Schools of Juvenile Largemouth Bass Learning to Survive

Yesterday, while photographing damselflies on a rehabilitated segment of a warmwater lower Susquehanna valley stream, we noticed some oddly chunky small fish gathered on the surface of a pool along the shoreline.

Damselflies and Small Fish
Perched damselflies and some sort of robust little fish feeding nearby.

Upon further inspection, they appeared to be fingerlings of some type of sunfish or bass.  Time for a closer look.

Juvenile Largemouth Bass
At just one inch in length, these juvenile Largemouth Bass (Micropterus salmoides) are already showing signs of the dark lateral stripe that so easily identifies the adult fish.
Adult Largemouth Bass on Spawning Bed
Adult Largemouth Bass began spawning among nearby beds of Spatterdock and other emergent and submerged aquatic vegetation about one month ago, just as water temperatures stabilized to a minimum of the low sixties for several days and nights.  Each female can lay thousands of eggs.  Only those that are successfully fertilized by the attending male have a chance to hatch.
Juvenile Largemouth Bass
Largemouth Bass eggs can hatch as soon as ten days after being deposited in the nest by the female and fertilized by the male.  The fry linger in the nest for another week consuming the nutrition contained in their attached yolk sac.
Juvenile Largemouth Bass
The juvenile fish are then ready to leave the nest and begin feeding on zooplankton.
Juvenile Largemouth Bass
Young largemouths often gather in schools to feed in waters near their birthplace.  As they grow, they soon begin consuming small invertebrates and tiny fish.  But for young bass, the hazards are many.  These juveniles can become victims of a host of predatory insects, crayfish, piscivorous birds, and bigger fish.  Then too, Largemouth Bass, like most other species  of fishes, are cannibalistic and will consume others of their own kind.  Of the thousands of eggs produced by a mating pair, natural selection determines which, if any, of their progeny will survive to reproduce and sustain their genetic line.

In the Lower Susquehanna River Watershed, the Largemouth Bass is an introduced species.

Some Early Season Damselflies and Dragonflies

During recent weeks, as temperatures have warmed into the 70s and 80s, early season odonates—damselflies and dragonflies—have taken to the wing along our watercourses and wetlands to prey upon small flying insects.

Vegetated Stream
In addition to wetlands, many vegetated streams, ponds, lakes, and rivers are prime locations to find a variety of damselflies and dragonflies.
Common Whitetail and Eastern Amberwings
A male Common Whitetail (top) and some Eastern Amberwings (Perithemis tenera) patrol the edge of a verdant pond in search of small flying insects.  In addition to defending territories for hunting, many males will begin chasing off potential rivals as the breeding season gets underway.  Both of these dragonflies are tolerant of mud-bottomed waters during their aquatic larval stages of life and may be the only species found at places like farm ponds.
Male Fragile Forktail
The Fragile Forktail is common throughout the Lower Susquehanna River Watershed.  It is the most likely damselfly to colonize garden ponds, wet ditches, and other small bodies of water.
Female Fragile Forktail
Having just mated with the male seen in the previous image, this female Fragile Forktail prepares to oviposit (lay her eggs) among the submerged plant matter in the shallows of this pond.  After hatching, the larval damselflies will spend an entire year as aquatic predators before taking flight as adults next spring.
Male Blue Dasher
The Blue Dasher is a common dragonfly around streams, ponds, and wetlands.  It can frequently be found perched in sunny woodland clearings, even those quite a distance from their breeding area.
Male Eastern Forktail
The Eastern Forktail (Ischnura verticalis) is a common damselfly around almost any calm, vegetated waters.  They frequently perch on emergent plant leaves and stems.
Common Baskettail
The Common Baskettail (Epitheca cynosura) is currently numerous around tree-lined pond and lake shores.  They spend nearly all of their time on the wing and frequently dart in and out of the shade while hunting and defending their territory from other dragonflies.  Unless you happen to catch a quick glimpse of them in good sunlight, these hyperactive insects will appear completely black in color.
Common Baskettail
Another Common Baskettail, this one mostly lacking any black coloration on the base section of the hindwings.
Lancet Clubtail
The Lancet Clubtail is a handsome early season dragonfly of slow clear streams, ponds, and wetlands.  They spend much of their time perched, watching for prey.
Lancet Clubtail
We found this Lancet Clubtail about 100 yards from a mountain stream perched on the ground atop some debris on a seldom-traveled forest road,…
Lancet Clubtail
…and this one clinging to some shrubs along the shore of a clear woodland pond.

