|Other Rites of Spring
You cant swing a dead nutria without hitting an article by the regions outdoor writing corps highlighting the upcoming rockfish season. These guys have good reason to get excited, as nearly every indication points to another stellar season. Healthy rockfish have entertained anglers throughout the winter in many parts of the Bay, and the bulk of the migratory fleet is now staging in preparation for releasing eggs and milt in the farthest reaches of the Chesapeake.
I admit that, like many fishermen, I have surfed (more like waded) the Net to learn of the latest rock, perch and pickerel hotspots and logged onto the Department of Natural Resources Fishing Report expertly captained by DNR fisheries biologist Martin Gary to determine the final 2000 Striped Bass regulations. I have begun the labor of love, fine tuning rods, reels and lures. I have also penned a masterful gear list, a compilation destined to relieve my already paltry bank account of its remaining holdings.
Yet, even in the face of obvious reasons to write about spring fishing and all of its charms, I dedicate this weeks column to a natural marvel that has captured my attention, no, fascinated me, and of which I have limited knowledge. I am talking about vernal pools, those intricate components of the Chesapeakes network of wetlands that play as vital a role in our beloved watershed as do those anadromous fish about which epics have been written.
My interest in vernal pools was piqued early in the month in the Rappahannock River Valley, where I saw several restoration projects that supported vernal pools. My intrigue escalated when I rumbled down the long driveway of a friend here at home. He and his wife live on a small creek off the South River, and, after visiting with them, I was returning at dusk past several vernal pools. Spring peepers, those lustful amphibians raising their collective voice to indicate their intentions while announcing the vernal equinox, drowned out the trucks radio.
Formed in natural depressions in the earth, vernal pools offer places for insects and other macroinvertebrates to live. These aquatic creatures, in turn, support such predators as salamanders and frogs, which provide nourishment for herons and other birds. These areas are only wet for part of the year: exactly when migrating birds need a good watering hole. And waterfowl also like to feed, rest and drink at vernal pools.
As I understand it, vernal pools perform another, perhaps less noticeable function. They help recharge aquifers, those natural underground layers of sand and spongy rock that collects water that we use for wells. These wetlands trap rain and keep it from funneling off the land too quickly, which allows a slower release of sediment and nutrient runoff into the Bay tributaries.
Vernal pools may not be as exciting as landing a 40-pound rockfish, but for a healthy Bay, they are welcomed spring visitors.
Help the Chesapeake Chapter of Quail Unlimited restore upland bird habitat by attending its Fourth Annual Conservation Banquet on Saturday, April 15 at 5pm at Pintail Point Farms in Queenstown. Tickets are $60 per person or $100 per couple ($25 of which is tax-deductible) and include dinner, a years membership in Quail Unlimited, raffles and auction. Contact Rob Jepson: 410/757-0887.