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Did you know there are no dams on the Taunton River? -- a rarity among major coastal rivers in New England. The Taunton River is home to an incredible diversity of vegetation and wild life habitats. It is considered by most local authorities to be the most ecologically diverse waterbodies in the state.
Photo by Anne Dutra

The Taunton River Watershed

A watershed is a geographic area of land in which all surface and ground water flows downhill to a common point, such as a river, stream, pond, lake, wetland, or estuary.

Excerpted from "An Atlas of Massachusetts River Systems."

The Taunton River Basin is the second largest drainage area in Massachusetts. The river has one of the flattest courses in the state with only a twenty foot difference along the forty mile length of the main stem. Its level terrain creates extensive wetlands throughout the basin, including the 16,950 acre Hockomock Swamp, one of the largest wetlands in New England (and also the source for many uncommon and rare species in this part of the state). Saltwater intrusion occurs as far as twelve miles upstream (the confluence with the Three Mile River) with tidal changes noticeable eighteen miles upstream (as far as Route 44). These conditions influence vegetation and wildlife along the river. The Taunton remains fairly uniform in width within its freshwater portion, then broadens into an estuary (downstream of the Berkley Bridge). Its watershed is notable for the myriad of small tributaries throughout the Basin.

Geography of the Taunton River and the taunton River section.

The network of streams and rivers comprising the Taunton River basin drains 562 square miles of the southeastern part of the Commonwealth of Massachusetts and is the second largest watershed in the state. The Taunton River begins in the town of Bridgewater, Massachusetts at the confluence of the Matfield and Town Rivers. The upper section of the river, the focus of this Wild and Scenic River Study, flows alongside the towns of Bridgewater, Halifax, Middleborough, Raynham, and Taunton. One of the reasons that the river has been so overlooked by local communities is that the river separates the rural towns at their peripheral borders, dividing rather than uniting the communities. The river continues through urban areas in the City of Taunton. The lower reaches pass Berkley and Dighton, where the river gradually becomes more saline as it approaches the estuary of Mount Hope Bay.

 

Please visit our affiliates page to visit other organizations dedicated to the protection of the Taunton River and the Taunton River Watershed.

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Photo Credits and Page Credits:
The Wildlands Trust,
Anne Dutra, local resident of the Taunton River area for the beautiful seal photo, Taunton River Watershed Alliance (TRWA), MassGIS, EOEA, Taunton River Stewardship Program,
Atlas of Mass. River Systems, USGS.gov, EPA..gov, www.nmia.com (plymouth gentia), Michael Tougias, author of "A Taunton River Journey", Texas Parks and Wildlife, Peter Webber
Photographer
wildbirdphotos.com
(red-winged blackbird)
(ring-necked
pheasant) ,
Deanna Dawson
Photographer
(North Parula Warbler),
Grafton Ponds Preserve Web Site
(coastal plain pond).

 

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Wildlife Resources Summary

Did You Know?

  • Over 154 species of birds were documented along the river during breeding season, including bald eagles.
  • River otters are active along the banks of the river.
  • Seals have been spotted in the upper portion of the Taunton River.
  • The watershed supports 29 species of native fish, including native brook trout.
  • The very rare native sturgeon, which can grow to 14 feet long, has been found in the lower Taunton.
  • The Nemasket River is the state's largest Alewife fish run.
  • The Taunton River hosts 7 species of freshwater mussels, making it among the most diverse waterbodies in the state for this rare group of animals.

The following information is excerpted from a Natural Resource Inventory and Conservation Plan for the Taunton River Corridor prepared by the Wildlands Trust of Southeastern Massachusetts in Feb of 1998. To learn more about the Wildlands Trust, please visit their web site at www.wildlandstrust.org.

Freshwater Mussels

The Taunton River has been discovered as one of the most diverse waterbodies in the state in terms of freshwater mussels. Seven species of mussels, including three on the state list of endangered "special concern" species (Eastern Pondmussel, Tidewater Mucket, and the Triangle Floater) are found on the main-stem of the Taunton River.

