marshes, streams, floodplains and forested wetlands. For more information about this series, go to:http://www.iptv.org/series.cfm/15216/freshwater_wetlands/ep:104/episodes

Science Education for Kids. Dragonfly TV – a public television series based in North Carolina featuring hands-on science activities and investigations had one episode that brought young girls to coastal wetlands; this led to the creation of a children’s show called “SciGirls,” which encourages girls to get interested in science.http://pbskids.org/scigirls/ This is similar in theme to Bill Nye the Science Guy’s program, which has had several episodes on wetlands (a three-part series here).

Science fiction. In this genre, the sky’s the limit. The SyFy Channel offers a few strange choices, including “Swamp Shark,” a TV movie about invasive sharks in Louisiana’s bayous that airs Saturday June 25th.  The highly anticipated 4th season of “True Blood,” a sci-fi fantasy series about vampires, werewolves and other supernatural beings in Louisiana and Mississippi just started on HBO. The show’s colorful locals frequently hunt and hide in the familiar swamps; the lead heroine, Sookie Stackhouse, a telepathic waitress, lives beside a swamp and a cemetery. Incidentally, this show has a great swamp rock soundtrack!

Environmental-Themed Drama. The newest TV show with an environmental theme—and plenty of wetlands—is called “Terra Nova,” a Fox series in which a select group of people travel back in time (because humans have depleted natural resources by the year 2149) to prehistoric Earth. It’s like “Jurassic Park” in reverse. PROs: there’s a lot of vegetation and a good water supply. CONs: Large predators abound. Yes, dinosaurs. Apparently TV writers are either being pessimistic here or not interested in putting their protagonists in real-life wetland-management situations.

Update June 2012: Great A&E detective show, “The Glades” takes place in the Florida Everglades. Features environmental crime plots, endangered species, etc. It’s available on Netflix and on the A&E channel.

Dragonflies – Baby Got Brackish

In many parts of the country, we’re starting to see mosquitoes, especially after heavy rains. Mosquitoes love brackish pools, but so do gators and crocodiles, which mate this time of year…and dragonflies. Over Memorial Day weekend, I delighted in watching an army of dragonflies zip around me at killer speeds. They eat mosquitoes. So it begs the question, do more mosquitoes mean more dragonflies? If so, that would be good news for people heading outside to enjoy the warm weather. So far I’ve only had to wear my DDT-free bug spray once on a walk along the pond.

A recent New York Times article provided news about endangered species (A Coast-to-Coast Guide to Endangered Species) including the bog turtle, ringed boghaunter and the orange-striped dragonfly, which were described as some of the rarest wetland-dwelling species in the U.S. For an amazing montage of rare photos taken at the Texan Cibilo Nature Center of the orange-striped dragonfly in courtship, see: http://www.martinreid.com/
Odonata%20website/odonate37b.html

Dragonflies are generally known as freshwater insects. But recent research has demonstrated that dragonflies are no strangers to brackish environments. What is brackish water? Brackish pools, sometimes called brackish marshes, are saltier (more saline) than freshwater but not as salty as seawater. Typically brackish water occurs where the sea meets freshwater—estuaries, mangroves and saltmarshes. Many species of fish depend on these waters for their migration from the sea to rivers and streams, such as eels and salmon. In addition there are also brackish lakes, e.g. Lake Monroe in Florida and Lake Charles in Louisiana. For a photo of a dragonfly’s exoskeleton at Lake Charles, seehttp://www.flickr.com/photos/atweed/4651677110/

A relatively recent issue of Canadian Field Naturalistfeatured an article by Paul Catling on “Dragonflies Emerging from Brackish Pools of Saltmarshes in Quebec” (CAN), citing his research that showed dragonflies used salt marshes much more often than had been previously understood. For an example of a brackish pool in a saltmarsh, see http://www.sciencephoto.com/media/
175707/view
 The importance of brackish pools as habitat for young dragonflies, called nymphs, has long been observed by naturalists, as noted by Raymond Osburn (The American Naturalist,1906 http://www.jstor.org/pss/2455367) Catling’s research has shown, a century later, that dragonflies do in fact utilize saltmarshes, which contain an abundance of estuarine and marine life.  Either dragonflies have evolved to move into saltmarshes or earlier observations by naturalists have left that distinction out of literature.

