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Monday, August 15, 2011

Rainy Bout Leaves Its Mark; More Due to Return End of Week

Rainy Bout Leaves Its Mark; More Due to Return End of Week:
Roads safe – with an exception – in past dozen hours
By Mike Lauterborn
(Posted to 8/15)
© 2011. All Rights Reserved.

Fairfield, CT – It was just shy of 11 a.m. Monday when the Dodge pickup, barreling north on South Pine Creek Road, approached the intersection of Oldfield Road. There had been a steady, heavy rain through the night and morning that had made road surfaces slick. In a hurry to get to his destination, the pickup’s driver didn't see the silver Toyota Camry, traveling eastbound, enter the four-way passage…and when he did, it was too late.

Though he applied the pickup’s brakes, the vehicle careened into the right rear door and quarter panel of the Camry. The impact forced the car, carrying a female driver, up over a small strip of grass to come to rest on the sidewalk and front path of the home at 978 Oldfield Road.

Fortunately, there were no injuries according to one of two Fairfield police officers that was processing the accident, and there was no damage to the home’s property. There was, however, significant damage to the Camry and a flatbed truck had to be summoned to the scene to retrieve the Toyota.

Surprisingly, the officer writing up the report said the accident was the only one he was aware of today. “I’m always hopeful,” said the officer. As to how motorists can avoid becoming a statistic, the patrolman advised, “Slow down in the rain.”

This was good advice going forward given the National Weather Service’s forecast for lingering wet weather, at least into Tuesday. For tonight, a 60% chance of showers are likely, and a flood advisory remains in effect; for Tuesday, a 50% chance of showers is forecast, dropping to 20% Tuesday evening. Wednesday’s working itself up to be a beach day, with sunny skies and temperatures in the low 80s during the day.

But then moisture is due to return, with an increasing chance of thunderstorms as the week comes to a close. The weather signals the gradual appearance of fall, dwindling vacation days and the ultimate return of children to area schools.

Creatures from the Sound Intrigue SHU Biology Professor

Creatures from the Sound Intrigue SHU Biology Professor
By Mike Lauterborn
(for Fairfield Citizen News)

Fairfield, CT – Long before the dinosaurs roamed the Earth, the hard-shelled, spiky-tailed sea creatures crept along the ocean floors. Four hundred million years later, their form and lifestyle is virtually unchanged.

From her office at Sacred Heart University, Associate Professor of Biology Jennifer Mattei, Ph.D, provided insights on the indomitable horseshoe crab, a common sight in the months of May and June along Connecticut’s shoreline. Her Project Limulus (the Latin term for the prehistoric sea crawler) is dedicated to tagging, tracking and learning more about the mysterious ocean denizens.

A staff member for 16 years, Mattei said that 11 years ago, she started helping a colleague with a Connecticut Audubon Society program focused on the horseshoe crab. “Questions arose about their migratory patterns and if, like sea turtles, they returned to familiar breeding ground every year,” she said. “We got a kit from a tagging company with the intention of tagging the crabs to track their annual travel, starting in the Milford Point area. We affixed tags to 50 horseshoe crabs that first summer.”

Unfortunately, the pair didn’t see any of the tagged creatures return the next summer. “That was probably because the tag quantity was so minimal,” she said.

So, in 2001, Mattei applied for a grant through the state’s license plate program dedicated to Long Island Sound preservation. “I decided to expand our work into a community research project, involving the Audubon, Maritime Aquarium, members of The Nature Conservancy and high school teachers,” she said. “I did talks, trainings and gave out tag kits. We were able to get a few thousand horseshoe crabs tagged.”

Mattei said the program continued to expand. This past May and June, over an eight-week period, over 16,000 horseshoe crabs were tagged.

With regard to findings, the biologist said, “About 10% return, indicating that they are not like sea turtles. There is some affinity – about half of those that have returned were originally tagged at the same beach.”

Mattei said they also learned that the crabs don’t seem to disburse in any particular pattern and a small percentage cross the Sound. “When they’re not ashore, they appear to live out in the middle of the Sound and bury themselves,” she added. “We’ve sonar tagged a few which has given us these results.”

The mating ritual is quite unique to the species. “Typically, in March, a male chooses a female at random and attaches himself to her hindquarters,” she said. “When she emerges from the water and deposits her eggs in the sand, he fertilizes them externally. She carries up to 30,000 eggs and will return several times during the season to make deposits. The male is still attached throughout that time, through August.”

Surrounded by posters depicting such topics as the evolution of life and age of reptiles and several coastal survey maps, the professor expressed some concerns about horseshoe populations. “They are not endangered and have been around since the Ordovician period, though recent observations are showing a building trend of females coming up on the beaches without a mate,” she said. “The density of animals is low here, which makes it difficult for the animals to find each other and may, over time, contribute to a decline in their overall numbers.”

She said it’s ironic that creationists have used horseshoe crabs as proof that organisms don’t evolve. “They’re actually the epitome of evolution,” she said. “Their bodies have been conserved relatively unchanged over time by natural selection.”

Mattei said a new finding this year is the discovery of various insects that live in and around the horseshoe crab eggs. “We’ve seen a predacious beetle that may eat fly larvae,” she said, with an excited twinkle in her eye, obviously eager to learn how the species may benefit from each other.

View Finder: Serene Shore Setting

View Finder: Serene Shore Setting
By Mike Lauterborn

The surface of the Sound was still and a barely noticeable tide lazily rolled in. Seagulls ruled the beach, bunched in small colonies, one posted near the water as a lookout. Lifeguard chairs were still unoccupied, waiting for their sentries to check in.

It was a perfect Wednesday morning at Penfield Beach, one of the last of summer before children return to school and the days become markedly shorter and cooler. A tractor had passed up and down at first light, pulling a device behind it that “swept” the beach, combing up any dreck that had been left behind by the previous day’s beachgoers. Its application resulted in smooth undisturbed sand that dared those that ventured near to mark it.

A woman came and sat cross-legged in the sand, stretched and peacefully meditated a while before strolling off along the shore. Another stepped out of a robe, slipped into the water, paddled about and retreated the way she’d arrived.

On the horizon, a fishing boat, its metallic trim reflecting the sun, was anchored. The odd sailboat playfully carved the water nearby.

On the deck of the new pavilion, which enjoyed an official opening during the past week, a workman balanced on an A-frame ladder, using a screwgun to secure white trim to roof eaves. This minor flourish was one of only a few punch list items remaining to officially complete the project.
Documenting the work by circling the building and snapping photos with a pocket-sized digital camera was Linda Crowley, on the Penfield Lighthouse Commission. The photos would become part of a historic record.

Gradually, beachgoers with the prime intent of setting up on and spending the day at the beach, like a pack of kids and their moms from the Osborn Hill area, began arriving. This particular crew got slathered in sun lotion, grabbed shovels and set off for the shallows to hunt for sea creatures.
They would soon be joined by other mobs of moms, cadres of kids and cavorting couples, all come to while away the day.