Warm February Opens the Curtain on the Life of a Bit Player
by C.D. Dollar
This past Sunday I went down to Meredith Creek to check on the Voodoo Child and Lady D, my 22-foot center console and Chesapeake Bay Foundation's 40-foot Bay-built workboat. In seasons past, beyond standard winterizing, I've had to clear ice and snow from decks and scuppers and check the bilge pumps.
February of 1998, however, appears to be going through an identity crisis, in that this usually cruel month has demonstrated little of its venom and spite - all due respect to the couple of nor'easters that have pounded the Atlantic Coast. This relative tranquillity has freed me from such duty.
Maybe February wants to change seasonal allegiances, which is fine by me and Hank Spector, the Bay Foundation's good neighbor on Meredith Creek. We agreed that this mild winter has been good for boat owners like us, who kept our pride and joys in the water. Overall, the water temperature remains in the lower to mid-40s, and there is little likelihood that any serious freeze will occur by the time spring arrives.
I took advantage of the unseasonably warm day to take Voodoo Child out to stretch her legs. Before leaving the dock, I took a moment to absorb the sun's warm rays. In a span of ten minutes, I saw scores of Canada geese, honking furiously as they made their final landing approach to a sod field. A bald eagle, tell-tale white head brilliantly silhouetted against a stand of trees, was quickly descending from the heavens, legs extended and talons poised for attack. I lost the bird as it lowered past the tree line but sighted it minutes later as it flew back across the water, a smaller bird, hawk possibly, hot in pursuit. Wishing I had seen the entire scenario, I was left with an empty feeling not unlike having a last bite of cake taken from you.
The boat cut a swath of clear water so transparent that it was possible to see nearly five feet down, not possible when warm water algae clog the creek. Mallards scurried out of the way, and dozens more watched from fallen trees as more still dipped for food and preened for vanity. Turning the corner, I crossed a lump that raises the depth to three feet. On the down creek side, four quick outlines paralleled the boat, barely below the surface, vanishing as quickly as they appeared. Silver-gray with elongated bodies about eight inches long, their small heads sloped to rounded nose that gave way to a small mouth.
These were mud shad or gizzard shad, cousins of the famous Hickory and American shad. Not generally suited for table fare and often the bane of commercial netters, mud shad have a function, as do all living Bay creatures, regardless of pedigree. They are consumed by wintering rockfish and other predators. The mud shad that live in the Chesapeake Bay do not migrate to the open oceans, rather spending a majority of their life in the more saline parts of the estuary, then traveling to tidal freshwater to spawn.
The mud shad live a life of quiet anonymity, toiling unheralded in the backwaters of the Bay. Like stage hands of a Broadway play, they have value to the living production of the Chesapeake but seldom are given much credit for their roles. Ah, the life of a bit player.
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VolumeVI Number 8
February 26-March 4, 1998
New Bay Times
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