Thursday, April 30, 2009

Video of river herring in the Ipswich River EBSCO dam fish ladder

A few days ago it was all about sea lamprey. In the past two days the alewife have really taken over! I'm getting reports of dozens in the fish-way at any one time. The Division of Marine Fisheries trap is seething with them! This is great news for a fish that's declining all over the east coast. See my post from March for more info about their decline in the Ipswich River.

To help out the amazing band of volunteer fish-watchers who eagerly keep an eye out for river herring every spring I've put together this blog to show them what a herring looks while it's hanging out in the fish-way.

Looking upriver towards the DMF trap I got some great footage of a brook trout (the approximate 8" fish) and the much larger herring. Click here to view it in high quality on YouTube.

If the trout was the only fish in the trap entrance it would be easy to confuse it with the herring if you didn't have the size comparison. But from closely
watching the video you can see the trout's tail does not have a very big fork and the caudal peduncle (the part of the fish right before the tail) is wide:

The herring has a much deeper fork in its tail and
a skinny caudal peduncle. They also always seem to me to swim faster than the more seemingly lazy trout.

Looking off the platform towards the ladder itself is a much more turbid view. But you can still see herring trying to make their way towards the trap. Click here to watch it in high quality on YouTube:

Shoot me a comment if you have any questions. Enjoy! -kate

Tuesday, April 28, 2009

Sea Lamprey circus! Video of lamprey heading up the Ipswich River to spawn

I recorded this minute long video of sea lamprey (Petromyzon marinus) trying to get over the last hurdle of the Ipswich River fish ladder and into the Mass. Division of Marine Fisheries trap:

To watch the video in high quality click here and click on the HQ button on YouTube.

Sea lamprey are anadromous, much like a salmon. The young hatch out in rivers and live in the mud filter-feeding, blind and toothless for 3 to 17 years.

Then they metamorphose into their parasitic form with that lovely mouth right out of a sci-fi film.

After about 12 to 20 months they metamorphose again in to their adult form at which point they migrate back into their native river to spawn and die. But don't worry! The lamprey writhing around in fishway traps all over the east coast aren't eating precious herring trying to be reintroduced. They're aestivating, or not eating.

Last year the DMF trap caught 1021 sea lamprey. They have a habit of all rushing up the river at once when the water hits about 20 degrees C. A few days ago there were only a few and this morning there were at least 15 lamprey all trying to get in the trap at once. It was the slimiest log jam I've ever seen.

As of yesterday DMF had caught a mere 37, I can't wait for the numbers from this week. I'm betting that will shoot up to at least 400 if not more!

Tuesday, April 21, 2009

Reducing your water footprint: start with your lawn

I apologize for taking nearly two weeks to put up another post! It has been a tumultuous few weeks at work and the baby is teething so I'm just now getting a breather! I was thinking this morning about a recent energy analysis my husband did to try to figure out if solar panels were worth it. Turns out our two and a half person family actually uses way below the norm for energy and water yet use about an average amount of natural gas. So in conclusion: solar won't save us any money, even if we look forward 30 years, we'll still lose. Better off investing in insulation.

Then I started thinking about our water use. Why is it so low? We each take a shower every day, I do about five loads of laundry a week since I double wash Lizzie's cloth diapers...and still we come out way below average. Then I thought more about it: I never, ever, use outdoor municipal water. Ever. It's just not necessary. I drive past huge houses all the time with enormous expanses of lush green and I have to think: how much water and fertilizer and weed killer must go into that?!?!!

There's a few key tricks to not having to use municipal water in your yard:
  1. If you're in the market for a new house buy a small lot. Do you really need four acres of rolling "grounds"? Modern America isn't a Jane Austin novel.
  2. Minimize your lawn's footprint, flowers need less water. Turn most of your yard into a flower garden, plant ground cover in shady areas, allow moss to grow, or let it all go wild.
  3. Plant native flowers, heirloom vegetables and a sun tolerant/native grass mix.
  4. Use rain barrels
  5. Accept a little brown grass by August, it's OK. You won't be booted out of your neighborhood.
So how does my family accomplish this?

1) We have a small house on a small lot. Our 1400 square foot home is on a lot that's only 0.06 acres. You can imagine the house takes up most of the lot.