One contemporary naturalist photographed a Tawny Pennant (Brachymesia herbida) in a saltmarsh in the Bosa Chica tract of a National Wildlife Refuge in Brownsville, TXhttp://www.duke.edu/~jsr6/Brachyherb.jpg Here’s a dragonfly in a saltmarsh of Daufin Island, AL http://www.flickr.com/photos/littoraria/3639808921/ But a simple Google Images search will reveal that it is rare to find photos of adult dragonflies in saltmarshes. This may be due in part to the challenges of wildlife photography, especially with respect to capturing a fast-moving target, such as a dragonfly, on film. The best advice from our own Compleat Wetlander’s nature photographer, Jeanne Christie: “Wait for the wildlife to come toyou.”

Bonus activity for kids: How to draw a dragonfly. http://www.how-to-draw-cartoons-online.com/dragonfly-drawings.html

Updated April 2013: Dragonflies Drive Dedicated Fans to Refuges
http://www.fws.gov/news/blog/index.cfm/2013/4/2/Dragonflies-Drive-Dedicated-Fans-to-Refuges

River of Avon—Providing a Wetland Link Between the Living and the Dead, Mysteries of Stonehenge Revealed in an Ancient Streambed

When it comes to Stonehenge, many theories abound. What was its purpose? Why build there? One of the recent theories comes from an archaeologist, Mike Parker Pearson at University of Sheffield in England, who has been researching the link between Stonehenge and the Durrington Walls. He found a correlation between the two monuments—and the geographic and ecological connection to the River of Avon. If Stonehenge was a cemetery, as many believe, and the Durrington Walls stood for the living, then the River of Avon connected the land of the living to the domain of the dead, carrying the ashes of cremated loved ones after royal burial rites.

Pearson leads the team of researchers on the Stonehenge Riverside Project.http://www.shef.ac.uk/archaeology/research/stonehenge The team discovered natural underground gullies in an ancient streambed that made a direct path between Stonehenge and the river—strangely enough, in perfect line with the sun’s rays during the Winter and Summer Solstices. This astrological event might have influenced the monuments’ architects and engineers, thought to have built Stonehenge around 2900 B.C.http://news.nationalgeographic.com/news/2008/
05/080529-stonehenge-cemetery.html

The River of Avon is Britain’s largest unimproved floodplain and has been a favored area for anglers, naturalists and conservationists. But land use changes over time have broken the links between the adjacent wetlands in the floodplain and the river. As a result, there have been a number of recent wetlands restoration projects, including the 2009 Strategic Restoration and Management of the River Avon, which won a Living Wetlands Award in 2010http://www.waterlink-international.com/news/id430-Ciwems_Living_Wetlands_Award_For_STREAM.html and Wetlands West, formerly known as the Severn and Avon Vales Wetlands Partnership, which aims to protect wetland habitat and create floodplain and water resources management practices for that watershed. http://www.severnwetlands.org.uk/restorationzones.asp In addition, there have been other local municipal wetland restoration projects like this one that created the community Avon Meadows Wetland in 2008:http://www.geograph.org.uk/photo/1059717.

For a virtual tour of the World Heritage Site, including Stonehenge, the Durrington Walls and the River of Avon, go to: http://www.english-heritage.org.uk/daysout/
properties/stonehenge/explore/stonehengemap/
 This ancient and mysterious tie to wetlands is one of several that I unearthed in an earlier Strange Wetlands blog post on Lost Worlds, Lost Wetlands.

Once upon a Vernal Pool

Late at night, I listen to the peepers in the vernal pool down in my woods. During a vernal pool monitoring project run by the University of Maine at Orono in 2009, I learned that most wood frogs leave a vernal pool at the northeastern point of the pool and head for uplands, where they spend the summer. But a few less successful frogs go in the wrong direction. I wondered what happens to those frogs. It seemed like a riddle that prompted answering…

Yet another challenge recently there has been a lot of discussion about proposed legislative changes to protection for significant vernal pools in Maine. Many experts testified at an April 25th hearing in Augusta on the importance of vernal pool protections. They achieved their goal and the committee voted to keep the state’s vernal pool protection laws, which have been in place since 2006. For a fact sheet on Vernal Pool Regulation in Maine, see http://www.nae.usace.army.mil/reg/VernalPoolRegulationMaineFAQ.pdf For more information about the University of Maine’s Vernal Pool Project, visit:http://www.umaine.edu/vernalpools/

The vernal pool in my woods inspired this poem about a wayward wood frog named Wren.

