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An Update from the Lake Science Manager

-Article by Brenda Fekete with photographs by Logan Parker

Wow! Is it nearly July already? The early and unusually warm spring sent us out sampling in early April and we have been out weekly on all seven lakes ever since. It is so great to back out on the water with the Water Quality Initiative team!

This year’s team includes six Colby students. We are pleased to have three students returning from last year’s efforts, and welcome three new students to the crew. We have been busy with boat, laboratory and sampling training and are ready for our busy summer schedule. Please stop us when you see us on the water. We would love to introduce ourselves!

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Brenda Fekete taking an In-Situ water profile in the upper basin of Long Pond

We are often out on the water by 8 am. As completed during the 2015 season, we plan to continue our weekly secchi measurements, In-Situ water profiles to include temperature, dissolved oxygen and pH analysis, and surface water samples for plankton analysis on all seven lakes. Grab samples for nutrient and elemental analysis will be taken every two meters on a biweekly basis. We completed some early spring sediment sampling and plan to get another round of sediment samples in the fall.

In the afternoons we are in the Colby College labs completing our phosphate, nitrogen and metal analysis of the water samples and looking at the zooplankton and phytoplankton using the FlowCam that is housed at the MLRC. Come by the MLRC lab and see the awesome plankton pictures! And while you are here, please visit our mudpuppies and native fish tanks that Logan has on display.

Goldie was deployed on April 16 and started collecting data on April 17th. Real time data is displayed and explained on the Goldie website.

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Pete Kallin with one of the new buoys.

One of our early spring projects was to place a Water Quality Test Site buoy at each of the DEP sampling sites on all seven lakes. These buoys required a state permit and were purchased by each of the lake associations. Placed at the deepest parts of the lakes, these buoys will allow our teams to sample at the exact same site every time on every lake. Such will result in more consistent data collected from the deepest holes of the lake, thus increasing the accuracy of our results.   We plan to attach HOBO temperature and fluorescence sensors to each of the buoys in the near future. I would like to give a shout out to Pete Kallin who worked hard to get the permits for the buoys and for overseeing their safe arrival to the MLRC. Thank you to all of the lake associations for agreeing to have these buoys on their lakes and for helping to fund the effort. If you want to know where the deepest part of your lake is … come visit the WQ buoy. However, when visiting, please do not attach your boat to the buoys. Pulling on the buoys will cause the buoys to move from their desired DEP locations.

 

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Acoustic Doppler Current Profilers (ADCP) in the Serpentine Stream

We (in collaboration with the BRCA and DEP) have also deployed an Acoustic Doppler Current Profiler (ADCP) and several pressure transducers to study the changes in depth and current direction and velocity in the East Pond Serpentine. An ADCP will measure water current velocities over a depth range using the Doppler effect of sound waves scattered back from particles within the water column. This information will allow us to study the movement of water between North Pond and East Pond. Grab samples for nutrient and elemental analysis will augment the data profiles.

I would like to thank L.L. Bean for their recent donations of two shorty wetsuits that make our spring and fall water adventures so much more enjoyable!

I would like to, again, thank all of our wonderful volunteers that escorted our students to the sampling sites last season. The students truly enjoy your company and appreciate your help in the sampling process. We would love to ask for your help again during the heavy July and August sampling. We also welcome any new volunteers that would like to join in the fun!

The weekly secchi measurements, temperature and dissolved oxygen data is presented on the online Interactive Map. You can also find the present and past weekly data on the Water Quality Data page of our website. We are currently working to develop a dynamic display area that will represent each of the seven lakes in the Belgrade Watershed. Come by and ask Logan Parker at the MLRC Gallery for details!

If you have any questions or comments about the Belgrade Watershed Water Quality Initiative, please do not hesitate to contact me at blfekete@colby.edu.

Have a wonderful Fourth of July. It looks like is it going to be a beauty!!!

“Pulling together we can save our lakes!”

Observers View Bird-life in Messalonskee Marsh

Written by Logan Parker, MLRC Community Engagement Coordinator

Photographs by the trip participants

It was under an overcast sky that a handful of eager wildlife enthusiasts came aboard the Melinda Ann early on a foggy Saturday morning. Boat captain, Phil Mulville, eased the 30-foot pontoon boat away from the Sidney boat launch and directed the boat south. The passengers quietly chatted among themselves as the boat steadily made its way toward the expansive marsh that runs the length of Messalonskee Lake’s southern end. Meanwhile, the trip leaders, Louis Bevier, Don Mairs, and Logan Parker discussed where to begin the search for Sandhill Cranes, Black Terns, and other forms of marsh wildlife.

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Black Tern – Louis Bevier

As the boat neared the wetlands, Common Loons of various ages were spotted flying out over the lake and diving in pursuit of fish. A Bald Eagle was observed high in a White Pine 100 feet from a large eagle nest in another pine on the lakeshore. After a few minutes of raptor admiration, the boat pressed on along the marsh’s edge. Along the way, the birders observed a handful of acrobatic Purple Martins, the largest of the swallow species, and a female Common Loon sitting silently on her nest. Minding their distance, the crew pressed on deeper into the marshlands where Black Terns could be seen pursuing insects over the water.

