Our Flora and Fauna
The Nashua River watershed is made up of forests, streams, fields, wetlands, ponds, and other ecosystems that provide the perfect habitat for an abundance of plants and animals. Our watershed also contains less common habitat including old growth forest and peat bogs. The river channels, back cove areas, tributaries, and the riparian land along the river edge serve as host to thousands of plant and animal species. Below is an overview of flora and fauna in and along our rivers and streams.
The Nashua River and Its Tributaries
Along the river and its tributaries, there is a healthy diversity of riparian trees, shrubs and herbaceous plants. Many of the tree species found along the river can also be found in lowland forest throughout central Massachusetts. The towering white pine (Pinus strobus) is a tall pine tree often found growing with red maple (Acer Rubrum). In some locations, the swamp white oak (Quercus bicolor) with its round-tipped leaves might be found. Black willow (Salix nigra) with small gray-green leaves and sycamore (Platanus occidentalis), with gray-brown mottled bark are typical river tree species. Yellow and white birch can be seen in sunny areas, and both with bark covered with large lenticels. Alnus serrulata or common alder is a shrub with birch-like catkins which bloom in mid-to late March. Vines such as poison ivy and wild grape can be seen on the shoreline in some locations.
In the river, one can find a variety of emergent plant-life like pickerel weed (Pontederia cordata L.), cattails (Typha latiflia) and many different sedges and rushes. Floating on the surface of the river, in calm areas, wolfia (Wolffia columbiana Karst) and duck weed (Lemns minor) can be seen. A curious person looking under the water will find common hornwort (Ceratophyllum demersum), a bushy plant often described as similar to a raccoon tail. A local carnivorous plant called common bladderwort (U. vulgaris)can be found thriving in the back coves and corners.
Baltimore orioles, red wing blackbirds, tree and barn swallows, belted kingfishers, and a variety of warblers join mallards, Canada geese, and other waterfowl as seasonal visitors or local residents of the Nashua River and its tributaries. Great blue herons, our largest birds standing four feet high, can be spotted hunting fish and frogs in the back coves and along the shallow edges. Birds of prey including red-tailed hawks, osprey, and bald eagles are frequently spotted along our rivers also.
Insects and Spiders
Rivers provide perfect habitat for the aquatic stages of many insects, and their presence helps us determine the health of our river. Water striders walk across the water with long legs and are easy to see. Whirligig beetles (Gyrinidae) are small black beetles that spin on the surface of the water, sometimes in large groups. Damselflies and dragonflies (Odonata) of many different species, are found resting on vegetation, flying above the water surface, or laying their eggs in the river. Their nymphs can be found lurking in the detritus or leaf litter at the bottom of the river. Stilt spiders (tetragnatha sps.) are one of many species that build their webs on river vegetation, and crayfish (Astacoidea) may be seen hunting along the river bottom or hiding in the rocky corners.
Beaver (Castor canadensis), river otter (Lontra canadensis), muskrat (Ondatra zibethicus), and mink (Neovison vison) are our most common mammals living along the banks of the Nashua and its tributaries. Beaver are large (35-60 pounds) and will smack their tail on the surface of the water to sound an alarm. Lodges, dams, and scent mounds, the structural signs of these amazing animals, are scattered throughout the waterways. Also, trees chewed by beaver are easy to spot with clear teeth marks on the trunks. River otter may be seen swimming or their “slides” may be located on the muddy banks. Muskrat build mounds made of cattail, which can often be seen in wetlands, and they leave their “scat” on floating logs.
Painted turtles and musk turtles, commonly found in the river, can be seen basking on logs along the river edges. Our largest resident, the snapping turtle, may be seen swimming, resting below surface in the shallow areas or basking on the muddy banks. The northern water snake, capable of reaching three feet in length, is a harmless but quick-tempered resident often spotted swimming in the river or warming in low branches along the river banks.
Sections of the Nashua River are renowned for large mouth bass and draw numerous fishermen to its waters. Sunfish, pickerels, and yellow perch set up residence in the back coves and trout can be found in the upper tributaries where the water stays cooler and more oxygenated. Bullhead catfish scour the river bottoms and minnows are seen schooling in the weed beds.