Tales from the pond - Part 2

Kristyn Ferguson, spring monitoring, ON (Photo by NCC)

Kristyn Ferguson, spring monitoring, ON (Photo by NCC)

May 20, 2014 | by Kristyn Ferguson

I waited over two weeks after that fateful visit to the Creemore pond on the first day of April, when what I had falsely hoped would be the first day of spring. I was sure that after I had had the opportunity to frequently don sandals and T-shirts in my hometown of Guelph that spring was here. I just knew that the flowing waters of the Noisy River system would be cascading through the stream channels and the pond and surrounding area would be alive with newly blooming flowers and splashing waterbirds.

To recap, I was conducting my second in a series of spring monitoring events to determine the site and flow conditions of a natural stream and an associated online pond that the Nature Conservancy of Canada (NCC) will be working to restore to its natural condition this summer. However, it’s tough to measure spring conditions when you’re up to your hips in snow!

General site conditions on second site visit, ON (Photo by NCC)

General site conditions on second site visit, ON (Photo by NCC)

So I bounced back into the site, ready for mid-April springtime, and was greeted with...snow. Not as much snow, but certainly still a significant amount of snow. I was able to walk over some of the snow-packed areas more easily this time, which was a relief after my waist-deep struggles the visit before.

However, when I approached my targets for monitoring, the stream and the pond, I found everything still in a state of “brrrr!” There were crusts of ice on the sides of the stream channel and the pond was still nearly entirely frozen over. Two Canada geese lurked around on the pond’s ice, honking at me as if to say “you’re still too early!”

On this visit I was at least able to access the downstream portion of the channel now that some snow had melted to allow me to safely navigate it. The culvert where the waters from the pond exit into the stream was glugging and gushing water, showing me just a glimpse that perhaps snow was thawing faster than it seemed and spring really was on its way. The sun came out for me on my walk back to the car, but the cold breezes of winter and icy patches on the road still dominated the day.

Exactly one week later I returned to the site, armed for what appeared to be year-round winter in Creemore, Ontario: winter boots, toque, gloves. Of course on this visit I was greeted with bare ground, gleaming sunshine and a fully accessible coursing stream channel. The toque did not stay on long! 

It was so wonderful to be romping around on the banks of the river without banks of snow preventing me from knowing just where the edge was. My intern Laura and I were able to successfully conduct a flow rate test, using a piece of citrus fruit tossed down a pre-measured portion of the waterway and timing how long it took to reach the designated end point. 

Laura nets a lemon (Photo by NCC)

Laura nets a lemon (Photo by NCC)

Comparing this to the volume of the channel, we were able to measure just how fast the water was coming (note: this type of simple flow monitoring test is typically done using an orange, but Laura had had a failed lemon meringue pie attempt the previous weekend so we figured a lemon would suffice ). The lemon went on a wild ride along the flowing waters of the channel, which were collecting all the melted snow from the top of the escarpment and sending it whooshing down past us on its eventual course out to Georgian Bay.  A distant black and white waterbird lazily crisscrossed the pond and took off in a flurry of wings when we got a bit too close. Bird song filtered through the trees in the forest around the pond area.

Our final evidence that spring had truly arrived when it was time to take some tentative steps across the pond floodplain, which contains silty material that can remain saturated after major rainfall or flooding events. We squished across it, sinking a centimetre or two, until we reached the outfall of the stream where it merged into the pond. Laura reached out with the survey rod to take a depth measurement. She put one last foot forward and with a definitive “squish!” was up to her knee. It took a bit of heaving and hauling to unstick her suctioned hiking boot out of the muck, but we freed her, retreated to the safety of the shores and vowed to wait until it was just a little drier to head out that way again. 

The results of our monitoring escapades will help inform the professionals implementing the design and construction the new stream channel this coming summer. I’m happy that our misadventures in the never-ending “winterspring” of Creemore (as I have named it in my mind) will indirectly result in the creation of optimal fish habitat and improvement of water quality in such a beautiful and special part of Ontario.

Kristyn Ferguson with a twelve-spotted skimmer (Photo by Mike McMahon)

About the Author

Kristyn Ferguson is the Nature Conservancy of Canada's (NCC's) program director for large landscapes in Ontario.

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