GREAT BLUE HERON
In the wetland, the misty wetland, the heron hunts, day and night. Probably not as catchy as song lyrics as those about the mighty jungle and the sleeping lion, and the heron’s voice itself is anything but melodic, but a great blue heron standing stock still at the edge of a lake or pond completes a scene of quiet beauty. Maine is not a state with too many commonly seen heron species. The great blue heron, the largest and frequently the most typically spotted of all herons in many places, is a notable visitor to the watershed especially as the summer progresses and more shallow shoreline is revealed.
With a height of nearly four feet and, when flying, a wingspan of six feet, this is a large bird but often you have to really be looking carefully because its gray and white plumage can blend in well with the colors along the water’s edge. And of course, it rarely moves when it’s fishing, and then to rapidly strike at prey with its long, pointy bill. This weapons-grade appendage has been clocked at 90 miles per hour! In the air, it coils its long neck back toward its body but with legs and feet outstretched and slow, lumbering flight, it is readily distinguished between other large birds such as ospreys and eagles and also sandhill cranes which do live in parts of Maine.
On the lake, a hunting heron can be spotted on the bog side of aptly-named Bog Bridge, especially in late summer when they disperse from their breeding areas. You are not likely to hear its raspy croaking call which is typically heard more on their breeding grounds, a communal rookery on an island or other isolated watery environment. To hear recordings please go to https://www.allaboutbirds.org/guide/Great_Blue_Heron/sounds) What are they hunting? Almost anything, from frogs to fish, from snakes to small birds, from mice to mayflies. Larger fish can actually be impaled on the beak before being subdued by shaking and then swallowed. Their exceptional eyesight permits hunting even in darkness, something that has been noted by
volunteers for the on-going initiative tracking individuals using transmitters. You can follow these Maine birds in their southward migration as well as see some great photos at this Facebook site https://www.facebook.com/maineheron/
Usually not thought to be a bird species of concern, in Maine recently they are in the sights and talons – of bald eagles. Especially at the breeding colonies, the appearance of an eagle can mean the end of the colony. The herons leave and in many cases do not come back. Eagles’ traditional food sources – fish, primarily ocean fish – are in decline, so the birds are feeding on
alternate prey. Alas, great blue herons are on that growing list.
Keep your eye out for herons late into the fall when they still might haunt the quiet gray waters that are not ice-bound. Leaves may be down, emergent vegetation brown, and the wetland is otherwise in winter mode. It’s always nice to be reminded of our summer residents and look forward to returning green and blue seasons by the lake!
Dolomedes probably means nothing to many people, myself included, and it has nothing to do with the very similar dolomades, a Greek stuffed grape leaf delicacy. Not even close. However, mention dock spider and, oh yes, that does come in loud and clear. Docky, as the spider of the year is inevitably named in our household – and invariably there is at least one that stakes out a territory on our dock – invokes fear and trepidation for almost anyone dangling legs in the water, gripping the swim ladder, or sitting in proximity to almost any nook or cranny around the edges of the dock. So here are some details that might help dissipate the fear if not the loathing.
Dolomedes is the genus name for this large spider that frequents docks, often seen with outstretched legs which make it seem even bigger than it is (and that is pretty darn big -up to 3 inches or so including appendages). Also known as fishing spiders, they do not spin traditional webs but rather detect surface disturbances on the water and make speedy forays to grab prey nearby. Some spiders are large enough and presumably speedy enough to trap small fish but insects, not dangling feet, are the usual food items, thankfully. They do inject venom to subdue the prey which is grabbed at first by claw-like structures on the spider’s legs. Fascinatingly, they also can dive beneath the surface and, surrounded by a layer of air, can even breathe while underwater. Their hairs repel water so they remain dry, and because of this air dry-suit, are very buoyant so they pop to the surface if they don’t find something to hold onto while submerged. Most of their hunting is done at night and the ability to sense vibrations outweighs any visible means of finding their dinner. You would think that with 8 eyes, 4 in each of two rows, their sight would be a primary hunting tool but not so. These vibration detectors also function as an early warning system for any predator such as a fish that might enjoy a spider meal! Are you less scared yet?
If not, here is more to add to the notion that knowledge is a great antidote to fear. There are nine species in North America. In Maine, two species can lurk, if you must, or at least set up shop on a waterside structure – Dolomedes tenebrosus, the dark fishing spider, which also can be found away from water, and D. triton, the six spotted fishing spider. Next time you see one, get a grip and try to see the spots. Actually, D. triton seems to have lines along its sides whereas D. tenebrosus is just simply dark. This later species exhibits a rather large discrepancy between the size of the female and the male, which is less than 1/2 the size of the female. Alas, males do not survive mating although it’s not from being eaten. Deemed ‘self-sacrifice’ in one on-line article, no other details were revealed.
