Sunday, May 19, 2013
Endangered species day was this week. But I didn’t think about that much as I slid into Big Branch. I was last here in March and spring was flying by. The river was very different, again. Every river has a personality and Big Branch’s is all about change. Large woody debris is common and provides excellent cover for a variety of fish. It also forces water to take different paths which in turn carves new canyons into the sandy bottom, and fills old ones. Of the streams I regularly snorkel, Big Branch changes the most. A few sunnies nervously swam just ahead of me. A mixed assortment school of minnows: rosy sided dace, black nosed dace, common shiner, bridle shiner, fall fish hovered in the lee of a large log. Big fall fish held under bigger cover. I love fall fish based on their behavior. They always are as curious of me as I am of them and so the let me get in pretty close. Not like the river chubs holding on the bottom who dart off out of sight into deeper water as soon as they are noticed. One of the chubs did just that. As soon as I turned to see it partially tucked under a branch tiny in comparison to its robust body, it shot for a deeper pool. A trout rocketed upstream. I don’t think there is a more nervous fish. Northern hogsuckers scoured the gravel and a few darters, possibly two different species, bounced along the bottom. At the end of this 45 minute swim, I counted 13 different species of fish, and I realized this is all about endangered species. Endangered species designation is about maintaining diversity. Diverse systems are healthy and resilient systems. Things change. Incredibly abundant species can become imperiled. Unfortunately, there are excellent examples of this in our history. Look at passenger pigeons, or more recently, Susquehanna smallies. Every time I snorkel Big Branch I am amazed at the diversity it contains, and I try not to take it for granted. There is an endangered species day for a reason. Fortunately today was dominated by diversity on Big Branch.