Invertebrates

The Mystic Valley Amphipod, a small aquatic invertebrate which is only found in eastern New England ("endemic," or limited to New England) and is listed as "special concern" on the state list of endangered species, was found in several wetlands and streams. The Water Willow Stem Borer moth, another endemic listed as "special concern" and a candidate for the federal endangered species list, can be found in some of the wetlands near the river system. Several uncommon moths were found in the floodplain wetlands, including the Canadian Owlet, the Obscure Underwing, and the Trache Delicata.

Fish

From the clear riffles of the headwaters to the sluggish, fertile stretches, lush with vegetation, to brackish and, finally saltwater environments, the Taunton has it all. A fisheries report of the Taunton River, reported a list of over 70 species of fish that turned up with the aid of surveys by seven fisheries experts who sampled the river from the smaller up-stream flow to the saltwater areas.

The watershed supports 29 species of native fish. Tributaries of the Taunton River including the Nemasket River has been noted as one of the most productive warmwater fisheries in eastern Massachusetts. It is also the state's largest and most important Alewife fish run. Another tributary of the Taunton River, the Winnetuxet River, is smaller but shares similar characteristics as the Nemasket River with a similar abundance of warmwater fish. Most of the Taunton River is slow moving and silty. However, there are several "riffle" sections of the river with higher velocity, coarse gravel and sand bottom with moderate to dense aquatic vegetation. These areas are favorable habitat for feeding and reproducing warmwater fish. The most abundant species include: Bluegill, Redfin, Pickerel, American Eel, Pumkinseed, Largemouth Bass and the Golden Shiner.

There are nine cold-water streams which have been documented to support native Brook Trout. Coldwater streams are very sensitive to land use changes and are probably the most threatened aquatic habitat in the river system.

Reptiles and Amphibians

28 species of reptiles and amphibians can be found along the river corridor including several state listed rare species. The Spotted Turtle ("special concern"), is very common in many of the wetlands, including some of the floodplain wetlands. The taunton River basin supports perhaps the highest concentration of this species in the state. The Four-toed Salamander ("special concern") was found at two sites. The Wood Turtle ("special concern") and the Blandings Turtle ("threatened") have been previously documented along a smaller tributary. There are only two recent sightings for the Eastern Box Turtle ("special concern"). The Eastern Diamondback Terrapin ("threatened") has been noted in tidal areas. Other species which are not listed as rare, but whose habitat is limited, are the Musk Turtle, the Spotted Salamander, and Wood Frogs.

Birds

By far the best area for overall bird diversity for any category, including both breeders and migrants, is the Cumberland Farms property in the former Great Cedar Swamp. Grassland bird habitat can be found at the Bridgewater Mass. Correctional Institution as well as the Cumberland Farms pasture at Curve Street. The Assawompsett Pond Complex, the watershed's largest source and the largest natural lake in the state, is also considered to be among the best wintering and migratory waterfowl sites in the state. The wetlands at Cumberland Farms, as well as the middle reaches of the Winnetuxet River in Plympton have also been noted by local sources as good waterfowl areas.

Over 154 species of birds were documented along the river during breeding season, including approximately 114 possible breeding species. The bird species are grouped into the following six categories: wetland birds, grassland birds, forest interior birds, waterfowl, and game birds and other species of interest.


Wetland Birds

Many of the Marshy river segments support high concentrations and a high diversity of marsh nesting birds such as Red-winged Blackbirds, Herons, Osprey and Kingfisher. Of particular interest are the secretive marsh nesting birds, which are very selective in their habitat requirements. These include Sora, Virginia Rail, American Bittern ("endangered"), and the Pied Billed Grebe ('endangered").

Grassland Birds
Several of the agricultural areas along the rivers provide outstanding grassland bird habitat, supporting breeding populations of Upland Sandpiper ("endangered"), Grasshopper Sparrow ("endangered"), Northern Harrier ("endangered"), Bobolink, Savannah Sparrow and Eastern Meadowlark. Grassland bird habitat and the species dependent on it is declining throughout New England.

