Saturday, May 21, 2011

Little Conestoga

The Little Conestoga isn’t much to look at here. Its surface looks brown and the bottom is nondescript. It flows through a pastoral landscape and the region is picturesque. But the stream itself at this point doesn’t look like much. I debate about whether the effort of donning a dry suit is worth it, whether the rest of the bottom will mimic the featureless part I can see here at my neoprene clad feet. One way to find out: I spit in my mask, rinse it out, slip it over and tuck it under the wetsuit hood and splash into the fast moving stream. The force of the water is intense and I have a hard time holding my place in the stream against the current. My toes dig in and slide downstream through the gravel bottom. I struggle to the center of the river where the bottom becomes rocky which gives me something to hold onto. The force of the water mashes my mask to my face and the bridge of my nose starts to hurt where the plastic frame pushes against it. I really start to wonder if the effort is worth it. I wonder if someone driving over the bridge behind me will mistake me as a body and call 911, which has happened elsewhere. I wonder if an owner of one of the homes on the left bank is going to come out and try to shoo me out of their stream. It all makes me feel unsettled, and since I don’t see much life, feel like I went through all this effort for nothing. But as I relax my mind, focus more on the stream, and less on the things that may happen outside of the stream, life comes into view.
A tessellated darter, one of the most abundant bottom dwelling fish in our region, stares back at me inches from my facemask. This fish is so well camouflaged, I wouldn’t have noticed him if he didn’t move. Minnows I can’t identify lazily drift downstream in the current sideways, catch an eddy to point back into the flow, swim back upstream and repeat.
Tessellated Darters like the bottom of slower sections of the stream. Minnows hang in the moderate flow areas and the green sided darters seem to like the fast flowing riffles, and wriggle down into the nooks between rocks. I briefly saw a pair nestled into a water carved bowl on the lee side of a boulder. Green sided darters are elusive. I’ve been unsuccessfully chasing them for the last few weeks in Conowingo Creek just for the chance at a picture. I usually see them as dark green squiggles that quickly disappear somewhere into the bottom. Today I learned that green sided darters look like algae blowing in the current.
Green darters are one of those fish that, when in breeding color, don’t look like they belong here. They look tropical, like I should see them in the Amazon basin somewhere, or maybe the Congo. But they are here in this nondescript from the surface stream, and once I was able to decipher their flowing algae camouflage, I was finally able to recognize one before it disappeared so I could follow the fish and capture a photo of the elusive beauties. The life in our streams is truly amazing, and gives us more reasons to take action to protect water quality. There is life of worth and value in our streams that deserves just as much care and concern as the amazon rainforest.

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