Once upon a Vernal Pool

Once upon a midnight clearing
April rains had ceased to fall
A lonely loon far off called dearly
Wood frogs, from a vernal pool,
Carefully crawled.

Most had spawned, left the pool
Heading northeast to uplands
Except for Wren, the little fool,
A wood frog who lived for wetlands.

Little Wren, so full of cheer,
Chirped into the late May nights
When all of her friends disappeared,
She hopped to it, setting her sights

On a stream she crossed in floods
That Big Night. Fast water trailed
Down through the thick woods
And Wren climbed aboard a stick
With trembling leaves, she sailed.

To read full poem, click here.

Lost Worlds, Lost Wetlands

Mesopotamia is argued by many historians to be one of the “cradles of civilization.” Historically, the Marsh Arabs depended on the marshlands of the region for 5,000 years, going all the way back to ancient Sumeria. These wetlands show up in epic poetry of early Mesopotamia:

‘Ever the river has risen and brought us the flood,
the mayfly floating on the water.
On the face of the sun its countenance gazes,
then all of a sudden nothing is there’.
– ‘He who saw the Deep’,
(The Epic of Gilgamesh, 1,200 B.C.)

Most of the marshes of Mesopotamia, including the delta plains of the Tigris and the Euphrates rivers in the Middle East, were destroyed by the year 2000. The marshes were lost to hydro-engineering for dams (flood control and electricity), canals and reservoirs (irrigation, farming), all of which reduced the annual floods, which used to renew the waters in the wetlands. The once-thriving marshlands have dried out due to a 20-50% decrease in the flow of water from the major rivers throughout the region. In addition, Saddam Hussein drained large wetlands to punish the tribes—Marsh Arabs—living in those areas and to expose the rebel hiding places, in the 1990s.http://earthobservatory.nasa.gov/
Features/WorldOfChange/iraq.php

A number of international organizations pulled together to bring attention to the loss of wetlands there, including World Wildlife Fund, which recorded over 278 species of bird in the Mesopotamian ecoregion. Nearly half of those identified are wetland birds. http://wwf.panda.org/about_our_earth/ecoregions/mesopotamian_delta_marshes.cfm A marsh restoration project through the United Nations Environment Program began in 2006. For an image of the Vanishing Marshes of Mesopotamia, go to: http://earthobservatory.nasa.gov/IOTD/view.php?id=1716 For a technical report,http://earthobservatory.nasa.gov/images/imagerecords/1000/1716/meso2.pdf

For those who research archaeological use of wetlands for agriculture, the Mayan use of the “seasonal swamp,” known as el Bajo la justa,” in northern Guatemala is also very interesting. In the latter years of the ancient Mayan culture, archeologists surmise that the Mayans must have expanded the way they farmed the lowlands, including wetlands, in order to support a larger population. But this has been a subject of much debate: whether these “bajos” (interior wetlands) were used for agricultural purposes. A 1995 study by T. Patrick Culbert funded by the University of Arizona looked this issue: http://www.famsi.org/reports/94033/94033Culbert01.pdf

Last fall an issue of Nature featured new findings. A study identified more evidence that wetlands were used for agriculture by the Mayans: The new “research suggests that the Maya built canals between wetlands to divert water and create new farmland,” according to Timothy Beach, a physical geographer at Georgetown University in Washington, D.C.. Archaeologists often explore the question of any ancient civilization, how did they feed a large population? The answer for the Mayans was wetlands.
http://www.nature.com/news/2010/101105/full/news.2010.587.html For more background information on the history of Maya agriculture and the role of wetlands, go to: http://www.authenticmaya.com/maya_agriculture.htm

Finally, I’ll leave you with something fun to ponder: the true whereabouts of the lost city of Atlantis. Is it buried in the marshlands of Spain after all?  According to a new film, Finding Atlantis, on National Geographic (TV channel), a documentary-maker from Hartford University in CT has proposed just that. To find out how to see the film, visit: http://channel.nationalgeographic.
com/episode/finding-atlantis-4982/Overview
 and come a little closer to understanding one of the world’s greatest mysteries. Yet again, the answer to the riddle could be wetlands. http://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/worldnews/europe/spain/8381219/Lost-city-of-Atlantis-buried-in-Spanish-wetlands.html

Assumption: Don’t Play This Over Untamed Waters

Logically speaking, an assumption is a supposition, the product of the verb—to assume—which can mean to take upon oneself; to presuppose; to take for granted; to pretend to have/be; or the archaic definition: to adopt.