Forest Interior Birds
Many species of birds prefer to nest in unbroken tracts of forest. Much of the river corridor consists of unbroken forests and several areas along the river have a high concentration or these types of birds. Several state listed species have been observed in the riparian woodlands including the Sharp-shinned Hawk ("special concern"), Coopers Hawk ("special concern"), Northern Parula Warbler ("threatened") and the Long-eared Owl ("special concern").

Waterfowl
No major concentrations of wintering or migratory waterfowl were noted along the river corridors- this is not surprising since open cattail marsh habitat (one of the primary feeding areas for waterfowl) is uncommon along the Taunton River. There are a few patches of Wild Rice and some of the flood-plain meadows, marshes and riverside agricultural areas support a moderate amount of waterfowl activity. As the river system is also usually very dry in the early fall, it is probably less important for fall migrants than the coastal areas. Breeding waterfowl, including Mallard, Wood Duck and Black Duck are common in the floodplain forests and riverside marshes throughout the river system.

Game Birds
Species such as Woodcock, Ruffed Grouse, Bobwhite, Turkey,
and Ring-necked Pheasant were noted throughout the river system. Most agricultural areas along the river provide excellent habitat for most of the game birds except the Ruffed Grouse, which favors the unbroken forest interior.



Other Species of Interest

There are records of rare breeders such as the Barn Owl and the Bald Eagle. Several other species on the state's unofficial watch list are the Great Blue Heron, Red-shouldered Hawk, Osprey, Spotted Sandpiper, Marsh Wren and the Eastern Bluebird. Other species of local or regional interest include Black-crowned Night Heron, American Destrel, Black-billed Cuckoo, Canada Warbler and the Louisiana Waterthrush.

Mammals
River Otter activity was noted at several locations along the Taunton as well as its tributaries, the Nemasket and the Winnetuxet Rivers. The Otter was used as an indicator for undisturbed terrestrial habitat as well as evidence of a healthy aquatic habitat. Mink were observed at several locations and are probably present throughout the river system. The Gray Fox was observed in two locations. Deer activity was also noted throughout the corridor, no doubt a result of the combination of productive agricultural areas, rich floodplain wetlands, and unbroken forest cover. Floodplain wetlands supported all aspects of the deer life cycle. There have been recent siting of seals along the Taunton River, an indication of the tidal influence of the river as well as a returning healthy ecosystem.

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Vegetative Communities Summary

The following information is excerpted from a Natural Resource Inventory and Conservation Plan for the Taunton River Corridor prepared by the Wildlands Trust of Southeastern Massachusetts in Feb of 1998. To learn more about the Wildlands Trust, please visit their web site at www.wildlandstrust.org.

The Wildlands Trust, a local land preservation organization located in Duxbury, Massachusetts, identified 31 different vegetative communities along the river which included more than 360 plant species within the river's floodplain wetlands.

Plant Species

Over 360 plant species were sampled from the floodplain wetlands and the immediate river corridors. The overall list for the entire watershed is likely much higher. The globally rare Long's Bullrush ("endangered") was discovered along the taunton River. Several small populations of Long's Bittercress ("endangered") were found in Brackish tidal marsh which is also home to the Eaton's Beggar Ticks ("threatened and a globally rare species). Three populations of Pale Green Orchis ("threatened") were found in floodplain wetlands. Uncommon species that may be of local concern include the Colicroot, Slender Blue Flag, Seaside Crowfoot, Ash leaf Maple, Silver Maple, Trout Lily, Rattlesnake Fern, Nodding and Painted Trillium, arrowhead and bullrush.

Vegetative Communities

The Taunton River is home to an incredible diversity of vegetative communities. It is considered by most local authorities to be the most ecologically diverse waterbodies in the state.

