I saw motion as soon as I put my face in the water. It was a little unexpected since its winter and things move slower when they’re cold. The Appalachian brook crayfish stopped squirting backwards, settled on the pebbly bottom, and slowly crawled away from me.
I have been in this creek, in this very pool, hundreds of times. It is close to where I live and it is where I go when I need to get into a creek but don’t have the time to go somewhere bigger. I have never seen this kind of crayfish here. I wonder if it’s new to the creek or if I have just missed them on past trips.
I crawled upstream against the hard current. Caddisfly covered every rock bigger than my fist. A smudge of olive grey shot out to the side. Another surprise. I followed the darter from crevice to crevice until the small fish let the current wrap its body around a rock. For as many times as I have been in this creek, I have never seen these animals here before. I checked the Maryland Biological Stream Survey which regularly samples this pool to see if they have encountered crayfish and darters. The darter was listed. The crayfish wasn’t. I’m not sure if this species is unknown from this creek. But it is unknown to me in this creek, and that is exciting. There are three species of invasive crayfish in my region. They are increasing in number and appear to decrease the diversity of other bottom dwelling organisms. The crayfish I watched isn’t one of the three so it’s especially nice to find something native to this creek.
Creek snorkeling lets me see ecology happen and play out in front of me, whether it’s native or not. I get to watch species come and go seasonally and on longer time scales. I get to witness struggles for individual survival, and community balance. And for as much time as I spend underwater it is still just a small fraction. I get to experience rivers and streams for such short windows of time under water, it’s no wonder I see new faces in old places.