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SIGNS OF SPRING ALONG THE BANKS OF THE PETITCODIAC RIVER

By Petitcodiac Riverwatcher Georges Brun

Finally, warmer weather is here! Spring’s arrival can be spotted a variety of ways along the banks of our dear Petitcodiac River. Warming temperatures not only melt the ice on the river, but also the hearts of all residents of the Petitcodiac River watershed who go outside to enjoy the sun and warmth by taking a stroll along the river’s banks.

In the spring, we get to see nature come back to life. It’s an ideal time to see firsthand how our river sustains a variety of plants and animals. Here are a few telltale signs of spring you may have noticed.

Flooding in the Wetlands

Severe flooding has been a problem this year. When winter begins earlier than usual and there is a warming in January (as was the case this year), there is often flooding on Acadie Avenue in Dieppe. The flooding is due in large part to Babineau Creek, which has been affected by the tidal control structure since its construction in 1968. Several small streams feed the creek and water thus overflows unto the marshes around Dieppe and Chartersville. In the past, Babineau Creek use to cross Acadie Avenue. The control structure changed the geomorphology of the Petitcodiac River, eventually clogging the mouth of Babineau Creek. During spring thaw, waters often fills the marshes and floods the road.

When the snow melts, it’s often necessary to take drastic measures to ensure that the drainage of Babineau Creek is successful. These pictures shows the City of Dieppe digging a bypass channel.

Halls Marsh, north of the Petitcodiac River, is also often flooded in the spring. Halls Creek has two branches named West Branch Halls Creek and North Branch Halls Creek. In the past, the Halls basin was left virgin, but economic development favored the construction of dams, roads and buildings. During heavy rains, there is often flooding thanks to all this development, since the earth is no longer able to function like a natural sponge as it should.

Crowley Farm Road has thus become a target for flooding when there are heavy rains and melting snow. The road was built in the early 1980s. Previously, there was no backfilling along Connaught Avenue and the baseball field was part of the marsh. The bridge over Halls Creek required entrance and exit ramps. Excess landfill was placed on the marsh. There is always a price to pay when you fill a wetland.

Flooded marsh near Halls Creek. There is always a price to pay when you fill a wetland.

Fish Swim Upstream and Birds Make their Nests.

A more positive sign of spring’s arrival is the presence of fish swimming in the 5 major rivers upstream from the Petitcodiac River’s tidal control structure. Double-crested Cormorants are an indicator that there are fish in the river and that the river is providing a healthy habitat. Downstream from the control structure, there are always birds taking advantage of the excellent fishing conditions, feeding on smelt or shad or even eels and lampreys. Upstream, bald eagles gather to feed on the fish that get pushed back by the river’s tides.

Cormorants feed on fish – a sign that fish stocks are slowly returning to normal in the river.

Bald eagle. This large bird feeds on other birds (gulls, ducks) and small animals (muskrats). It is also an excellent fisherman.

Canada Geese were introduced in our region in the late 90s and are now part of the Petitcodiac River’s sustainable ecosystem. In the spring, we can witness the migration of over 125 Canada Geese that come to build nests.

Canada Geese nesting. Here, a male keeps a watchful eye to protect his female.

Several other birds make their appearance in early spring. Some of the most common species we get to see are the Common Merganser, Ring-necked Duck, Great Blue Heron, robins, buntings, the Red-winged Blackbird, etc. It’s a delight to hear their songs at the beginning of spring.

The American Goldfinch’s appearance in the region is a telltale sign that spring has arrived.

Animals Come Out of Hibernation

In addition to birds, there are also muskrats, red foxes, deer and even sometimes moose that can be seen along the river’s banks.

A beaver hut built near the Humphreys Brook restoration project. Beavers have an important role to play in the forest’s regeneration.

Even with a large territory and an abundance of small mammals, weather conditions affect the fox’s hunt. When you spot a red fox out hunting in late February, you can rest assured that spring is around the corner.

The Marshes Become Vibrant with Color.

Spring is the time when trees and plants regenerate. Flowers make their appearance and attract insects and small birds. Tree buds and plants bring color to the marshes: yellow, orange, red and green.

Alder catkins. One of the first indicators that spring is here.

Perennial plant often known as the “Mayflower”.

Cycling and Hiking Season Begins

Finally, the sun and the warm weather encourages young and old alike to get out their bicycles and enjoy the trail along the Chocolate River, an ideal place for cycling. For residents of the Petitcodiac River watershed, a walk or bike ride along the trail can be a great opportunity to see many of the signs of spring mentioned in this blog. They might even be lucky enough to see the tidal bore surge with all its glory, its waters now free of winter’s ice.

Happy spring!

Maurice Leblanc and Jean-Guy Duguay (Petitcodiac Riverkeeper members) out for a bike ride along the Riverfront Trail.

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