Much of the taunton River is very slow and silty, with steep banks and little aquatic vegetation. In late summer and early fall, these areas are nearly still. These sections of the river are called "Open Water Communities." Areas that have significant freshwater mussel concentrations that support rare mussel species are called "Riffle Communities." Riffle describes short stretches of the river where the channel is shallow with higher velocities and more turbulence. More oxygen is available in riffle areas to support aquatic life.

Following are just some of the many vegetative communities that can be found along the Taunton and stretches of the Taunton River:

Brackish Tidal Marsh refers to a very high priority vegetation community due to the scarcity of unimpeded rivers like the Taunton River. This is an area of marshland where salt and fresh water mix. Cattail is usually in large stands in the upper marsh and Saltwater Cordgrass and Freshwater Cordgrass dominated the lower areas. Many of the freshwater tidal marsh plants are found here as well, particularly in the back marsh, near streams and other freshwater sources. Rare plants such as Eaton's Beggar Ticks and Long's Bitter Cress and rare animals like the Eastern Diamondback Terrapin are found in this habitat. There is a good example of this community at the confluence of the Taunton River and the Three Mile River.

Forested Bogs are small areas where trees ad shrubs such as Red Maple, Pitch Pine, and Highbush Blueberry are found in otherwise boggy peaty soils. Most of these appear to be former cranberry bogs.

Atlantic White Cedar Swamps are found in patches along marsh borders of some tributaries. True Atlantic White Cedar Swamps are usually found in peaty soil, where sphagnum moss dominates the ground cover. They often form exclusive stands of cedar, particularly in areas with a history of harvesting. Good examples are Little Cedar Swamp in Middleborough and the cedar swamp west of the Halifax dump. The Great Cedar Swamp in Middleborough was drained and logged by the owners of Cumberland Farms and the swamp no longer has any significant stands of cedar.

Coastal Plain Pondshore is an extremely vulnerable and globally rare habitat type which is located almost entirely in southeastern Massachusetts. The Coastal Plain Pond community supports many very rare plants and animals. Coastal Plain Ponds are usually very clean and clear, are very low in nutrients with drastically fluctuating water levels. This makes this community type a stressful habitat. The globally rare Plymouth Gentian, the New England Boneset and the Lateral Bluet Damselfly can be found in the Coastal Plain Ponds along the Taunton River. The Assawompsett Ponds, Thatchers Pond, Robbins Pond and Lake Nipenickett in Bridgewater are good examples.

Rich Forest refers to a few areas along the Taunton River that are richer than the typical Massachusetts acidic, sandy soil type. These communities support a variety of interesting plants which are typically found in western parts of the state. Trout Lily, Trilliums, and Solomon's Seal are good examples of the vegetation found. There is a rich forest habitat along the Nemasket River, behind the high school on Route 105.

"Forested Riparian Wetlands" communities describes wetland forests which are regularly flooded by the river during the high flows of winter or spring. On the Taunton, flooding of these wetland forests is usually through an inlet or sometimes a man-made ditch. Red Maple is the dominant tree. Silver Maple, which usually thrives in floodplain soils on some of the inland river systems is found only along the banks on the taunton River and occasionally on the Nemasket River.

"Nonforested Riparian Wetlands" are open "floodplain meadow" vegetation common along the river corridor and at stream confluences. These are also a result of periodic flooding from the river. Typically dominated by sensitive fern, false nettle, jewelweek and grape. Floodplain meadows have a high potential for a rich moth community. This type of community is usually one of the best migratory and winter waterfowl areas in the upper watershed and they are also important habitat for many of the warmwater fish.

"Forested Palustrine Wetlands" are evidenced by Red Maple Swamp communities which applies to a variety of Red Maple dominated wetlands, Swamp White Oak, Green Ash and sometimes White Pine. These swamps are also characterized by wet Sphagnum moss hollows between trees and Pepperbush and Cinnamon Fern. The Mystic Vally Amphipod ("special concern") is a species found only the northeast and was found in four Red Maple Swamps along the Taunton River.

