Thursday, February 24, 2011

Bald Eagle Sighting

Earlier this morning an adult bald eagle (Haliaeetus leucocephalus) was sighted along a fence row in a farm field near St. Clairsville, approximately 10 miles north of the Captina watershed basin.  Once a member of the endangered species list due to pesticide poisoning, the bald eagle has made a strong comeback in Ohio with 150 breeding pairs documented statewide in 2008.  Bald eagles prefer nesting sites near large bodies of water where plentiful sources of fish can be found.  Whats more impressive than the size and coloration of bald eagles is their nests which can exceed six feet in diameter, three feet in depth and weigh over a ton!  As you can probably imagine it takes a hefty tree to support one of these nests.  The same nests are often used to rear several generations.  No eagle nesting sites have been documented in the Captina watershed, but adults are occasionally spotted in trees along the Ohio River.  Thanks to Brian Porterfield for the photo.

The bald eagle has one of the most recognizable color patterns
of any bird and is unmistakable even at long distances.

Thursday, February 17, 2011

Vernal Pool Update

Near record high temperatures prompted me to visit a few vernal pools in the watershed to check for Ambystoma salamander activity.  Based on today's observations it seems a little too early for any activity.  All three pools visited were 95%+ covered with ice.  Though Jefferson salamander and the wood frog have been noted for their early season activity in the presence of some ice, the edges of these pools were mostly frozen.  Wintery weather is scheduled to return over the weekend and the first half of next week so the rest of February looks like it is going to be inactive for any amphibious vernal pool inhabitants.

Tuesday, February 8, 2011

Logging Best Management Practices

Logging began last week along a section of Pipe Creek between Schroder Road and Warren Hill.  Pipe Creek is not a direct tributary of Captina Creek but is covered under Captina Creek's watershed action plan as an Ohio River direct drainage.  Most of the creek's drainage area is heavily forested and logging practices are somewhat common along its length.  Water quality in Pipe Creek has been gradually improving over the past two decades due to the natural abatement of acid mine drainage from abandoned subsurface coal mines.  Though some view logging as a destructive practice, if done properly and responsibly it can be a great asset to the long-term health and maintenance of large forest tracts.  An example of good forest management practice is shown below.  Logging bridges keep equipment out of streams limiting excessive sedimentation and and overall environmental impact.

A portable folding bridge keeps equipment out of the streambed.

Another view of the bridge.

Friday, February 4, 2011

Captina Icejam

The icejam that formed early Wednesday morning downstream of Cat Run remains intact as of Thursday evening though the flooding threat to areas upstream of the jam has subsided.  Temperatures have dipped to near single digits the past two nights reinforcing the integrity of the icepack.  The ice is likely to persist as another arctic air mass is forecast to move into the area next week with no warmup in sight.  Thanks to Nathan Taylor for the updated photos.

A view of the ice pack looking downstream of the SR 148 bridge.

A closer shot of the ice.  Downstream of the pack in Powhatan
a solid sheet still covers the creek keeping the pack in place
and restricting flow.  Runoff from future heavy rains could pool
behind the jam if it persists. 

Thursday, February 3, 2011

Icejam Update

What do you get when you add an inch of heavy rainfall to a frozen creekbed?  Check below for the answer.  Icejams are fairly common in mid to late winter along Captina Creek, especially in downstream areas west of Powhatan Point.  Icejams happen when heavy rains raise water levels in frozen streams causing the ice to fracture into blocks of different size which are then pushed downstream by the current.  As chronicled in recent posts, Captina Creek has experienced at least a month of sub-freezing temperatures that sometimes dipped near 0F.  Successive nights with single digit temperatures will result in formation of ice sheets over the creek which then thicken in some cases to 12 inches or greater. 

Ice jams can be hazardous to property along the creek especially when flow rates are above average.  As the blocks move downstream they will begin to accumulate and pile atop each other on bends and obstructions in the creek like bridge crossings.  If the jam becomes large enough, it will begin to back water upstream creating a flood hazard above the jam.  Additionally if a jam suddenly gives way, areas downstream can be flash flooded with little notice.  For this reason a flood warning was issued by the National Weather Service for Captina Creek yesterday primarily for areas east of Town Hill Rd and SR148.   

A view of the floodplain along SR 148 entering Steinersville. 
An ice jam beginning under the bridge near the Clair-Mar golf
course caused water to slowly back upstream into the mouth
of Cat Run.

Ice blocks piled by creek waters on the bank
just upstream from the confluence with Cat Run
next to CR 56.

A closeup view of the jam beginning under the SR148 bridge
near Clair-Mar.
Looking downstream along the golf course.  The entire flood-
plain is packed in ice causing the creek to spill onto some of the

Looking upstream from the same location.  The actual blockage
was further downstream along Cove Rd. where the ice sheet
had remained unbroken over the creek not allowing the
blocks to move downstream.

Tuesday, February 1, 2011

Cold Rains Bring Brief January Thaw

In an average January eastern Ohio experiences a brief thaw around the third week of the month that in some cases can result in temperatures rising into the 50's and 60's for a few days.  This year the thaw has taken its time arriving as temperatures have been below freezing for the most part since late December.  Cold overnight rains have fragmented the snowpack and, with slightly longer daylight, give a sense that warmer weather is not that far away.  Amphibians are also taking note of these seasonal changes.  Longer photoperiods and warmer rains are cues that trigger mass migrations to seasonal breeding pools for frogs, toads and salamanders.  Those with access to vernal pools should be observant especially if temperatures in the next couple of weeks rise significantly with heavy rains. 

Although not as common in Belmont and Monroe Counties, Jefferson (Ambystoma jeffersonianum) and the four-toed salamander (Hemidactylium scutatum) are the first to migrate in late winter followed by the more common wood frog (pictured below) and spotted salamander (Ambystoma maculatum) in early March.  In some years migrations will even occur while ice still covers the pools.

A male wood frog perched on the edge of a small vernal pool
at dusk in mid-March.  Wood frogs are the first frogs to arrive
at vernal pools in late winter, sometimes by the hundreds.  They
have a very short breeding window of only a week or two
before disappearing into the forest to forage for the rest of the
growing season.  Often they gounnoticed due to weak
vocalizations and brief poolsideappearance.  Look for
them in pools after a couple of 50+degree days with some
warm rain at the end of February.

Following the wood frog's early March appearance in the
Captina watershed region will be the smaller, more vocal
mountain chorus frog (Pseudacris brachyphona).   The
mountain chorus frog takes residence in small semi-
permanent pools usually no deeper than an inch or two that
are southward facing.  A good place to spot them is in small
pools that form in ruts along logging trails which is where I
caught up with this chorusing male last March.  Hearing
the ear-splitting, raspy call of this frog makes it hard to believe
it is only an inch in length from snout to vent.