A Look at Exeter’s Fish Ladder

Several weeks ago on a soggy gray day, mister gardener attended a presentation by New Hampshire’s Fish and Game Department at Exeter’s fish ladder. The public was invited to see what fish were making the annual spring trip around the Great Dam taking them from salt water to fresh water.

Fish LadderThis is the location where fresh water of the Exeter River flow into the salty Squamscott River. The dam was constructed hundreds of years ago when the town was settled by Europeans to power sawmills, grist mills and more. Naturally, it was an obstacle to the fish that needed to migrate from salt water to fresh water to spawn. With the mills gone and a fish ladder in place, they have restored the natural habitat for such fish as smelt, alewife, blueback herring, American shad, American Eel and sea lamprey.

A small crowd gathered at the street and made the short walk downhill to the river.

Fish and Game Presentationand watched as a sampling of fish were netted and brought ashore.

netBiologist Becky Heuss shows a lamprey to the gathering, with a bit of wariness on the faces of these youngsters. What better way to introduce and educate the youth to be the natural caretakers of the future.

LampreyThe mouth identifies it as a lamprey rather than an eel.

Lamprey and more fish.

fishBecky Heuss and her assistant, Edward Motyka, a biological aide, explained the challenges fish face on route and explained the efforts to improve the ecological quality of the Squamscott and Exeter Rivers.

Fish and Game

Where Have All My Frogs Gone…?

The answer, my friend, suns himself on the edge of the pond.  It’s no longer a fish and frog pond. It is a snake pond.  This is a Northern Water Snake (Nerodia sipedon).  He’s big, he’s not afraid of me and he’s eaten every single frog in the pond.

Click for a closeup look

Our army of frogs began to dwindle about 3 weeks ago. I suspected something sinister, maybe a raccoon or a great blue heron.  I continued to putter around the pond, wading knee deep into the crocosmia and cotoneaster to pull a errant honeysuckle vine or walnut tree sprout.  On my last venture into the thicket, I stepped close to the pond and something big shot from beneath my foot and disappeared quickly, branches moving along its route. “Ah-ha,” I thought. “We have one big bullfrog left.”

It was a couple of days later when the Northern Water Snake first showed himself, fat and content, slithering in and out of the water and dashing to hide beneath the cotoneaster. It was he in the thicket, not a bullfrog that I disturbed. All of my frogs he wore on his waistline. He has eaten every last one.

A quick count of my fish tells me they are his latest victims. This week the snake no longer attempts to hide himself. Each day I stand at the pond staring at him as he curls up on the warm rocks basking and regarding me, tongue flitting, sensing his environment. His look tells me that this is his pond now.  But he does not know me at all.  I am already planning my strategy.

This is not a snake I’d want to share the water with.  Often mistaken for a cottonmouth, the Northern Water Snake is not venomous but, like all water snakes, it can be cranky. It may charge and it does bite. It dines on amphibians and fish day and night, routinely eating fish as they sleep at night. Grrrrr!

The snake is beneficial to the environment but not to my pond. I will not harm him but my game plans involve a minnow trap and/or a butterfly net. I know a beautiful lagoon about 6 miles from here that awaits this fella’s arrival.  I hope I trap him soon or all I’ll have left is mosquito larvae living in the water!

Annie Hohenberger, The Garden Club of Gloucester