If you’re out and about in coming days, you’ll find that flights of Common Green Darners, Black Saddlebags, and other species are underway as well.  As the waters of the lower Susquehanna valley continue to warm, an even greater variety of these insects will take to the wing.  To help with the identification of those you see, be certain to click the “Damselflies and Dragonflies” tab at the top of this page.

The Value of Water

Are you worried about your well running dry this summer?  Are you wondering if your public water supply is going to implement use restrictions in coming months?  If we do suddenly enter a wet spell again, are you concerned about losing valuable rainfall to flooding?  A sensible person should be curious about these issues, but here in the Lower Susquehanna River Watershed, we tend to take for granted the water we use on a daily basis.

This Wednesday, June 7,  you can learn more about the numerous measures we can take, both individually and as a community, to recharge our aquifers while at the same time improving water quality and wildlife habitat in and around our streams and rivers.  From 5:30 to 8:00 P.M., the Chiques Creek Watershed Alliance will be hosting its annual Watershed Expo at the Manheim Farm Show grounds adjacent to the Manheim Central High School in Lancaster County.  According to the organization’s web page, more than twenty organizations will be there with displays featuring conservation, aquatic wildlife, stream restoration, Honey Bees, and much more.  There will be games and custom-made fish-print t-shirts for the youngsters, plus music to relax by for those a little older.  Look for rain barrel painting and a rain barrel giveaway.  And you’ll like this—admission and ice cream are free.  Vendors including food trucks will be onsite preparing fare for sale.

And there’s much more.

To help recharge groundwater supplies, you can learn how to infiltrate stormwater from your downspouts, parking area, or driveway…

Urban Runoff
Does your local stream flood every time there’s a downpour, then sometimes dry up during the heat of summer?  Has this problem gotten worse over the years?  If so, you may be in big trouble during a drought.  Loss of base flow in a stream or river is a sure sign of depleted groundwater levels in at least a portion of its drainage basin.  Landowners, both public and private, in such a watershed need to start infiltrating stormwater into the ground instead of allowing it to become surface runoff.
Rain Garden Model
You can direct the stormwater from your downspout, parking area, or driveway into a rain garden to help recharge the aquifer that supplies your private or public well and nearby natural springs.  Displays including this model provided by Rapho Township show you how.

…there will be a tour of a comprehensive stream and floodplain rehabilitation project in Manheim Memorial Park adjacent to the fair grounds…

Legacy Sediments
Have you seen banks like these on your local stream?  On waterways throughout the Lower Susquehanna River Watershed, mill dams have trapped accumulations of sediments that eroded from farm fields prior to the implementation of soil conservation practices.  These legacy sediments channelize creeks and disconnect them from their now buried floodplains.  During storms, water that would have been absorbed by the floodplain is now displaced into areas of higher ground not historically inundated by a similar event.
Adjacent to the Manheim Farm Show grounds, the Chiques Creek Stream Restoration Project in Manheim Memorial Park has reconnected the waterway to its historic floodplain by removing a dam and the legacy sediments that accumulated behind it.
Legacy Sediments Removed
Chiques Creek in Manheim following removal of hundreds of truck loads of legacy sediments.  High water can again be absorbed by the wetlands and riparian forest of the floodplain surrounding this segment of stream.  There are no incised banks creating an unnatural channel or crumbling away to pollute downstream waters with nutrients and sediment.  Projects similar to this are critical to improving water quality in both the Susquehanna River and Chesapeake Bay.  Closer to home, they can help municipalities meet their stormwater management (MS4) requirements.
Bank-full Bench
Mark Metzler of Rettew Associates guides a tour of the Chiques Creek rehabilitation.  Here, cross vanes, stone structures that provide grade control along the stream’s course, were installed to gently steer the center of the channel away from existing structures.   Cross vanes manipulate the velocity of the creek’s flow across its breadth to dissipate potentially erosive energy and more precisely direct the deposition of gravel and sediment.

…and a highlight of the evening will be using an electrofishing apparatus to collect a sample of the fish now populating the rehabilitated segment of stream…

Electrofishing
Matt Kofroth, Lancaster County Conservation District Watershed Specialist, operates a backpack electrofishing apparatus while the netting crew prepares to capture the temporarily stunned specimens.  The catch is then brought to shore for identification and counting.

