A Fishy Situation

Common Carp

Fish are something I’ve never been much interested in. I’m not a big fan of water sports such as snorkeling or scuba diving, and have never gone fishing; to me fish are dull, predictable creatures that live in the murky depths of lakes and rivers where I am not likely to go. In addition, the ones we seem to have here in Ontario are dully coloured – brown or gray or some muddy earth tone shade. Perhaps one day on a visit to the tropics I’ll try snorkeling to see some of the more colourful species; I just don’t think I’d bother trying to identify them all or keep a list of all the fish I’ve ever seen. It’s not that I find all sea creatures uninteresting… I love examining the tidal pools in Nova Scotia to see what neat things have been washed up in the Bay of Fundy, and my fiancé and I were excited to discover a neat sea urchin among the rocks of the beach in Costa Rica after the tide had gone out. It’s just fish.

June 9th started out like any other morning at the Eagleson ponds. The 22 goslings were all present and accounted for, and I heard the Willow Flycatcher singing in the grove of trees north of Emerald Meadows Drive for the second (and last) time. I also heard a Purple Finch singing, as well as three Yellow Warblers – including one male right out in the open.

Yellow Warbler

Eastern Forktails were now flying in the vegetation, and I was thrilled to see my first Taiga Bluet near Hope Side Road – this is a new species for me at the ponds.

Taiga Bluet

I was amused to see a Double-crested Cormorant in the southern pond trying to eat what looked like a large fish – I say large because most of the fish I see eaten by the herons and Osprey tend to be quite small.

Double-crested Cormorant

It struggled with the fish for a bit, turning it this way and that, before swallowing it down in a single gulp.

Double-crested Cormorant

In the meantime, I’d noticed a commotion or two in the water but hadn’t paid much attention. When I saw the water suddenly churning fairly close to me, I took a closer look and realized that several fish were splashing together in water so shallow they were all momentarily visible. These fish were big, too – much bigger than the one eaten by the cormorant.

Common Carp

I knew there were some large fish in the ponds, for I’d seen their carcasses on the shore last fall after the water level had dropped sharply. There were so many of them that even the Turkey Vultures were coming to feed on them. I’d seen living ones break through the surface on occasion, but never more than one at a time, and never thrashing in packs like this.

Common Carp

As I walked around the pond, I noticed these groups just about everywhere in the central and southern ponds. Intrigued, I stopped to watch them and take some photos. Fortunately I got enough decent shots to post to iNaturalist and get an ID – they are Common Carp (Cyprinus carpio), a non-native, warm-water fish found in shallow, weedy lakes and rivers. A member of the minnow family and a relative of the goldfish, the Common Carp is a thick, heavyset fish with large scales, a long, serrated dorsal fin, and whiskers – called barbels – next to the mouth. The body is yellowish in color, with lower fins that are orangey-red. While the carp is more tolerant of polluted waters than many of our native species, it is also more destructive – they feed by sucking up the muck at the bottom of the pond or river, which uproots plants and disturbs the sediment. The material is then filtered through their gills, which separates food items (worms, plankton, aquatic insects, organic matter and plant seeds) before releasing the unusable sediment back into the water.

Common Carp

As suspected, all the commotion was due to the carp’s spawning ritual. In the spring, once the water temperature rises to about 17°C, schools of carp move to shallow, weedy water where the females thrashes about and deposits her eggs onto the plants. During this time, up to 20 males will chase after her in an attempt to fertilize the eggs. This was doubtless what I was seeing – another sign of breeding season! As I have a project on iNaturalist to document all the species of the Eagleson ponds, I did upload my photos there in order to identify them. I was a bit disappointed to learn how destructive these fish can be, but hopefully they will provide a good meal to the local Osprey and whatever other predators can catch them!

Common Carp

I’ve never witnessed fish spawning before, so it was quite interesting to see so many carp gathered together in the ponds. Maybe fish aren’t quite so boring after all!

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