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Sandhill Crane with chick – Alexander Wall

The sun broke through the clouds as the full boat of birders scanned the southeastern section for the marsh. The Black Terns (an endangered species in this state) were scarcer and more distant at first, but soon flew increasingly closer as the boat slowly traveled along the shore. “I’ve got a crane” said Bevier “A pair of Sandhill Cranes with chicks”. Mulville slowed the boat to stop. All optics were pointed east trying to pick out the tall, rusty-plumed cranes with their downy, chicken-sized chicks. The trip leaders worked with each participant until each had a good look at the well-camouflaged bird family foraging in the meadow-like wetlands.

Under sunny skies, the passengers chatted about their good fortune and reviewed photographs as the boat traveled back up the lake towards the boat launch. By the trip’s end, the crew aboard the Melinda Ann observed a total of 37 birds species. The participants (some of whom had driven nearly an hour to take part) departed with smiles on their faces and an eagerness to get out in the field again soon. The trip had been a great success.

To stay posted for future wildlife observation opportunities in the watershed, check keep up with our events page and follow the MLRC on Facebook.

 

Sandhill Cranes Return to the Belgrade Lakes Watershed

– Article and photographs by Logan Parker, MLRC Community Engagement Coordinator

On motionless wing they emerge from the lifting mists, sweep a final arc of sky, and settle in clangorous descending spirals to their feeding grounds. A new day has begun on the crane marsh“. – Aldo Leopold, Marshland Elegy

As the alders and maples begin bud and the cap of lake ice begins to melt, I begin to spend more mornings out in the marshlands. It’s not long after the year-round Black-capped Chickadees and Brown Creepers begin to sing that we hear the virtuoso Song Sparrow rejoin the dawn chorus. Soon after the seasonal blackbirds, Common Grackles and Red-winged Blackbirds both, stream in to our wetlands from the south. These birds, all males, are tolerant and downright gregarious in the early spring. When the females arrive just a few weeks behind, however, that tolerance vanishes. While I admire the songs and calls of all the region’s birds, during this time of year I have my ears trained for one species in particular: the Sandhill Crane.

For anyone who has heard the loud, bugling rattle of this charismatic bird or witnessed their spiraling descent into a marsh, it should come has no surprise that any watershed resident would be anxious for their arrival each spring. You do not have to be a “birder” to appreciate the elegance of this tall, red-capped crane from the south. Each winter, these birds flock in truly impressive numbers in Texas, California, Florida, and northern Mexico (Maier). While the cranes have a large migratory range, the breeding range of the Sandhill crane includes the Alaska, northwestern Canada, and some areas within the northwestern United States. In recent decades, however, Sandhill cranes have begun to appear in New England and even in the Belgrade Lakes (eBird, 2016).

22615930575_27f2b6de31_oThe earliest records of Sandhill crane sightings in the Belgrades date back only to the late 20th Century. It wasn’t until the summer of 2000, that a New England crane researcher by the name of Scott Melvin discovered a nesting pair of crane in the Belgrade Lakes Region. Since Melvin’s observations in 2000, breeding cranes have been readily observed nesting in wetlands throughout the watershed (Melvin, 2002). Some locals speculate that the cranes were blown off course and found their way to the Belgrade Lakes by chance. In an article for the Northeastern Naturalist however, Melvin suggested that the Sandhill cranes were not merely expanding their range, but were recolonizing the Northeast after centuries of extirpation. Melvin explored scattered historical accounts of cranes from the 17th, 18th, and 19th centuries that suggest the birds migrated to (and potentially nested) in New England in centuries past (Melvin, 2002).

16971106800_23deb4f9e4_oToday, the wetlands of the Belgrade Lakes watershed are of vital importance to the Sandhill cranes. Indeed, it is upon lakeside marshes, fens, and other wetlands that cranes build their nests and defend their eggs and young from predators. They are also important food sources across the full range of their migrations. “The Sandhill Crane is not exceptional in its need for wetlands. It may be no surprise that areas with plentiful wetlands host a variety of creatures that have made themselves at home in the marshes, bogs, and fens, that cover much of the landscape” (Maier). Indeed, wildlife such as the state endangered Black Tern and Little Brown Bat also depend on our local wetlands for nesting and/or foraging grounds. We, too, benefit from the critical services wetlands provide such as filtering nutrients, soaking up floodwaters, and preventing erosion.

On a cool morning in late March of this year, I patiently scanned the fog-shrouded marsh for any sign of the slate-colored crane. For a time, all was still. A clamoring rattle sounded from the north breaking the silence. I turned my scope just in time to catch a glimpse of two cranes rising from the floating vegetation before the pair disappeared deeper into the wetlands. A new season has begun on the crane marsh.

For more information on Sandhill Cranes, click here.

Citations:

eBird. 2016. eBird: An online database of bird distribution and abundance [web application]. eBird, Ithaca, New York. Available: http://www.ebird.org. 4/9/16)

Melvin, Scott M. (2002). “First Breeding Records and Historical Status of Sandhill Cranes in Maine and New England. Northeastern Naturalist, Vol. 9: No. 2. Eagle Hill Institute.

Leopold, Aldo. (1949). “Marshland Elegy” A Sand County Almanac. Oxford University Press. Oxford, United Kingdom.

Maier, Craig. “Sandhill Cranes and Wetlands”. The Backyard Almanac. Also Leopold Foundation.