Religiously speaking, assumption is the bodily progression from earth to heaven, especially with respect to the Catholic faith. For example, the “Assumption of Mary” was the undisputed account of her being taken up to heaven. The “Assumption of Moses,” however, remains controversial. Those who believed in assumption were called “Assumptionists” (a.k.a. Augustinians, named after St. Augustine) and they established twenty or so colleges around the globe, such as Assumption College in Worcester, Mass. http://www.newadvent.org/cathen/02104a.htm

Assumption is also the name of towns in Ohio and Illinois, as well as an island in the Seychelles (Indian Ocean), a parish in Louisiana and a river in Quebec, Canada.

In a game like CLUE, or a modern spin on it, Crime Scene Investigation (CSI) the board game, players make assumptions based on a natural process of deducing a certain set of facts and forming a guess about the crime. In real life, a detective makes assumptions that might be proven correct or false, leading to other conclusions.

Because an assumption can be proven false, there is the old adage: “When you assume, you make an ass of you and me.” This joke might be funny in a variety of “assumption” contexts: mathematical modeling, real property law (transferring the mortgage from seller to buyer), or reinsurance of policy claims. But perhaps the most unusual type of “assumption” is a fictional Poker game played with Tarot cards, as featured in the novel Last Call by Tim Powers. The stakes are high as they come with a spiritual twist on the usual pot. Players should be wary of this water caveat: “Assumption must never be played over “untamed” water like a natural lake, river, or ocean. Man-made bodies of water like Lake Mead are useful sites for play, and in fact the climactic final game takes place over that lake.” http://www.sff.net/people/lucy-snyder/brain/2005/12/playing-poker-with-tarot-cards.html

Strangely enough, that poker game is not nearly as complex to stake-holders as state assumption of the Section 404 program under the Clean Water Act is for states. In this context, assumption is the states’ option to apply to adopt the regulatory authority for the 404 program, which regulates dredge and fill activities in streams and wetlands.  Currently there are only two states, Michigan and New Jersey, which have assumed the 404 program. Other states have shown great interest and yet, few people outside of state wetland programs have heard of assumption. I know a little about it because I had to become an expert on the subject after two years of research. I developed fact sheets on assumption for the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency and the Army Corps of Engineers. Everything I learned about it is posted on this webpage I put together for ASWM here. 

ASWM and the Environmental Council to the States, as well as EPA and a number of states have been working to clarify the application process for states to assume §404. The group is drafting a handbook, which will offer much needed guidelines to states.http://aswm.org/wetland-programs/s-404-assumption

And by the way, if Strange Wetlands ever takes on a swamp rock cover band, they’ll be called the Assumptionists.

The “Other” Wetland Heroes

Last year I paid homage to the fictional characters, Mark Trail and Swampthing, as unsung wetland heroes. But what of others? Let’s not forget Ranger Rick. As a kid, I looked forward to receiving my monthly issue of Ranger Rick magazine in the mail. I inhaled the stories. I treasured the magazines like they were living things. My mother kept one issue with a coiled-up snake on the cover in a basket of secrets so I would not snoop. When passing the basket, I gave it a wide berth as if the magazine snake might come alive and spring. I learned a lot about nature and wildlife from reading Ranger Rick.

