Monday, June 24, 2013

Solstice Snorkel

I have been in Basin Run hundreds of times, but it turns out I haven’t been here in summer. It’s a local creek, about a mile from my house and its watershed is still mostly forested, so it stays clear when other streams get muddy and clears faster than the others when it does turn to chocolate milk. I go to Basin Run in fall and winter because of its convenience. I can’t justify a long drive when I can only stay in the water for maybe 30 minutes before the cold sets in. In the spring and summer I wander farther to witness migrations and explore, which means Basin Run gets ignored in the warmer months. I figured the solstice was a fitting time to explore what Basin Run looks like in summer. I know it well in winter, and I expect to see pretty different things here today. The creek cascades through a series of pools and I slip into one of the deeper ones on the downstream end of this run. I instantly see a combined school of common shiner and stoneroller. They divide up the stream to feed, stoneroller take the bottom and shiner pluck morsels from midwater. A fall fish swims in the lee of a large boulder and three brown trout hold in the current flowing over bedrock in the bottom of a scoured hole. They take off as soon as they see me peeking over the ledge. A juvenile trout hovers in the strong current like a hummingbird, with its tail down and nose up. An elver ambles across the gravel bottom then jets for a crevasse in the bedrock when it notices me. I scare up another one a few minutes later. Another wriggles into the small cobble bottom. Another darts off when I accidentally touch it. I saw at least a half dozen in a small two pool section of stream. These juvenile eels are returning from the Sargasso Sea where they were born, and it is a joy to witness so many in Basin Run. I always suspected eels were here but I thought I was just missing them due to a combination of poor timing and their cryptic lifestyles. I hoped for a hellbender, but no luck. As many times as I have been in Basin Run, I have never seen these fish here. The normal winter community includes a few darters, fairly abundant black nosed and rosy sided dace, and tons of caddisfly and may fly larvae. In fact most trips to basin run in winter results in 10 minutes of picking may fly larvae off my dry suit after I get out of the water, they are that abundant. I didn’t see one today. It’s the same creek but a very different place today, on the solstice. Water temperatures are up and the fish community is expanded. Today celebrates the beginning of summer and for many the beginning of the river snorkeling season. Take advantage of the summer to get out there and explore your local rivers and streams. I am always amazed by what I find.

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