Saturday, December 10, 2005

Saltmarsh Solo Conversation



I am a wetlands lover. I spent so much time in them as a kid that I never learned all the usual boy things, like how to do a layup shot, or the rules of football...running back, halfback, quarterback?

"You nerd."

Okay, I know what a quarterback does, but those other two?


Luckily, my wife is around to explain those if I ever ask.

Though all wetlands grab my attention, it's the saltmarsh that is my favorite place on the planet.

"Is this going to be a science lesson...'cause it's Saturday and I am not in the mood..."

This is not a lesson on the incredible biomass production of a healthy saltmarsh, but every square inch is teeming with life. In the photo above, there are oysters and mudflats exposed by an ebbing tide. The oysters are just the tip of the iceberg. Most of the life in the mudflats is subterranean...clams, clamworms, fiddlers, mudshrimp, etc. Cruising along the top slurping detritusy ooze are the marsh periwinkles and mudsnails.

"Sounds great...mud and worms."

Local and migratory shore birds hit these mudflats hard while the tide is out. High tide means poor foraging or resting along the shoreline. Low tide means the "buffet is open" . Their time to feed is controlled by the moon... think about that for a second. Is it just me, or is it not amazing that a life form on one planet, depends on another "planet" a quarter million miles away?

Well, FC...what about the could say the same thing about a star affecting us...duh!)

True, but the sun is such an obvious life support system. I took it as a given.

Many of these birds are specialized with unique beaks like the curve of an ibis or the hammer/scissors of the oystercatcher. Herons and egrets wade the puddles and rivulets formed by the moving tide. They are after the more active prey like fish and shrimp and the waters of a saltmarsh are loaded with these. It just takes a falling tide to concentrate them for the hunters.

"The grass looks like my yard in the winter...dead and brown."

You don't have a yard, you are a voice in my head.

" Well, I meant it looks like your yard"


The brown spartina marsh grass in the photo will break off during winter storms and add to the incredible detrital nutrients of the marsh. Oysters, appreciate this as they continuously pump water through their system to filter out plankton and other nutritious goodies.

"Let me get this straight...lunar gravity + mud+ dead grass = beautiful shore birds and steamed oysters on the half-shell?"

Well, yeah...something like that.

"You were right...this wasn't a science lesson."

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Hick said...

No wonder I like your blog sooooo are such a nerd and I am very comfortable around nerds...I live in a nest of them.

I was thinking about the moon affecting the ocean and how amazing that is. If the moon can affect such a huge part of our planet, I'm sure it is not a myth that it also affects people...but why do people feel that a full moon affects us more than any other moon, Mr. Nerdy Scientist Man?

Rexroth's Daughter said...

You are a wonderful teacher, FC. What a great lesson. I have often thought about the pull of the moon on our planet's tides, and wondered about the affect the moon has on us. We are, afterall, 98% water.

So, are they building that big, monstrous house in one of these lovely salt marsh areas?

BTW-- I love your inner dialogue.

Floridacracker said...

When super nurse (aka the queen) worked in hospital emergency rooms, she always dreaded a full moon weekend night. It was going to be crazy. I like RD's comment about our water content...maybe inner tides?

(Of course...another view is that a full moon makes it easier to be out at night, thereby increasing the odds for silliness and resulting injuries)

The condo/marina complex will go on land that has been used for centuries, I don't think they will be allowed to get into surrounding wetlands, but money has a way...

roger said...

the tidepools on the central california coast were my classrooms. i went to the regular kind of classroom too, but learned more along the shore.

Floridacracker said...

I agree. The classroom is just a jumping off point.

vicki said...

But I learned so usual. The birds of the salt marsh are the best.
In the Outermost House, Henry Beston writes: "The seas are the heart's blood of the earth. Plucked up and kneaded by the sun and the moon, the tides are systole and diastole of earth's veins. "
Thanks, FC

Floridacracker said...

Love that quote. Thanks. The sandhill cranes are here in abundance. There's a field in downtown Gainesville with hundreds of them. I'm going to try and get a photo and post it.