Often in close proximity to the large female dock spider will be a web nest with tiny spiderlets, hundreds are them, (actually an egg sac can hold about 1,000, another amazing fact) that twitch in unison when the webbing is disturbed. Another common name for this group of spiders is the nursery web spider, a reference to this behavior. The female, exhibiting true maternal behavior, guards them after she attaches the hatchlings in their web to usually something inconvenient (for us) like the arm of a chair, the rope that wraps around a dock cleat or even the steering wheel of a boat. It is unclear to me what happens to all the baby spiders but they seem to decrease in number over time, maybe eaten by other predators or even each other? Survivors hibernate as immature adults in protected spots such as beneath rocks or behind bark of tree. In the spring, after a final molt, they mate and females carry their egg mass around until the spiderlings hatch. Tiny, they are cute; really they are!
Mama spider tending her eggs
Supposedly the venom of these spiders is not particularly strong or dangerous. We as a species seem hypersensitive to the idea of spiders but they are extremely important in the balance of nature, in their role as predator. Try to just let them alone, let the nests persist. They are interesting to watch, add to all the wonders we call life and probably very few survive. Otherwise, well, let’s just say that we would be even more likely to post a sign on the ramp to the dock that reads “Beware of Spiders.”
- Insects: Their Natural History and Diversity by Stephen A. Marshall
- Dolomedes, Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia, https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Dolomedes
- Genus Dolomedes – Fishing Spiders, http://bugguide.net/node/view/1985
- Maine spiders – http://www.spiders.us/species/filter/maine/
- Canada’s Largest Spider – http://arthropodecology.com/2012/08/13/canadas- largest-spider-sittin-on-the-dock-of-the-bay/
Keep our waters clean
Treat your septic system with care
Out of sight, out of mind. That’s what many people think after the toilet flushes and the sink drains. But that wastewater may be seen again if the household’s septic system fails. Some very simple measures can prevent septic system failure and protect Maine’s lakes, streams and groundwater from pollution.
Most Septic systems, even with maintenance, will work effectively only for an average of 15-25 years.
- A “starter” is not needed for bacterial action to begin in a septic tank. In fact, additives can sometimes do harm.
Send all sewage into the septic tank. Don’t run laundry waste directly into the drain field as soap or detergent scum will plug the soil pores.
- Normal amounts of household detergents, bleaches, or other household chemicals can be used and won’t stop the bacterial action. Do not use excessive amounts.
- Never dump cleaning water for latex paint brushes or cans into the sewer.
- Never deposit coffee grounds, cooking fats, wet-strength towels, disposable diapers, facial tissues, feminine napkins, cigarette butts and other non-decomposable materials into the sewer. These materials will not decompose and will fill the septic system and could cause a failure. Make sure to tell your house guests or renters of these limitations.
- Do not dump grease down the drain. Throw it out with the garbage.
- If you have a septic system, it is not recommended that you use a garbage disposal. If you believe you must use one, you will likely need to have your septic tank pumped more frequently. Even with this, garbage disposals can still damage and shorten the life of a system
- If you use a water softener, call your professional septic system company for a brochure on use of such systems.
- Use a good quality toilet tissue that breaks up easily when wet. Put a hand full of toilet tissue in a fruit jar half full of water. Shake the jar and if the tissue breaks up easily, the product is suitable for the septic tank. High wet-strength tissues are not suitable.
Cleaning Your Septic Tank
- Pump your tank every 2-3 years for year-round residences and every 3-5 years for seasonal residences. Keep a written record.
- Summer/Seasonal usage – depends on how many people are using the residence. Even if you use your system briefly each year, it needs regular maintenance. However, excessive discharge on a daily basis into a septic system which is in excess of the systems ability to absorb the discharge can cause a system to fail even if you are there only during the summer. See “Tank Capacity” below.
- Get the tank pumped at the beginning of the season. The point is that if you get it pumped at the end of the season and are not using it year round, there may not be enough water / sewage in the system when you leave and the water could freeze causing system damage.
- Keep vegetation cut down over top of the septic system/leach field. Vegetation, such as small trees and shrubs, can have deep root systems that can get into your septic drainage system and cause a septic field failure. A good septic field needs sunlight.
- Older septic systems will fail (pipe and stone systems). If you believe that your system is not performing the way it should or you have a septic smell, call a professional septic system company. They can dig test pits over the leach field to check if the system is working properly.