2) Our house's front hits the street, so no front lawn. And the back "yard" is a small 40 by 40 patch, half of which is a flower and vegetable garden. The remaining "lawn" is planted with a full sun/drought tolerant native grass mix that never seems to need watering. For grass seed help visit the excellent greenscapes guide fescue page. Just visit the greenscapes website in general, it's an amazing resource.

3) The flower garden (pictured above) and vegetable garden also don't get watered with the hose. The trick is to plant native and/or drought tolerant species that can go a week or so without water. For a good list of plants for the northeast again visit the greenscapes guide's plant page. My vegetable garden will be planted this year with entirely heirloom vegetables bred by gardeners in the northeast before the advent of electrically pumped water. They had to survive a dry August, and hopefully mine will.

4) I have two 50 gallon rain barrels. I bought them 6 years ago for $10 each at an olive importer west of Boston. I have no idea how to find the guy now, but I love them and wish I had bought a dozen so I could give them away.

I drilled a hole in the bottom, installed a 3/4" bulkhead fitting, screwed in a 3/4" to 5/8" bushing, then screwed in a valve with garden hose fitting and I get free water every time the rain falls. Once I move an unsuspecting azalea I'll link the two together so in a good downpour I can fill them both up in a few hours.

At the end of the summer I have so much water I usually have the dump them out before I store them for the winter. Friends are always asking me to make them one and I simply say: go buy the biggest trash barrel you can find with a lid (mosquito control) and you're all set. Don't waste your money on these $150 prefab things from a gardening store.

5) And lastly, I don't care if my lawn is a little brown. I saw a commercial last night for a Scott's lawn product. The guy had this ENORMOUS lush green lawn with no dandelions. He was lamenting on how before he used this product he was the shame of the neighborhood. You know what? If we're going to leave a smaller footprint on this earth we need to accept a little brown and a few dandelions. Nothing's wrong with a little yellow in all that green, it won't make you less of a man (at least this woman thinks so).

Enjoy your summer everyone. I'm going to go out and check on my brandywine tomato seedlings. 70 days to that 50 days and counting. I can't wait.

Thursday, April 9, 2009

Snowy owls on Winthrop Beach

On a routine check of an area recently fenced to protect possible nesting least terns and piping plovers I came across these guys. This snowy owl is the largest owl species in Massachusetts, I believe it! My co-worker, Austin, spotted it first from about 300 feet away and said to me, "Hey, that's a REALLY big seagull!"

Snowy owls hang out at Logan Airport during the winter months so they could have possibly just been on a brief visit to a nearby beach. The Massachusetts Audubon Society is doing a long-term research project on these guys, they're not terribly uncommon in our state. Logan actually has the largest wintering concentration of Snowy Owls in the northeast. Since 1980 360 Snowy Owls have been tagged and relocated from Logan for flight safety control. Still these were my first snowy owls I've ever seen. We were literally jumping up and down from excitement! They were there when we arrived and still there when we left after a half hour (sadly, we had more fenced beaches to check out, we could have stayed all day!)

I apologize for not having a telephoto lens with me, fortunately taking photos through a pair of binoculars actually works! Enjoy! -kate

Tuesday, April 7, 2009

Fluoride and babies don't mix

As a new parent I of course want to do everything right. My child was 5 weeks early and never got the hang of nursing. For four months I happily pumped breast milk and bottle-fed her until my health started to decline due to a chronic illness. To control it I had to go on medication that's taboo for breastfeeding. I practically cried the day I had to buy formula. I researched and researched and settled on powdered Similac Organic. I've always read that if you do one thing organic it should be dairy so your baby won't ingest growth hormones that the cows might have been fed. Similac is also the only manufacturer that offers a plastic container that's not lined with BPA. Believe it or not cardboard formula containers are lined with BPA. Nuts. But issues with that chemical are not what I want to focus on today.

For two months I fed my child formula mixed with water from our Brita filter. Then one day we were having lunch with a chemist friend who researches fluoride and its effects on human populations. My husband actually used to help this guy back in college and it suddenly dawned on us as we were mixing Lizzie's formula that we were giving her fluoride! A Brita filter does not remove it. Our chemist friend suggested we buy Poland Springs water, since it's been shown to be fluoride free.

Now wait a minute. Doesn't the government PUT fluoride in our water supply? Yes. Isn't it supposed to be good for our teeth? SUPPOSED to be, yes. Is it? That's up for debate.