Today the raccoon dressed as a park ranger, “Ranger Rick,” continues to teach kids about wildlife and the natural world. For instance, here Ranger Rick educates kids about wetlands and the Gulf oil spill: http://www.nwf.org/Kids/Ranger-Rick/People-and-Places/Ranger-Rick-on-the-Big-Oil-Spill.aspx Ranger Rick also teaches kids about the importance of wetlands: http://www.nwf.org/Kids/Ranger-Rick/People-and-Places/Whats-a-Wetland.aspx Kids today might suggest another environmental hero close to their hearts (and DVD players): Shrek, the swamp-dwelling ogre, fights development pressures from the royal kingdom and restores balance in his wetland home. http://www.imdb.com/character/ch0002004/ A different generation might think of a certain Muppet, who lived in a swamp and sang, “It’s not easy being green…”Of all the comic book heroes, it is safe to say thatCaptain Planet is a well-recognized environmental hero. His main role is to protect the planet and all its natural splendor, wetlands included. EPA’s Wetlands Program worked with the creators of theCaptain Planet cartoon series, especially an episode called “Jail House Flock,” which taught kids about the importance of wetlands.http://www.turner.com/planet/mission.html Watch the episode depicting the eco-emergency about migratory birds and destruction of wetlands here: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ur-Kss-yTxwEco-geeks to the rescue!

Often comics and cartoons take an extreme slant in portraying heroes and villains to communicate an environmental message. In the Swampthing comics, a recurring anti-hero called Floronic Man, aka Jason Woodrue, feels that humans are destroying the Everglades. Unlike Swampy, who’s fairly conscientious in his noble attempts to save the wetlands, Floronic Man plots for the plants to take over to the point of killing developers with a chainsaw.  http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Floronic_Man Man-Thing was another large misunderstood, empathic human-plant mutant character living in the Florida Everglades. This Marvel Comic character was criticized for being too similar in origin to Swampthing,even though Man-Thing came from a 1960s comic series called “Tales of Suspense,” which means that he preceded Swampy,who first appeared in 1971. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Man-Thing For Strange Wetlands’ Ode to Swampthing, see:http://aswm.org/wordpress/
strange-wetlands-ode-to-swampthing/

Science fiction sub-genres span a wide spectrum of stories that carry an obvious environmental message, from post-apocalyptic, including an obscure comic series called “The Puma Blues,” (1986-1989) featuring wildlife and nature with prose poetryhttp://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_Puma_Blues to fantasy realms of authors like Ilona Andrews (her recent book is called Bayou Moon http://www.ilona-andrews.com/) and Kim Stanley Robinson, who has been called an environmental hero for his series of books(Red Mars, Green Mars, Blue Mars) about the terraforming and settling of Mars, after global climate change has caused wide-spread flooding on Earth.http://sciencefictionbiology.blogspot.com/2008/09/kim-stanley-robinson-hero-of.htmlThere are too many science-fiction authors to name here. If you have one you’d like to recommend, please leave a comment.

Wetland-dwelling protagonists are also abundant in fiction and creative nonfiction. Novels like A Girl of the Limberlost by Gene Stratton Porter, The Orchid Thief by Susan Orlean and some of Carl Hiaasen’s stories that take place in the Everglades are linked on ASWM’s Book Service On-Amazon, under the categories for fiction and nonfiction here:http://www.aswm.org/propub/bookservice/fiction.htm If after visiting the book list, you have a suggested title to add, please leave a comment.

Rare Weasels of Winter

As a child I was wary of weasels. My grandparents taught me to listen for the distinctive murderous cry of a fisher along the creeks in their woods—and to be wary of them because they killed cats. When my cat wandered curiously into the culvert near the house, it sent me into a panic over what might lurk inside waiting to gobble my tabby, Triscuit. We lived near a saltmarsh. Fishers and other weasels, more formally known as the Mustelidae family, were more common 20 years ago; nowadays if I see one, I think of it as a rare treat. In particular, there are three weasels that are rarely seen but still inhabit woods and wetlands of North America: the fisher, the wolverine and the ermine.

In the last ten years, there has been some attention on the successful reintroduction of wolverines (Gulo gulo) and fishers (Martes pennant) into areas of North America where the populations had declined significantly due to habitat loss. Both are members of the weasel family with some differences.  The fisher, found only in North America, is a medium-sized weasel with a long body, short legs and long bushy tail. Its population had been on the decline—especially in the Northwest due to logging and habitat loss, until the early 2000s, when biologists with Conservation Northwest (partnered with FWS) began the process of reintroducing native fishers in the Pacific Northwest http://www.conservationnw.org/wildlife-habitat/fisher To watch a video of the 2009 release of fishers, go to:http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=TBageyLQk3k On the west coast, especially in Oregon, the fisher has been threatened by fragmented habitat, wildfires and incidental mortality (getting hit by a car, getting caught accidentally in a trap). Currently the west coast fishers are being considered for Endangered Species Protection and they are listed as a “sensitive species” by the U.S. Forest Service. http://www.fws.gov/oregonfwo/Species/Data/Fisher/ There are a lot of misconceptions about the fisher. Some that I have read or heard can be dispelled easily: 1) they do not fish, despite their name. 2) They are not part-cat, even though a nickname is the “fisher-cat.”  3) Domestic cats are not high on their list of dietary preferences. Cool fact: the fisher is one of the only specific predators of the porcupine! For a slide-show of a fisher reintroduction/release project, go to:http://www.defenders.org/wildlife_and_habitat/wildlife/fisher.php

