The stars of Bras d’or Watch field day

In the Bras d'or Lake Bio­sphere Re­serve

The Victoria Standard - - Environment - ANNAMARIE HATCHER

For the last three years in mid-july, we have gath­ered on the shores of the Bras d’or es­tu­ary to meet the non-hu­man res­i­dents and mon­i­tor some as­pects of their habi­tat. Ex­er­cises and ac­tiv­i­ties at the Bras d'or Watch field day (see ad this page) are suit­able for all ages, and nat­u­ral­ists and sci­en­tists at all sites will tell you about this ecosys­tem and its in­hab­i­tants. Most im­por­tantly, hun­dreds of pairs of your eyes can help us keep track of changes in the nearshore en­vi­ron­ment of our beloved Bras d’or!

Be­fore Bras d’or watch­ers ar­rive, sci­en­tists take a set of ba­sic wa­ter qual­ity mea­sure­ments, such as salin­ity, ph and tem­per­a­ture, at ex­actly the same time to com­pare habi­tat con­di­tions among our sites. If you want to learn more about wa­ter chem­istry, you can try out the equip­ment at the sites with a sci­en­tist to guide you.

Dur­ing the event, you can help us look for and count in­va­sive and res­i­dent crabs with an un­der­wa­ter view­ing tube. If this ap­peals to you, bring wa­ter­proof footwear and (per­haps) a bathing suit. Those want­ing to stay on dry land can seek out our bird and plant ex­perts.

Each site will have some­thing unique to of­fer. In Why­co­co­magh, we ex­pect to see many north­ern pipefish, a fas­ci­nat­ing crea­ture that looks more like a minia­ture dragon than the other small fish it shares the Lake with. It ac­tu­ally looks a lot like a sea­horse. Adults are about 100 to 200 cm long with a slen­der body and a long, tube­like snout which ends in a small, tooth­less mouth at the tip. The small mouth is used to feed on tiny ma­rine an­i­mals by open­ing its mouth slightly, spit­ting wa­ter out with great force and then suck­ing in un­sus­pect­ing prey which are caught in the back­draft. In­ter­est­ingly, the eggs are in­cu­bated by the males af­ter the fe­male lays eggs into the male’s brood pouches! With pa­tience, you will be able to see these fas­ci­nat­ing fish us­ing one of the un­der­wa­ter view­ing tubes or in the on­site touch tank! In Why­co­co­magh, we should also see sand shrimp (Mi’kmaq: sata’siw) swim­ming among the sea­grasses and hope to have a re­turn visit from a Mer­lin that was ob­served there in the past. These small fal­cons prey on other birds, typ­i­cally catch­ing them in midair dur­ing high-speed at­tacks; an ex­cit­ing event for bird watch­ers!

The crew at Ben Eoin RV Park will have a beach seine (fish­ing net) to cap­ture all of the nearshore crea­tures for closer ex­am­i­na­tion. They are ex­pect­ing to cap­ture and ex­am­ine eels (Mi’kmaq: katew), crabs (Mi’kmaq: nmi­jnike’j), floun­der (Mi’kmaq: anakwe’j) and small fish (Mi’kmaq: nme’j) which will be held in the touch tanks for the ses­sion. This is the first seine sam­pling for this site, so we are not sure what crea­tures we will find. In the past, this site has been a good spot to ob­serve and count the in­va­sive green crabs us­ing the un­der­wa­ter view­ers. How many crabs will you be able to count in the un­der­wa­ter viewer? If crabs aren’t your thing, this site has also been a good spot for bird­ers, with wa­ter­fowl in the bar­ra­chois pond and a pair of ea­gles nest­ing up the hill.

Ross Ferry Ma­rine Park is a new site this year, so our touch tanks there will be full of sur­prises. We do know that this site has a healthy pop­u­la­tion of stick­le­backs small, elon­gated fish that reach a max­i­mum length of about 17 cm with a row of 2 to 16 spines on their back. Nova Sco­tia is home to five species of stick­le­backs (three spine, four spine, nine spine, brook and black-spot­ted). In colour, they range from sil­ver to a green­ish brown, ex­cept dur­ing spawn­ing when the male takes on their bril­liant spawn­ing colours. This usu­ally in­volves red tints on fins and some­times a blue body. In the Bras d’or es­tu­ary, spawn­ing time is June and July, so you may be lucky and spot a male in its’ breed­ing colours dur­ing Bras d’or Watch field day. If you do, watch for a while and you may see the lit­tle guy ag­gres­sively de­fend his ter­ri­tory if an­other male hap­pens to swim by. Stick­le­backs are cousins of the north­ern pipefish, and they share an in­trigu­ing pat­tern of fam­ily re­spon­si­bil­i­ties. The colour­ful males make a nest on the bot­tom and (in some species) they care for the young.

The pleas­ant lit­tle site at St. Peters is per­fect for sit­ting down and lis­ten­ing to the bal­ladeers singing a mul­ti­tude of Bras d’or songs. The St. Peters crew are go­ing to tell sto­ries about the Bras d’or oys­ter which was once plen­ti­ful, but has suc­cumbed to a par­a­sitic dis­ease. In the past, this site has yielded a va­ri­ety of crabs, stick­le­backs and north­ern pipefish for the touch tanks. Every year, the Bras d’or watch­ers have been scru­ti­nized by the res­i­dent Great Blue Heron (in Mi’kmaq: tmk­wa­liknej), cu­ri­ous about the go­ings-on and about the res­i­dents swim­ming around the touch tank. This ma­jes­tic res­i­dent al­ways seems to hang around this site. It of­ten stands mo­tion­less as it scans for prey, but may strike like light­ning to grab a fish. In flight, look for this heron’s long trail­ing legs and tucked-in neck. The Great Blue Heron breeds in the Bio­sphere in groups of trees called a ‘heronry’. In win­ter, they head south to over­win­ter any­where from south­ern Canada to north­ern South Amer­ica.

So we hope to see you out dur­ing this year’s Bras d’or Watch field day! Fol­low us (Bras d’or Watch) on Face­book to get up­dates on our plans and on the fas­ci­nat­ing res­i­dents that you are go­ing to meet.

Dr. Annamarie Hatcher is a con­sult­ing ecol­o­gist and a board mem­ber of the Bras d’or Lake Bio­sphere Re­serve As­so­ci­a­tion (BLBRA). For more in­for­ma­tion about BLBTA, visit blbra.ca or check out our Face­book page. In­for­ma­tion in this ar­ti­cle was ob­tained from the Ecosys­tem Overview and Assess­ment Re­port for the Bras d’or Lakes, Nova Sco­tia by M. Parker, M. West­head, P. Doherty and J. Naug (2007) (http://pub­li­ca­tions.gc.ca/ col­lec­tions/col­lec­tion_2014/mpo-dfo/fs97-4-2789-eng.pdf).

Au­thor and Bras d’or Lake Bio­sphere Re­serve As­so­ci­a­tion board mem­ber Annamarie Hatcher suc­cess­fully catches a tiny stick­le­back. Photo by Rod Beres­ford.

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