New studies by the National Research Council actually show that fluoride does more harm than good, especially for babies whose brain are still growing and developing. The American Dental Association has actually reneged on earlier recommendations about fluoride and now says not to use it in babies. Their reasoning is that it causes fluorosis, which are just white streaks on teeth. But, there's major evidence that fluoride is actually a neurotoxin as shown in a new study published in the Lancet; the NRC warns it can also have major adverse effects on the thyroid gland; and a Harvard study shows it causes cancer.

" "EPA has more than enough evidence to shut down fluoridation, right now, with a special advisory," says retired EPA scientist, Robert Carton, PhD. "The safe drinking water act requires the EPA to act to protect all populations from known or anticipated harm(8)," says Carton. " This quote speaks for itself....

Many countries, like New Zealand, have already removed it from the water supply. Why hasn't communities in the United States? We've somehow been led to believe that fluoride is necessary for dental health. But is it worth the risks? I say no.

Our family is left right now with three options for safe water: go to a neighboring town that doesn't fluoridate and "steal" water for Lizzie, plumb in the reverse osmosis filtration system we just purchased (but I can't find anyone to tell us whether or not it actually removes fluoride) or continue to make a pile of empty plastic 2.5 gallon Poland Springs jugs. I hate the plastic waste, but my child's sensitive developing brain is more important to me right now.

What can you do? check out this website:

Friday, April 3, 2009

kate reveals her all-natural cleaning product secrets

The spring peepers are calling like mad in my neighborhood, the herring have been sighted in the fish ladder and my forsythia is about to burst. Spring has arrived on the north shore of Massachusetts and the two days I've been able to open my windows wide has made me itch to do a big spring cleaning. As I round up favorite four (and my ONLY four) cleaning products I thought I'd share my secrets with the world. All you need are these, I'm serious:

Grab some empty spray bottles, a rag or newspapers (ditch the paper towels, a rag works great and you can throw it in the wash and newspaper is a great window cleaner) and you're ready for a toxin-free cleaning!

All-purpose cleaner: one part vinegar, four parts water and a splash of lemon juice, put in a spray bottle. This is the first thing I grab for cleaning counters, windows, sinks, sticky mystery messes my husband leaves on the kitchen table....

Safe scrub: baking soda, plain and simple. I get the biggest box the supermarket has and sprinkle it in my ceramic kitchen sink, my bath tub, my bathroom sink. Just moisten a bit and scrub. Everything is pearly-white in no time.

Floor cleaner: Equal mix of white vinegar and warm water. Add a splash of lemon juice for a yummy scent. For wood floors add a splash of baby oil. I admit, I loved my Pine-Sol. But it always left a chemically odor that I didn't want my newborn inhaling. All the ammonia is not only bad for her sensitive mucous membranes (not to mention mine) but unnecessary.

Drain de-clogger: pour a half cup of baking soda down the drain followed by a half cup of vinegar. Don't be alarmed when it foams up! That's how it works it de-gunking magic. Fifteen minutes later pour hot water down the drain to wash it all away. DON'T do this if you've already used a chemical cleaner, the vinegar will react with it and release toxic fumes. Best bet, start with baking soda and vinegar in the first place.

Mold remover: spray it with hydrogen peroxide. One part hydrogen peroxide three parts water.

And my favorite, courtesy of my chemist father-in-law (which I haven't actually tried yet but I'm itching to do because I love a good basic chemical reaction.):

All natural-magical-silver polish: Line a saucepan with aluminum foil and fill with water. Add a teaspoon of salt and baking soda and bring to a boil. Once it's boiling add your silver and let it sit for a minute or two then take it out. Voila! Tarnish-free AND far easier than doing all that polishing! Let me know if you try it and how it works out, my mother-in-law says this is the coolest thing ever and is mad that my father-in-law didn't show her this trick years ago!

What you're never going to need to clean your house:
ammonia: causes damage to mucous membranes and potential burns.
bleach: causes chronic respiratory damage and heart conditions.
antibacterial soap: a whole mess of health problems including antibiotic resistance for you and the creation of super-germs, just don't go there. Get them out of your life for good.

One of the best benefits of getting the scary chemicals above out of my house is I don't have to worry about my almost-crawling baby getting her grubby hands on toxic products and swallowing them.

Happy spring and happy toxin-free cleaning!! -kate