[Tweeters] Boathouse Nature

Jeff Gibson gibsondesign at msn.com
Sun Aug 17 08:29:02 PDT 2014

Back home in Everett for a few days of respite from 'Alzheimer's Acre' in beautiful Port Townsend. I got a few days of relaxation and home chores done before being shanghaied.
"Shanghaied" is the term I use when my wife hauls me off to work on one of her boat jobs. Along with money, the compensation is being down on the water. The job is in a boathouse in the Everett marina, and to get to it, one walks down a long long narrow dock walled solid on both sides by old metal walled boathouses, with dirty skylights overhead. In the gray morning light it looked more like a hallway in someplace like a Soviet gulag, rather than the entrance to a nature area.
Then into the boathouse, last one on the dock. The boathouse, in this case, is like a floating garage where you can park a boat. Inside, with no windows, the place is like a cave, only lit by the water, which illuminated by the sky outside, looks like a pool of glowing anti-freeze. Turning on the lights and walking down the narrow deck along the boat I open the garage doors and let in some light. The boathouse is a strange building with two views; one facing out, the other facing down.
With the doors open there is a view of the marina. Not too birdy; mostly Glaucous-winged Gulls, a few crows and Rock Doves, the Marina Mooching Mallards, a pair of mooching Honkers, and one Kingfisher, the past few days. All common birds for sure, but what would the waterfront be like without serenading gulls? Incomplete.
The other view, quite unique, is down into the water. The roofed and mostly dark boathouse shades the water, cutting the surface reflections back nicely so you can see all sorts of underwater stuff quite clearly. At least more clearly- Everett marina is plunked in an estuary and the water is often nearly opaque, but the last few days it's been clear enough.
Clear enough to do some fish watching, something I enjoy doing.
All day Thursday, we were attended by a dense school of little Three-spined Sticklebacks - several hundreds, all uniformly about an inch and a half long. Possibly the class of 2014- not full grown yet. These fish hung out all day, even swimming into the incoming tidal current beneath the boathouse to stay right next to the boat.
Well, that was nice, but when I came out later the school had disappeared. Then two larger Sticklebacks appeared from a horizontal crevice between two pieces of dock flotation - and one was brightly colored; a male in breeding colors, with a bluish gray back, blue eye's and red-orange belly and sides. It was the brightest thing going in this habitat of sludgy colors.
The male Stickleback was doing his "zig and zag" mating dance before the the duller, larger female who was bulging with eggs. A zig and a zag and then the male led the female back into his grotto. See, the male Stickleback builds a nest, and with his colors and stickleback charm, gets the female to come back and check out his digs, even showing her how to enter the nest, where hopefully she will lay her eggs. I couldn't actually see the hidden nest, but have seen one - I had a stickleback build a nest in a pond aquarium I had as a kid. Really, it looks more like a sleeping bag with openings in both ends - the fish swims in one end and out the other.
I've been taking lots of breaks the past few days (because overhead sanding of a low, curved cabin ceiling is not an activity the human body was designed for) and watching the Sticklebacks. The male is the brightest I've ever seen, although one male I saw recently in the eel-grass beds of Port Townsend came close.
Sticklebacks are sort of pugnacious and the male had no hesitation chasing much larger Shiner Perch, another abundant estuary fish, away from his grotto. Sticklebacks are not deadbeat dads - they watch the eggs after hatching, and even take care of the young baby fish for awhile. Pretty cool.
The spines on the Sticklebacks back are designed to make them hard to swallow- mainly by other fish - but there are records of birds (Kingfisher, and Little Grebe, in England) choking to death on the little spiny buggers. On the other hand , larger birds are able to eat 'em - a pair of Loons was recorded eating 50'000 of them over a six-month period.
Loons or not, the local Sticklebacks are doing fine in Everett - many of them all over. As mentioned, the little Shiner Perch is also abundant (often seen in Caspian Tern bill), and at the Boathouse I did also see another fish - two dark brown Sculpins lurking in the dark algae growth on the dock floats. A bit more boathouse nature.
Jeff Gibsonboathouse lurker inEverett Wa

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