Wednesday, February 9, 2011

White-wing Scoter Feeding Grounds Part 1

Several winters ago we came upon a flock of over one thousand White-winged Scoter, one mile or so south of Cockenoe Island, during the Christmas Bird Count, while doing the boat survey of the Norwalk Islands for the Westport Circle.
This species has been a wonder to me ever since.
What I have noticed over the past three winters, is that these flocks, which can range anywhere from several hundred to five thousand plus have one thing in common.
They are constantly feeding in the same area, a strip about two miles long and a mile wide
My friend, Biologist Dennis Varza suggested that it would be interesting to get bottom samples from this area, to try to get an idea as to what food species they are using in here.
How were we going to get benthic samples from 30-40 feet of water in the middle of the winter?
Enter Norm Bloom, owner of Norm Bloom and Son L.L.C.
Norm very kindly volunteered to take us out on one of his oyster boats, to the areas that the Scoter have been feeding.
Fortunately a number of his oyster beds were in this zone, so we would be able to work some of that bottom.
These beds are large, the parcels in this area are 100 acres each, they are surveyed and divided up into farming lots of different sizes, the same way land parcels are. Some are small and others large.
These lots are then leased from the State, for Aquaculture, a fancy name for oyster, clam and other underwater related  farming.    

A small raft of scoter appears off the bow, this photo was taken from the wheel house of the 
Grace P. Lowndes a classic wooden oyster boat, built in South Norwalk by
William Caniff Bedell in 1931, and still going strong today

These rake baskets are big, roughly four feet across, then 30x30 inches.
This one is about to be lowered into the depths, there are two of these, one on each side of the vessel.
They are made of iron and weigh hundreds of pounds each.

After a quick several second drag along the bottom, the rake is pulled back to the surface. 

The boom that is holding the rake is 3" Galvanized pipe, with about 1" steel cable attached.

The mate has to manually swing the boom and basket into the deck.

As you can see there are tons to sample through,
Almost all of that is shell that they are bring back to the dock, to clean and dry.
Our samples are in front of Dennis, with the orange bucket.

Here is some of the life we found on the Scoter feeding grounds.
Please don't crucify me if I misidentify any of these.
Above is a Transverse Ark, a bivalve closely related to Cockles and Scallops

The vertical shell is a young oyster that has attached itself to another oyster shell.

A Cunner, locally known as a bergall. They are bottom dwellers and grow to about five or so inches in the sound, but can reach longer lengths.

Sorry, one of the sponges, help me here if you can.

After doing two dredges on maintained lots we did one on a dormant lot.
It was loaded with Asterliid Sea Stars, starfish as we commonly know them.
These bad boys are deadly to oysters, clams and many other species.

Turning one over, we see a live slipper shell being devoured.

A purple Sea Urchin

A Channeled Whelk, but when we turned it over...

A Flat Clawed Hermit Crab had taken up residence in the shell.

The most famous bivalve of them all, the common oyster.
This was the most impressive specimen of the trip.
Click on the photo to enlarge, this oyster is a living condominium  for an assortment of other species.
Check out the crab to the left middle.

Close ups show some interesting worms, these are tiny about 1/2 inch at best.

A different worm, same size hiding in a crevice on the shell

Smaller mollusk, attached to the oysters shell, these are about the size of a pencil's eraser

On the bottom of the shell was this (tunicate?) a live organism that was incredible under a small microscope
Captain Jim Bloom in the wheel house of the Grace P. Lowndes
I wish to send a big thank you to Jim and his dad Norm for going way out of their way to accommodate us and our research.
Check them out here:

Next week I will try to make sense of what we found.


  1. Larry,
    Very nice set of photos and it is neat that someone is actually getting out there to collect samples from the scoter feeding area.
    Maybe someday we can do the same in Stratford, where the the species mix among the ducks was more diverse.
    Another thought is getting out to tow a plankton net through the area where the masses of gulls feed on their spring migration, heading North. There is still a disagreement among professionals who have looked at past samples. Or, maybe they are all correct because the plankton varies between locations.

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