Wednesday, February 2, 2011
The Logperch in the brooks of Easton, Mass.
The Logperch is a member of the darter family of fish (Percina). This family also includes the yellow perch, so common to Easton's ponds and deeper, slower streams.
The darters are an incredibly varied and diverse group of freshwater fish, even though most are just a few inches long. The logperch is the largest of the darters, reaching a length of up to about six inches. Darters are unusual in that most lack swim bladders, have wildly outsized pectoral fins and the males display extraordinarily bright colors during mating season.
On the Atlantic coast, Massachusetts is just about the northern limit of darters, although there exist historic reports of the swamp darter in several brooks in York County in southernmost Maine. Interestingly, darters are quite common in the mountain brooks of central Vermont. Those I used to observe as a kid in East Corinth, VT were probably the Johnny Darter, one of the most common and best known of the family.
My experience with the logperch in Easton is limited to a single observation back in the late 1970s when I was in junior high school. We lived just up the street from Whitman Brook where it crosses Elm Street and goes into Langwater Pond and we used to muck about in the brook all the way to the Stoughton/Easton line.
One summer, most likely in 1977 or 1978, we had a particularly nasty and prolonged drought in and around Easton. Every thunderstorm missed us and you could almost hear the ground groan and sigh for lack of moisture. As my uncle Gilbert Heino would say, it was tough.
One day I walked down Elm Street to Whitman Brook and was shocked to find it was completely dried up just before it enters Langwater. Walking in the brook bed I found dozens and dozens of dead fish, lightly covered with mud. Most were about 4-5 inches long, very slender and kind of odd-looking. Coming back home I figured out, to the best of the descriptions in our various fish books, that they were logperch. Apparently what happened is that the drought was so severe that the logperch got stranded in isolated pools in the brook and when those pools finally dried up, the fish died in them.
What struck me then, and still today, is that we never knew these logperch lived in Whitman Brook. Even with all the fishing and wading and exploring we did in the brook during our growing up years, we never saw them. Apparently, they are quite reclusive little fish. Part of this might be due to our familiarity with the centrarchid family, ie. bluegills, pumpkinseeds and largemouth bass in the local ponds, as well as the chain pickerel. The bass and sunfish family are curiously non-shy, to the point that it almost seems they are as curious about you as you are to them, especially if you are swimming, where the sunfish will come up and nibble at your leg hairs. And underwater, with a diving mask, largemouth and smallmouth bass will swim right up to your face to check you out.
So absent further sightings since 1978, I can only surmise that for all those years of wandering about in Whitman Brook, there were logperch aplenty but they kept themselves extremely well concealed. This is the only logical way to explain how during that one very bad summer drought when Whitman Brook dried up there were dozens of logperch lying dead in the brookbed.
As a side note about our native Percina in Easton, many people are not aware that yellow perch engage in a very interesting spawning migration during April. I first encountered this at the back end of Picker Pond off Canton Street in North Easton. Picker Pond is fed by two brooks, one coming from Flyaway Pond and the other from Long Pond which both meet in a marsh before the pond actually starts.
Walking the little brook from Long Pond one April I was surprised to see fish in it everywhere -- far more than you would ever expect to see in such a small brook. Upon closer inspection I discovered they were all the yellow perch in Picker Pond. They had swam from the pond into the fast water of the brook to mate and lay their eggs. It was quite a sight.