…so don’t miss it.  We can hardly wait to see you there!

The 2023 Watershed Expo is part of Lancaster Conservancy Water Week.

Shakedown Cruise of the S. S. Haldeman

First there was the Nautilus.  Then there was the Seaview.  And who can forget the Yellow Submarine?  Well, now there’s the S. S. Haldeman, and today we celebrated her shakedown cruise and maiden voyage.  The Haldeman is powered by spent fuel that first saw light of day near Conewago Falls at a dismantled site that presently amounts to nothing more than an electrical substation.  Though antique in appearance, the vessel discharges few emissions, provided there aren’t any burps or hiccups while underway.  So, climb aboard as we take a cruise up the Susquehanna at periscope depth to have a quick look around!

Brunner Island as seen from the east channel.
Close-in approach to emergent Water Willow growing on an alluvial Island.
The approach to York Haven Dam and Conewago Falls from the west channel.
A pair of Powdered Dancers on a midriver log.

Watertight and working fine.  Let’s flood the tanks and have a peek at the benthos.  Dive, all dive!

American Eelgrass, also known as Tapegrass, looks to be growing well in the channels.  Historically, vast mats of this plant were the primary food source for the thousands of Canvasback ducks that once visited the lower Susquehanna each autumn.
As is Water Stargrass (Heteranthera dubia).  When mature, both of these native plants provide excellent cover for young fish.  Note the abundance of shells from deceased Asiatic Clams (Corbicula fluminea) covering the substrate.
Mayfly nymph
A three-tailed mayfly (Ephemeroptera) nymph and a several exoskeletons cling to the downstream side of a rock.
Comb-lipped Casemaker Caddisfly larva and case.
This hollowed-out stick may be a portable protective shelter belonging to a Comb-lipped Casemaker Caddisfly larva (Calamoceratidae).  The larva itself appears to be extending from the end of the “case” in the upper right of the image.  Heteroplectron americanum, a species known for such behavior, is a possibility. 
Rusty Crayfish
In the Susquehanna and its tributaries, the Rusty Crayfish (Faxonius rusticus) is an introduced invasive species.  It has little difficulty displacing native species due to its size and aggressiveness.
Rusty Crayfish
A Rusty Crayfish.
Freshwater Snails Susquehanna: Virginian River Horn Snail
Summers with conditions that promote eelgrass and stargrass growth tend to be big years for Virginian River Horn Snails (Elimia virginica).  2022 appears to be one of those years.  They’re abundant and they’re everywhere on the rocks and gravel substrate in midriver.  Feeding almost incessantly on algae and detritus, these snails are an essential component of the riverine ecosystem, breaking down organic matter for final decomposition by bacteria and fungi.
Freshwater Snails Susquehanna: Virginian River Horn Snail
Bits of debris suspended in the flowing water streak by this Virginian River Horn Snail.  The spire-shaped shell is a streamlining adaptation for maneuvering and holding fast in the strong current.
Freshwater Snails Susquehanna: Virginian River Horn Snail
A young Virginian River Horn Snail following a mature adult.  Note the green algae growing among the decaying plant and animal remains that blanket the river bottom.
Freshwater Snails Susquehanna: Virginian River Horn Snail
Two of a population that may presently include millions of Virginian River Horn Snails living downstream of Conewago Falls.
Susquehanna Snails: Virginian River Horn Snails and Lesser Mystery Snails
Virginian River Horn Snails with Lesser Mystery Snails (Campeloma decisum), another native species commonly encountered at Conewago Falls and in surrounding waters.
Freshwater Snails Susquehanna: River Snail and Virginian River Horn Snail
A River Snail (Leptoxis carinata), also known as a Crested Mudalia, hitching a ride on a Virginian River Horn Snail.  The two species are frequently found together.
Mollusks of the Susquehanna: Yellow Lampmussel and River Snail
A River Snail cleaning the shell of a native freshwater Unionidae mussel, Lampsilis cariosa, commonly called the Yellow Lampmussel or Carried Lampmussel.  Because of their general decline in abundance and range, all Unionidae mussels are protected in Pennsylvania.
Fishes of the Susquehanna: Banded Darter
The Banded Darter (Etheostoma zonale) is a member of the perch family (Percidae).
Fishes of the Susquehanna: Smallmouth Bass
A Smallmouth Bass in strong current.
Fishes of the Susquehanna: Spotfin or Satinfin Shiners
Along the edge of an alluvial island at midriver, Cyprinella (Spotfin or Satinfin) Shiners gather in the cover of an emergent stand of Water Willow.  The closely related Spotfin Shiner (Cyprinella spiloptera) and Satinfin Shiner (Cyprinella analostanus) are nearly impossible to differentiate in the field.
Fishes of the Susquehanna: Spotfin or Satinfin Shiner
A breeding condition male Cyprinella (Spotfin or Satinfin) Shiner.
Fishes of the Susquehanna; Juvenile Channel Catfish
A juvenile Channel Catfish.

