BBC Volunteers Work At FLCA

Members of the Trails Committee enjoy the fruits of their labor after building a bench on the dam overlooking Fitzgerald Lake. The volunteers constructed three additional benches: another at the dam, one at the junction of the Marian Street Trail and Boggy Meadow Road, and one on Boggy Meadow Road near the entrance of the Loop Trail that leads to the Lathrop Community. Lathrop residents asked if BBC would build some benches to provide spots for rest and a view. The bench builders were Dave Herships, Jim Reis, Steven Harding, Alex Neubert and Michael Kesten. (Michael Kesten)

Originally published in the Fall 2017 BBC Newsletter.

Fitzgerald Lake: Attractive and Convenient for Anglers

Pete Schoenberger shows off a bass he caught in Fitzgerald Lake.

Pete Schoenberger shows off a bass he caught in Fitzgerald Lake.

If you search the mass.gov Fisheries and Wildlife website for the best places to fish in western Mass, you won’t find Fitzgerald Lake on the list.

But local anglers don’t need the government to tell them that this small body of water is an attractive and convenient spot to take a break from their daily routine and try their luck. Whether fishing alongshore or from a kayak or canoe, it’s just a short walk in from the North Farms Road parking lot to the lake, making it possible to get a bit of fishing in before or after work, on a lunch break, or whenever the urge arises. And with the newly extended dock, boaters can now launch into open water instead of fighting the muck off the end of the older, shorter boardwalk.

Like other small dammed lakes and ponds in the area, Fitzgerald Lake is fairly shallow and weedy, with a mud or silt bottom and stands of cattails or reeds at the margins. While the water is relatively open at the beginning of spring, the shallower portions eventually fill with a dense mat of pondweed, water lilies, and watershield, providing shade and cover for the largemouth bass and bluegill that are the target species for most people who fish the lake. As the vegetation starts to take over the lake surface, it takes a certain skill to cast a lure or bait into the open water along the edge of the floating leaves or pads, where a strike is most likely; a little too far, and all you’re likely to haul in is a handful of tangled stems. (So-called weedless hooks are useful in these conditions, though they typically only reduce rather than eliminate the snags.)

Though neither largemouth bass nor bluegills are native to New England, it would be hard to find a lake or pond in Massachusetts without them. Both species can be caught throughout the year, even under the ice, and both will take almost any kind of lure or live bait (if they’re in the mood). But it’s the bass that anglers are mostly after: they’re bigger, they strike harder, and they can put up a good fight, especially if you’re fishing with light tackle. Typical size for a largemouth bass is in the 10–15-inch range, weighing from a pound or two up to 5 pounds; larger fish, up to 20 inches and beyond, are possible, though fish that size aren’t often caught in lakes like Fitzgerald.

Bluegills, a kind of sunfish, are smaller than the bass, but they’re generally easier to catch and are especially fun for fishing with children. They are very similar to the pumpkinseed, which is native to New England but not as numerous as the introduced bluegill.

The two species are often found together in small schools, especially at the edge of weed beds or around sunken logs. Other panfish that are likely to be present in Fitzgerald Lakebased on its similarity to Lake Warner, which was sampled by Mass Fish and Wildlife in 1981– are the black crappie, white crappie, and yellow perch, all of which are considered to be excellent eating.

You can fish for freshwater species all year long in Massachusetts with few restrictions.

A license is required for anyone over the age of 15, though it’s free for ages 15–17 and over 70. There is a creel limit of 5 bass per day and a minimum size limit of 12 inches, though of course you can catch and release as many fish of any size as you want. More information about freshwater fishing can be found at mass.gov/freshwater-fishing-in-massachusetts. Good luck to all!

Dave Pritchard

Originally published in the Fall 2017 BBC Newsletter.

Sharing the Woods with Ticks

Preparedness, Pragmatism Are Key

Photo comparison of tick sizes

The larger wood tick doesn’t carry Lyme disease, while the tiny deer tick
can transmit Lyme and several other diseases to humans and dogs.

This has been banner year for ticks in the woods. The reasons are complicated and not always quantifiable. Along with high humidity and wet conditions, a less intuitive factor was a bumper crop of acorns in 2015, which produced a booming population of the deer tick host, the white-footed mouse. Ironically, the mice do not become infected themselves with tick-borne diseases.

The mice do provide the habitat where deer tick larvae develop into nymph forms and, later in the season, into adults. The nymph forms, which are the size of a pencil point, tend to bite and infect deer and humans with Lyme disease in the peak months of May, June and July. By fall, the adults – now apple-seed-sized organisms – continue to feed on the blood of humans and deer until the first hard frost. Throughout this May to October period, the deer ticks can transmit Lyme disease and other tick-borne illnesses.

The ticks can be found in sparse forests and in gardens, where they live under leaves and other debris. Ticks cannot jump or fly, instead crawling onto the feet or ankles of their victims. Barriers to their spread from surrounding brush include wood chips and gravel, which are difficult for them to crawl across.

