In recent years, Carla and I have made it a practice to tour the Eel River from the village down to the approaches to the dam. Sometimes we set in down at the Cove Road; sometimes back in the village itself. I have found that our sea kayak serves admirably in the river, especially if we want to move along quietly to see what may be about. And we do see things, lots of them.
The marsh area of Eel River provides good habitat for American wigeon, Black ducks, Blue-winged teal, Ring-necked ducks, the occasional Wood duck, Pied-billed grebe, Sora, American bittern, Northern harrier, Belted kingfisher, and a wide variety of small marsh, shore, and woodland birds.There may be Virginia rail and Yellow rail present, although I have never been able to confirm the presence of either to my own satisfaction. American woodcock and Wilson's snipe are present, and, in the fall, large numbers of migrating waterfowl can be found all along the watercourse, principally in the large head pond created by the dam itself. Osprey, rebounding from the devastation of pesticides, have found the head pond particularly attractive; I know of at least ten nests within the immediate vicinity, all there, in part at least, because of the foraging that the pond provides.
Muskrats are everywhere, it seems. It is common to see a dozen or more in a quiet cruise down the river and their lodges occupy just about every available spot. I am certain that there are mink and otter around, and I have seen beaver. In short, I suspect that, as far as birds and mammals are concerned, the same species are to be found in the river nowadays as were present back before the dam was constructed. If there are differences, as in the case of the osprey, it is that there are likely more now than back then. Too, some species - I am thinking of American wigeon and Hooded merganser - simply had not made it this far east or north forty years ago, and so were not present at that time.
There are differences, of course, and perhaps they are most oticeable
when one considers populations of fish. I mentioned in last week's column that Eel River once had a thriving run of salmon and sea trout. I venture to hazard a guess that it has been a good many years since anyone has seen a salmon upriver, although they are still present on occasion in the runs below the dam itself. The same may be said for sea trout. In the stretch of river from the village down to the dam the dominant species now seem to be eel and a rather large species of sucker. Obviously, too, the construction of the dam has had an impact on the health of the clam population on both sides of the sand bar, particularly, one would imagine, in the lagoon itself.
The present Eel River ecosystem has had more than forty years to adjust to the presence of the dam. On the whole, it is a vibrant, relatively diverse, and dynamic system, one that is similar in many respects to that which had been in place before the dam, but with its differences as well. Which is better? I would like to consider that question next week.