Snail Season

In some of my previous posts I mentioned Penny the salt marsh intern. Even though she has been helping out with a lot of the things we do she has another primary purpose. She is here to help with the Salt Marsh Inventory on Moosehorn’s few, small salt marshes. This inventory has several parts including surveys of plant and bird species and measuring the elevation. I am going to focus on the fish sampling since that was what I’ve gotten to help with.

The salt marsh on Hallowell Island is filled with small pools of water that hold all manner of tiny aquatic critters. Not all of them were large enough for us to sample, but for the ones that were we employed a 1 meter-square trap. This net was thrown into the pool from a few meters away and (hopefully) landed in such a way that all the critters did not escape before we could sample them. Then we used a very large and poorly constructed dip-net to scoop things out of the water within the larger trap.


Example of a pool

We had to hold the net when we pulled it up to prevent it from dumping its contents back into the water and the trap was covered in small, sharp wires sticking out from the sides and corners. So, when we stuck our hands in to pick up the net they cam away scratched. I soon sported Band-Aids on both thumbs and various other scratches where I stabbed myself with the corners of the trap.


High tide on the shore, with the trap.


Trap post throw with the dip net


Penny was the main net-thrower, which was the strenuous job, so I was in charge of recording data, taking GPS points, carrying the bucket and extra equipment, and handing Penny anything she needed at a given moment. I soon established a very sophisticated system to transport everything in a semi-organized manner. (Eventually we both held one side of the trap and half the stuff. That worked much better.)


Penny modeling the trap before a toss.

We trekked all over the small marsh and nearby shore taking sample points. Unfortunately we didn’t find any fish the first day. What we did find were thousands of black squirmy things we couldn’t identify. Whenever we brought the net up we would have to dig through them to find anything else. Eventually we discovered that they were mosquito larvae; they weren’t as many in the pools the second day, but as we walked through the grass the mature mosquitoes rose to meet us.

It was rather hot and carrying everything was rather tiring. We soon discovered that we did not bring nearly enough water. By early afternoon our bottles were empty and the GPS batteries were dead. We decided it was time to eat a quick lunch and call it a day. As we ate we watched the other people visiting the island (even though they weren’t supposed to.)


I can’t really blame them for wanting to visit though. It is very pretty.

Hallowell is part of the Refuge and is closed to camping. However, when we canoed up that morning we saw a red canoe and a tent on the rocky point in the middle of the marsh. We couldn’t completely avoid going over there since some of the supplies had been left right in the middle of the campsite. It clearly wasn’t abandoned so we called back to the office to let someone know. We continued on our business and hoped that the people inside were not crazy murders or anything similarly terrifying, but during lunch I sat on the beach and watched them through my binoculars. (I was trying to get a good physical description of the three of them in case I had to testify in court or something. I probably watch too much television.) The three of them were picking up snails (or “winkles” as they called them. Wikipedia says the Common Periwinkle.) off the rocks. By the time we left they had 3 large bags full and were still going strong. I don’t know what they planned to do with them all, but I don’t think there is a hunting season on snails. Halfway through lunch two more men rode up in a boat and started picking up snails too. It was all very dramatic, especially when Penny went to go pick up flags and ended up talking to them.

Eventually we decided it was best to just leave. Unfortunately it was low tide, which with Downeast Maine’s huge tide differentials meant we had an expanse of mudflat between our canoe and open water. It was not fun to drag a boat loaded with equipment through the mud when you are out of drinking water.

The second day went much smoother since we established a better system, brought a water cooler, and arrived early enough that the weather was nicer and the tide was higher. We even had to wait for the water to start going down. I had time to eat a snack, watching the terns dive into the water for the same small fish we were attempting to trap. (Luckily we did manage to catch some fish the second day. They weren’t the target species, but they were still way cooler than bugs.)


They really aren’t very big.


I don’t really know what kind it is, but it is sort of cute.


I learned how to pilot a canoe alone and how quickly the tide goes out here. I also learned how paddling a canoe on a small sheltered lake at 4-H camp is very different from paddling in water with currents and strong wind. I saw the (really awesome) discarded remains of some seabird’s lunch, and we chased some loons around the island. (I say, “chased.” We all happened to be going in the same direction and they swam away really fast.)


I feel this photo might be more artistic than I usually manage.


A bee joined me during my snack break.


Sea Lavender is really pretty.


So many pretty things on the beach…


I found it in 2 pieces and sort of stuck them together for the picture.


I really enjoyed working on the island even though I was very sore afterwards. I will always sort of wonder how we managed to lift that canoe back onto the truck.


One response to “Snail Season

  1. We did nekton sampling at Parker River too! I think I met Penny once. Our salt marsh had some of the same stuff as yours.

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