Lyme disease, known since the 1970s, is familiar to many in New England as a disease that causes mild fever, headache and, sometimes, a red rash up to a week after the bite of a deer tick infected by the Lyme parasite. Without treatment, infection can eventually lead to arthritis and neurological problems. The tick has to be attached to the human for 36 to 48 hours; infection when the tick is in place for less than 24 hours is unlikely. Diagnosis is made by finding antibodies in the blood of the infected person, although the antibodies may not appear until two to four weeks after infection.

Other diseases carried by deer ticks include Anaplasmosis, Babesiosis , and Powassan virus infection. Anaplasmosis and Babesiosis became known in the early 2000s, and Powassan virus about 2013. While it may be alarming to think that new diseases carried by deer ticks are being identified, these diseases are fundamentally different from Lyme. They are easier to diagnose because they cause severe symptoms, so that the presence of disease is indisputable. They also do not cause long-term chronic illness, and they are very uncommon. Unlike Lyme disease, Anaplasmosis and Babesiosis can be diagnosed immediately by a peripheral blood smear that shows the organism inside the cell. Nationwide, in 2016, there were about 30,000 reported cases of Lyme disease, 1,800 cases of Babesiosis, 800 cases of Anaplasmosis, and seven cases of Powassan virus.

The effects of these other tick-borne diseases on the kidneys, blood clotting, liver and neurological function provide a secondary means of diagnosis by using other ancillary blood tests. Anaplasmosis , similar to Rocky Mountain spotted fever, and Babesiosis, a malaria-like illness, are very treatable with good outcomes. Powassan virus causes an encephalitis that shares the poor neurological prognosis of the Eastern Equine virus transmitted by mosquitoes.

Awareness and prevention are the keys to enjoying our time outdoors mindfully, but not fearfully. Applying the repellent DEET is helpful, with special attention to the shoes and ankles, with socks pulled up over your trousers. The tick you find on your shoulders or scalp has usually crawled up there from your feet. An alternative repellent, permethrin, which is toxic to the tick, can be applied to clothing, and permethrin-impregnated trousers and sleep sacks are available. Vinegar and natural oils like geranium, lavender, eucalyptus, and garlic may be helpful. It’s important to do a full body skin check when you come in from the meadows (where deer love the tall grass,) the woods OR the garden. Take a shower and put your dry clothes in the dryer for ten minutes.

A helpful video on the deer tick bite appearance, the rash, and instructions on removing ticks is available at the New York Department of Health website health.ny.gov/diseases/ communicable/lyme.

Since 2010, the Medical Zoology lab at UMASS Amherst has offered a test to the public of ticks for Lyme disease, Babesiosis, and Anaplasmosis for $50. (Call 413-545-1057 or go to tickreport.com.) Last year the lab tested 10,000 ticks. The larger wood tick doesn’t carry Lyme disease, while the tiny deer tick can transmit Lyme and several other diseases to humans and dogs.

Sixty percent of the deer ticks tested did not carry Lyme disease. It’s important to note that a positive test does not definitively demonstrate that the disease has been transmitted to the person who was bitten.

In New England, it is important to remember that the 100% larger wood or so-called dog ticks do not carry Lyme disease. Also, Lyme disease continues to be a problem in areas where deer have been eradicated, as mice are the primary vectors. Pet owners have not been shown to have more tick-borne illnesses than others.

You can stay informed by following the literature and up-to-date epidemiological data from the Centers for Disease Control at cdc.gov/Lyme. In addition, citizen scientists can contribute to ongoing research that works to expand the limited knowledge on changing tick populations by visiting the University of Rhode Island Tick Encounter Resource Center and reporting their tick encounters.

With some pragmatic precautions, we can continue to enjoy the many benefits that we and our families derive from our time off the beaten path and in the woods.

Brigid Glackin

Originally published in the Fall 2017 BBC Newsletter.

Guide to Spring Wildflowers at FLCA

In case you haven’t noticed, a new guide to Spring wildflowers at the FLCA was posted to the BBC website last spring.

Spring Wildflower Guide

Spring Wildflower Guide

Compiled by BBC President Bob Zimmermann, the guide includes photos, descriptions and folklore relating to 16 native wildflowers encountered along paths through the woods, pastures and marshes of the conservation area. We hope the guide will enhance your enjoyment and understanding of the rich and colorful display of flowers that appear between April and June each year. Look for similar guides to summer and fall wildflowers early in 2018.

“A Layman’s Guide to Spring Flowers at Fitzgerald Lake Conservation Area” can be downloaded here

Documenting Wildlife at FLCA

Wildlife Activity Poster by Elizabeth Sowers

UMass Amherst student Elizabeth Sowers conducted wildlife research at FLCA

A research project using cameras to document wildlife at the Fitzgerald Lake Conservation Area earned its author, Virginia Sowers, second place in Best in Show at the University of Massachusetts Annual Geographic Information Systems Poster Conference.

The UMass senior in the Department of Environmental Conservation wanted to gauge the influence of human visitors on wildlife at FLCA. Her conclusion: recreational activities on the trails in the conservation area do not appear to deter wildlife.

Sowers Poster of FLCA Wildlife