The wolverine is the largest member of the weasel family. Known for its voracious appetite, a “glutton” (thus its Latin name), it’s a surprisingly strong and fearless competitor for food. A 30 pound wolverine might even try to steal from a 500-pound black bear. A film by NATURE depicted the wolverine as a rare and wonderful creature (Wolverine: Chasing the Phantom):http://www.pbs.org/wnet/nature/
episodes/wolverine-chasing-the-phantom/photo-gallery/6064/

The wolverine’s oversized paws act like snowshoes for this predator, which depends on an abundance of snow in winter for hunting. Although once driven to near extinction from over-hunting by man for its fur, wolverines are now threatened by climate change. Recently the FWS released its decision (December 13, 2010) that the wolverine warranted protection under the Endangered Species Act but was precluded from protection. Wolverine biologist Jeff Copeland’s study demonstrated that wolverines depend on deep spring snow cover, a condition threatened by a warming climate.http://www.crownofthecontinent.net/content/wolverines-in-glacier-national-park/cot298F435364A472CBE and http://www.hcn.org/blogs/range/climate-changes-threat-to-the-wolverine For more about wolverine conservation in the Northwest, visit:http://www.conservationnw.org/wildlife-habitat/wolverine For an outstanding blog about wolverines describing an ecologist’s work in Wyoming, visit:http://egulo.wordpress.com/ For more facts about the wolverine, visit the Wolverine Foundation at: http://www.wolverinefoundation.org/

Like the wolverine, the ermine, or short-tailed weasel, (Mustela ermine) also depends on snow for hunting, but for a slightly different reason: camouflage. Ermines’ coats turn white in winter to blend in and allow them to hunt their prey unseen. In the spring, their coats molt and they turn mottled, a blend of white and black and brown, until their dark sleek summer coats grow out completely. Many arctic mammals have the ability to change their winter coat to be camouflaged in the snow: http://www.ehow.com/list_6759427_list-mammals-winter-camouflage.htmlUnlike the wolverine and fisher, the ermine is much more common, perhaps because it is smaller and has adapted to live wherever it can find prey. Ermines like to live in marshes, woodlands with bogs and even tundra. It adapts well to a harsh living environment. For my poem titled, “Ermine,” go here.

Those who like to go out on snowshoes may come across tracks of animals that they never see. A weasel’s tracks have five toes on front and back feet. For other tips on identifying animal tracks in the snow, go to:  How to Identify Animal Tracks in Snow | Trails.com http://www.trails.com/how_
2941_identify-animal-tracks-snow.html#ixzz1BJV
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 and check out this blog about one woman’s quest to follow a set of fisher tracks through the woods and wetlands last winter:http://www.tamiasoutside.com/2010/01/04/track/ For an excellent guide to identifying wolverine and fisher-marten tracks, as well as other carnivores (coyote, wolf, lynx), refer to this Forest Carnivore Identification Guide: http://home.mcn.net/~wtu/tracking.html

Swan Lake, a Nutcracker and Sleeping Wetlands Poem

With the holidays upon us, I think back to childhood experiences of visiting the theater to see ballets. I played the part of “floating garbage” in an environmental ballet called “A Blue Whale.” Three of my favorites are among the most popular of classic ballets, all orchestrated by Peter Tchaikovsky —the Nutcracker (1892),Sleeping Beauty (1889) and Swan Lake (1876).

Tchaikovsky lived in Russia and died of cholera, most likely from drinking contaminated water. Several of his most cherished operas and ballets interpreted stories that took place in wetlands or around water, like the story of the riverine/lake-dwelling mermaidsUndine. In Swan Lake, the dancers crawl through a small river. The Sleeping Beauty has a love scene that takes place beside a stream in a forest. Many of his ballets premiered in St. Petersburg (Russia), a nature-lover’s paradise known for its forested shores; often new productions echo those origins.