We’re finding that a sonar “pinger” isn’t very useful while running in shallow water.  Instead, we should consider bringing along a set of Pings—for the more than a dozen golf balls seen on the river bottom.  It appears they’ve been here for a while, having rolled in from the links upstream during the floods.  Interestingly, several aquatic species were making use of them.

River Snail cleaning a golf ball.
River Snail cleaning a golf ball.
Net-spinning Caddisfly (Hydropsychidae)
A golf ball used as an anchor point for silk cases woven by Net-spinning Caddisfly (Hydropsychidae) larvae to snare food from the water column.
Freshwater Snails (Gastropods) of the Lower Susquehanna River Watershed: Creeping Ancylid (Ferrissia species)
A Creeping Ancylid (Ferrissia species), a tiny gastropod also known as a Coolie Hat Snail, River Limpet, or Brook Freshwater Limpet, inhabits the dimple on a “Top Flight”.
Freshwater Snails (Gastropods) of the Lower Susquehanna River Watershed: Creeping Ancylid (Ferrissia species)
A closeup view of the Creeping Ancylid.  The shell sits atop the snail’s body like a helmet.
We now know why your golf balls always end up in the drink, it’s where they go to have their young.

Well, it looks like the skipper’s tired and grumpy, so that’s all for now.  Until next time, bon voyage!

Shocking Fish Photos!

There are two Conewago Creek systems in the Lower Susquehanna River Watershed.  One drains the Gettysburg Basin west of the river, mostly in Adams and York Counties, then flows into the Susquehanna at the base of Conewago Falls.  The other drains the Gettysburg Basin east of the river, flowing through Triassic redbeds of the Gettysburg Formation and York Haven Diabase before entering Conewago Falls near the south tip of Three Mile Island.  Both Conewago Creeks flow through suburbia, farm, and forest.  Both have their capacity to support aquatic life impaired and diminished by nutrient and sediment pollution.

This week, some of the many partners engaged in a long-term collaboration to restore the east shore’s Conewago Creek met to have a look at one of the prime indicators of overall stream habitat health—the fishes.  Kristen Kyler of the Lower Susquehanna Initiative organized the effort.  Portable backpack-mounted electrofishing units and nets were used by crews to capture, identify, and count the native and non-native fishes at sampling locations which have remained constant since prior to the numerous stream improvement projects which began more than ten years ago.  Some of the present-day sample sites were first used following Hurricane Agnes in 1972 by Stambaugh and Denoncourt and pre-date any implementation of sediment and nutrient mitigation practices like cover crops, no-till farming, field terracing, stormwater control, nutrient management, wetland restoration, streambank fencing, renewed forested stream buffers, or modernized wastewater treatment plants.  By comparing more recent surveys with this baseline data, it may be possible to discern trends in fish populations resulting not only from conservation practices, but from many other variables which may impact the Conewago Creek Warmwater Stream ecosystem in Dauphin, Lancaster, and Lebanon Counties.

So here they are.  Enjoy these shocking fish photos.

