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Space Invaders: A Short Study of the Abundant and Abundantly Interesting, Irritating and Destructive Species in Local Waters

I spent some time at two of our more picturesque and fine-fishing local ponds this week: Swofford Pond (Mossyrock) and South Lewis County Pond (Toledo). I didn’t catch any fish, but that was probably because I was concentrating my efforts on photographing the wildlife — some of which was very weird wildlife.

South Lewis County Pond is a local favorite for trout. The daily limit for trout is five fish. Some locals have been catching so many in just a few hours, I heard they switched to barbless hooks to make it easier to let them go. (Reminder: when fishing with bait, you must count all fish as part of your daily limit, whether you keep them or not.)

A Double-crested Cormorant at South Lewis County Pond in Toledo opens wide to show just how big of a fish can fit inside. This diving bird eats fish ranging from tiny fry to hefty 16-inch trout. Cormorants are opportunistic diners who enjoy patronizing freshly stocked lakes and ponds for easy pickings.

A Double-crested Cormorant at South Lewis County Pond in Toledo opens wide to show just how big of a fish can fit inside. This diving bird eats fish ranging from tiny fry to hefty 16-inch trout. Cormorants are opportunistic diners who enjoy patronizing freshly stocked lakes and ponds for easy pickings.

Double-Crested Cormorants

But the Double-crested Cormorants that feed on this lake know of no such limits.

Earlier this year, as the cormorants congregated on their nesting grounds along the Columbia River, they were blamed for consuming 22.3 million salmon and steelhead smolts. At the end of nesting season, they moved on to freshly stocked lakes and ponds, where the pickings are easy.

Double-crested Cormorants are large birds, growing over two feet long, with a wingspan of four feet. They are accomplished divers, reaching depths of up to 30-feet and they eat fish ranging from tiny fry to hefty 16-inch trout.

Unfortunately, they aren’t particularly fond of American Bullfrogs as dinner fare. Bullfrogs are an invasive species, commonly found in local lakes and ponds, who have contributed to the drastic decline of native amphibians and reptiles.

Nor do the cormorants perch and poop their toxic waste on and kill aquatic invasive species such as the Yellow Flag Iris (due to bloom any day now), or lay waste to the Scotch Broom bushes that line many of our favorite waterways.

No, they generally lay waste to native plants with their waste.

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Red-eared Slider Turtle

Unambiguously Aggressive Amphibians

When people let their no longer treasured, cold-blooded pet go free, they cause more than a little trouble to the local residents.

Bullfrogs are outcompeting local amphibians for food — and eating them as well.

Bullfrogs are “sit and wait” predators who will attack almost any living, moving creature smaller than itself, including insects, frogs, tadpoles, fish, small snakes, turtle hatchlings, newts, salamanders, bats, hummingbirds, and ducklings.

Swofford Pond is rife with bullfrogs and Silver Lake in Cowlitz County produces some of the best jumping frogs for Toledo Cheese Days Frog Jumping contestants.

I found three good-sized Red-eared Slider Turtles — former pet store residents — sunning themselves on log beside the South Lewis County Pond on Sunday.  These colorful, non-native turtles compete with native turtles — including the endangered Western Pond Turtle — for food and basking sites. If you think you see a Pond Slider, WDFW says, “confine it and look for an owner in your neighborhood.”

This odd duck is just one of many residing on local small ponds such as Fort Borst Park Pond in Centralia and South Lewis County Pond in Toledo. The upcurled central tail feathers and green head mark this duck as part Mallard, the white on the chest marks it as domestic, the giant black-tipped grey bill and cinnamon body may come from a Widgeon.

This odd duck is just one of many residing on local small ponds such as Fort Borst Park Pond in Centralia and South Lewis County Pond in Toledo. The upcurled central tail feathers and green head mark this duck as part Mallard, the white on the chest marks it as domestic, the giant black-tipped grey bill and cinnamon body may come from a Widgeon.

Odd Ducks

Fort Borst Park and South County Ponds both have a healthy local population of domestic duck/Mallard crosses. Such concentrated populations compete with natives for food and nesting space and they dilute the gene pool and may introduce diseases that the wild duck population doesn’t have the immunity to overcome.

These ponds also support a healthy local population of native waterfowl who, when they migrate, may take domestic disease with them and spread it to the wild populations.

Swofford Pond

At Swofford Pond, May 10, 2013, with friend Jody Vogel.

Fur-Bearing Thieves

While kayaking along the shores of Swofford Pond on a beautiful morning last year with Mossyrock local Lesa Horton, I spotted several otter slides along the southwestern end of the pond.

Moments later we were rewarded with a view of an otter, who was probably heading out to make his afternoon rounds of anglers’ stringers along the shoreline.

Offut Lake also has a good-sized population of these fish-stealing mammals. Becky Pogue, an owner of Offut Lake Resort, recommends that all dock fishermen have a cage to keep their trout safe from the purloining population.

“You ‘otter’ have one,” the sign says in her resort store.

River otters are cute, but they are also 4-feet and 25-pounds of unpredictability with teeth. Never confront an otter. When he asks you for your fish, just put up your hands and give up the fight.

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