The musical group, Voice of the Wetlands Allstars, have performed in concert with ballet productions of “The Nutcracker” throughout the U.S. in recent years. In the original story of the Nutcracker and the King of Mice by E.T.A. Hoffman, Clara dreams that her toy Nutcracker turns into a prince, who takes her into an enchanted pine forest wonderland, the “Land of Snow.”

But there is another type of nutcracker: the Clark’s Nutcracker (Nucifraga columbiana) a jay-sized corvid that lives in alpine wet meadows, rocky mountain fens and shrublands, rocky mountain forests and savannas. The little bird likes ponderosa pine, Douglas fir and white-bark pine. It’s found year-round in Montana and throughout the west. It, too, retreats to a dreamy pine forest.

Sleeping Beauty is the longest of the ballets. Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore in Michigan stretches along 35 miles of shoreline (Lake Michigan) and covering 3000 acres of park rich with bogs, marshes and swamps.http://www.nps.gov/slbe/naturescience/wetlands.htm I have visited “the Dunes” and explored the trails running through this national park. It is a beautiful, peaceful area. Visitors may agree it’s a true “sleeping beauty.” For those traveling to British Columbia, the Sleeping Beauty Mountain Provincial Park provides day hiking trails and opportunities to see wildlife, such as grizzly and black bears, moose, mountain goats and blue grouse. One major trail takes hikers 6 kilometers (about 3.75 miles) through hemlock/fir forest and sub-alpine meadow. The Sleeping Beauty Valley boasts the “quintessential Terrace experience” with overnight camping allowed and views of the alpine lakes and meadows. http://www.vancouverisland.com/regions/towns/?townID=3677 (This is not to be confused with Sleeping Beauty Valley in the Mojave Desert. Broadwell Lake is a dry playa at the center of this desert valley, home to 350 rare plants, including the crucifixion thorn.)http://theguzzler.blogspot.com/2009/09/sleeping-beauty-valley-heart-of-mojave.html

Swan Lake has been so popular for 200 years that women have had their wedding dresses made to resemble the costume of Odette, the enchanted swan princess, who turns into a swan by day and into her human form only at night. Throughout the ballet, Odette flees to the lake, where she is under influence of the “bad swan.” If the eternal vow of faithful love is broken, Odette will remain a swan forever. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Swan_Lake (This has become a trendy theme for weddings now thanks in part by a recent film production called “The Black Swan.”)

The “good swan” / “bad swan” dynamic also plays out in wetlands. In some states, the dredging of wetland habitat has stressed the population of the native North American trumpeter swan. Iowa DNR developed a plan to restore its population of trumpeter swans in 1993, successfully reintroducing 50 pairs of swans to wetland sites.http://www.iowadnr.gov/wildlife/files/swanrestor.html A collaborative group between the Blackfoot Challenge, Wyoming Wetlands Society, FWS, Montana Fish, Wildlife & Parks have worked to restore the trumpeter swan from 2005-2010. http://www.wetlandslegacy.org/swan.html By contrast, a number of states have been regulating the invasive species, mute swans, which were introduced to states like Minnesota in the mid-1800s and early 1900s from Eurasia. Mute swans are aggressive, known to chase people or other waterfowl out of wetland habitat. Their wingspan rivals that of the majestic trumpeter swan.http://www.dnr.state.mn.us/invasives/
terrestrialanimals/muteswan/index.html

While there have been many reinterpretations of the ballet and new references to Swan Lake, so have many places shared the same name. For instance, the Swan Lake National Wildlife Refuge in Missouri contains over 7,000 acres of wetlands.http://www.fws.gov/Midwest/planning/swanlake/ Swan Lake Nature Study Area in Lemmon Valley, Nevada has mudflats, marshes and high desert.http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Swan_Lake_Nature_Study_Area As snow falls and winter creeps over fens and marshes, freezes creek beds and streams to skate upon, the wetlands become sleeping beauties waiting for spring’s kiss.

For a poem by the same name that I wrote for my grandmother, see: http://aswm.org/wordpress/110-2/swan_lake_leah_stetson/