Matt Kofroth, Watershed Specialist with the Lancaster County Conservation District, operates the electrofishing wand in Conewago Creek while his team members prepare to net and collect momentarily-stunned fish.  Three other electrofishing units operated by staff from the Susquehanna River Basin Commission and aided by teams of netters were in action at other sample locations along the Conewago on this day.
Really big fish, such as this Common Carp (Cyprinus carpio), were identified, counted, and immediately returned to the water downstream of the advancing electrofishing team.  Koi of the garden pond are a familiar variety of Common Carp, a native of Asia.
Other fish, such as the Swallowtail Shiner, Redbreast Sunfish (Lepomis auritus), Fallfish, and suckers seen here,  were placed in a sorting tank.
Fallfish (Semotilus corporalis) are very active and require plenty of dissolved oxygen in the water to survive.  Fallfish, Rainbow Trout (Oncorhynchus mykiss), and Smallmouth Bass (Micropterus dolomieu) were quickly identified and removed from the sorting tank for release back into the stream.  Other larger, but less active fish, including suckers, quickly followed.
Small fish like minnows were removed from the sorting tank for a closer look in a hand-held viewing tank.  This Fathead Minnow (Pimephales promelas) was identified, added to the tally sheet, and released back into the Conewago.  The Fathead Minnow is not native to the Susquehanna drainage.  It is the minnow most frequently sold as bait by vendors.
A breeding condition male Bluntnose Minnow (Pimephales notatus).
The Cutlips Minnow (Exoglossum maxillingua) is a resident of clear rocky streams.  Of the more than 30 species collected during the day, two native species which are classified as intolerant of persisting stream impairment were found: Cutlips Minnow and Swallowtail Shiner.
The Central Stoneroller (Campostoma anomalum) is a benthic feeder in creeks over gravel and sand.
The Eastern Blacknose Dace (Rhinichthys atratulus) is found in clear water over pebble and stone substrate.
The Longnose Dace (Rhinichthys cataractae) is another species of pebbly rocky streams.
A juvenile Golden Shiner (Notemigonus crysoleucas).  Adults lack the side stripe and grow to the size of a sunfish.
A Swallowtail Shiner (Notropis procne) and a very young White Sucker (Catostomus commersonii) in the upper left of the tank.
A probable Spotfin Shiner (Cyprinella spiloptera).
A breeding male Cyprinella shiner, probably a Spotfin Shiner.  Show-off!
The Margined Madtom (Noturus insignis) is a small native catfish of pebbly streams.
The Banded Killifish (Fundulus diaphanus) is adept at feeding upon insects, including mosquitos.
A young Rock Bass (Ambloplites rupestris).  This species was introduced to the Susquehanna and its tributaries.
The Greenside Darter (Etheostoma blennioides) is not native to the Susquehanna basin.  The species colonized the Conewago Creek (east) from introduced local populations within the last five years.
The Tessellated Darter (Etheostoma olmstedi) is a native inhabitant of the Susquehanna and its tributaries.
The stars of the day were the American Eels (Anguilla rostrata).
After collection, each eel was measured and weighed using a scale and dry bucket.  This specimen checked in at 20 inches and one pound before being released.
Prior to the construction of large dams, American Eels were plentiful in the Susquehanna and its tributaries, including the Conewago.  They’ve since been rarities for more than half a century.  Now they’re getting a lift.
American Eels serve as an intermediate host for the microscopic parasitic glochidia (larvae) of the Eastern Elliptio (Elliptio complanata), a declining native freshwater mussel of the Lower Susquehanna River Watershed.  While feeding on their host (usually in its gills), the glochidia cause little injury and soon drop off to continue growth, often having assured distribution of their species by accepting the free ride.  Freshwater mussels are filter feeders and improve water quality.  They grow slowly and can live for decades.
American Eels are a catadromous species, starting life as tiny glass eels in the saltwater of the Atlantic Ocean, then migrating to tidal brackish marshes and streams (males) or freshwater streams (females) to mature.  This 20-incher probably attempted to ascend the Susquehanna as an elver in 2016 or 2017.  After hitching a ride with some friendly folks, she bypassed the three largest dams on the lower Susquehanna (Conowingo, Holtwood, and Safe Harbor) and arrived in the Conewago where she may remain and grow for ten years or more.  To spawn, a perilous and terminally fatal journey to the Sargasso Sea awaits her.  (You may better know the area of the Sargasso Sea as The Bermuda Triangle…a perilous place to travel indeed!)

SOURCES

Normandeau Associates,  Inc. and Gomez and Sullivan.  2018.  Muddy Run Pumped Storage Project Conowingo Eel Collection Facility FERC Project 2355.  Prepared for Exelon.

Stambaugh, Jr., John W., and Robert P. Denoncourt.  1974.  A Preliminary Report on the Conewago Creek Faunal Survey, Lancaster County, Pennsylvania.  Proceedings of the Pennsylvania Academy of Sciences.  48: 55-60.