Each septic system has a certain capacity. The leach field can only absorb a determined amount of liquid each day. Excessive discharge into the tank can cause the system to fail. Things that can be done to limit discharge are:
- Low flow shower heads – highly recommended.
- Fix leaking faucets and checking toilets for float valves that are leaking. A cup of water leaking out of a toilet can add up to 90 gallons a day!
- A water meter can cost $50 to $100 plus installation. You can then determine how many gallons are going in to your system each day.
- New front load washing machines use a fraction of water compared to an old top loader.
- Spread out how often you do laundry. Do smaller loads several times a week rather than many loads on one day.
- Large number of house guest or renters can over stress a system. Advise your guests that you are on a septic system. Ask for their cooperation in limiting their shower time or frequency of showers, running dishwashers only when they are full, not letting water run continually in the sink when doing dishes and other common sense water limiting ideas.
- Toilets – The largest discharge into the septic system usually comes from toilets (40%).
- The most effective way to reduce the sewage flow from a house is to reduce the toilet wastes. Some older toilets use 5 to 6 gallons per flush. Some “low flow” toilets use only 3.5 gallons per flush or less. However, low flow toilets many times take two flushes to get the sewage down. That’s 7 gallons. Toilets are now available which have been redesigned and will do a good job with one gallon or less per flush. This can reduce sewage flows from a home by one third. Ask an expert.
- Many Mainers are well aware of the old adage “If its yellow, let it mellow. If it’s brown, flush it down”. It is not very logical to use 3 to 5 gallons of water to flush down less than a pint of urine.
Following a few simple rules, like not using too much water and not depositing materials in the septic tank that bacteria can’t decompose, should help to make a septic system trouble-free for many years. But don’t forget, the septic system does need to be cleaned out when too many solids have built up. Septic systems need tender loving care too.
HISTORY of the Megunticook Watershed Association
On September 23, 1969, after filing papers with the Knox County Registry of Deeds, the Megunticook Lake Association became a legal entity. This was after an organizational meeting on August 27, 1969 that was held at the Legion Hall in Camden.
The official filing with the Maine Secretary of State gave the following as the purposes of this new Association: “The purposes of said corporation are scientific, educational and agricultural, and to improve and preserve the environment and the quality of Megunticook Lake and Norton Pond in Knox County and Waldo County in the State of Maine, and to conserve the natural resources in the watershed of said Norton Pond and Megunticook Lake so that such natural resources may be devoted to the scientific and social use of the residents of said watershed; to test the waters of said Pond and Lake, to discourage pollution thereof, to disseminate information about safety in boating and other water sports and to circulate printed information about the laws of Maine concerning sanitation and safety. To acquire and hold real estate for the purpose of preserving same in its natural state, maintaining the same for nature study.”
The original trustees/directors signing the state certificate were: A. H. Chatfield, Jr., E. Clifford Ladd, Carlton F. Dougherty, Bernard Frankel, A. Margaret Bok, Lester Meyerhoff, Charles W. Chatfield, Arthur E. Spellissy and Stillman F. Kelley. Carlton Dougherty remains on the Board of Directors today, dedicating more than 40 years to the watershed
MWA has been testing water clarity in Megunticook Lake and Norton Pond since 1975 for the Maine Volunteer Lake Monitoring Program.
Les Fleck resigned as Lake Warden in 1984 after 10 years of service.
Ken Bailey hired as part-time Lake Warden in the fall of 1984.
A few years after forming as the Megunticook Lake Association, the organization changed its name in 1985 to the Megunticook Watershed Association realizing that along with Megunticook Lake, the Megunticook River, Norton Pond, Moody Pond and the entire 32-square-mile watershed were of equal importance and should be included in all activities.
The Megunticook Watershed Association purchased (1984-85) the two outlet dams at the lake and donated them, plus a $20,000 endowment fund, to the Town of Camden.
Watercraft inspections for milfoil and other invasive aquatic plants have been conducted since 2001. In recent years, over 1,000 watercraft have been inspected annually.
In conjunction with Camden Partners in Monitoring, water tests for bacteria have been conducted at multiple locations on the lake, pond and river for over 11 years.
Ken Bailey was hired as full-time Executive Director/Lake Warden April 4, 2004 after many years in a part-time position with MWA..
A Nonpoint Source Pollution Survey was conducted from 2005-2006.
The membership was surveyed in the spring of 2010 in an effort to assist the MWA Board of Directors plan for the long-range future of the Association.
MWA ended is 2010-2011 fiscal years with 317 members.