"Nonforested Palustrine Wetlands" are represented by Shrub Bog, Poor Fen, Shrub Swamp, and Marsh type vegetative communities. Grasses, sedges, recovering agricultural cranberry bogs that have dense shrubs, Highbush Bluberry, Speckled Aider, Silky Dogwood, Tussock Sedge, Blue Joint, and small patches of Cattail marsh, a critical habitat for many uncommon or rare marsh nesting birds.

"Forested Upland Communities" represent mixed hardwoods in poorly drained soils and includes many of the levees on the banks of the river. Red Maple, Red Oak, Shagbark Hickory and Ironwood are are more common in this vegetation type. One area has a noteworthy stand of American Holly which is significant since this tree is at the very northerly extreme of its range. White Pine, usually an indication of abandoned farmland can also be found. One area of the river is Hemlock dominated which is infrequent in this part of the state.

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Vernal Pools
Vernal Pools are temporary wetlands that are necessary habitat for certain sensitive invertebrates and amphibians. Many animals such as Wood Frogs and Spotted Salamanders are dependent vernal pool species, and can breed only in these pools. Vernal pool habitats are relatively common along the river corridor. There are at least 51 vernal pool communities along the Taunton River corridor that meet the state criteria for certification (contain obligate vernal pool species). Invertebrate diversity for most of the pools is low, however, some of the pools in the floodplain contained a rich diversity of invertebrate life.

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Focus Areas along the Taunton River

The following information is excerpted from a Natural Resource Inventory and Conservation Plan for the Taunton River Corridor prepared by the Wildlands Trust of Southeastern Massachusetts in Feb of 1998. To learn more about the Wildlands Trust, please visit their web site at www.wildlandstrust.org.

Certain areas along the Taunton River are noteworthy for their geographic influence on the natural resources found in that area. Following are summaries of several of these areas which can be considered priority areas for conservation protection.

Tidal Oxbow
The Oxbow area of the river is located in the town of Raynham. The Oxbow area is one of the larger areas of low freshwater tidal marsh in the Taunton River watershed. This is also the highest ranked floodplain wetland in the study area with the highest diversity of wildlife and vegetative communities with many uncommon species. The globally rare Long's Bullrush, 5 species of mussels including the Triangle Floater, Brook Trout, Spotted Turtle, Box Turtle,
7 Vernal Pools supporting breeding Wood Frog and Spotted Salamanders, Black Duck, Wood Duck, Osprey, River Otter and Deer.

Poquoy/Taunton Confluence
This area of the Taunton River is located near the towns of Raynham and Middleborough It is the largest floodplain forest on the Taunton River and one of the highest ranked floodplain wetlands. Wildlife and vegetative communities that can be found in this area include uncommon plants such as the Rattlesnake Fern and the Trout Lilly, 6 species of freshwater mussel including the Triangle Floater and the Eastern Pond Mussel, native Brook Trout, Spotted Turtle, Wood Turtle, Box Turtle, Blandings Turtle, Hognose Snake, breeding Northern Parula Warbler, Black Duck, Wood Duck, Woodcock, Red-shouldered Hawk, Canada Warbler, Eastern Bluebird, Otter and Mink.

Winnetuxet Confluence
This area of the river is located near the towns of Bridgewater and Halifax. It is one of the larger and more diverse floodplain wetlands on the west bank of the Taunton River. The Winnetuxet River is the largest and most intact floodplain meadow/shrub swamp with no trace of exotic vegetation. Significant stands of American Holly in the bottomland forests can be found on the south side of the Winnetuxet. Outstanding warmwater fish habitats, Spotted Turtles, Ruffed Grouse, Spotted Sandpiper and River Otter, 3 species of Tidewater Mucket, and Barn Owl can be found in this area.

Nemasket/Taunton Confluence
This area of the Taunton is located in the town of Middleborough. It is one of the best open bog-type wetlands as a possible result of the impoundment from the railroad line. Types of communities found here are Rattlesnake Fern, Bog Copper Butterfly, a noteworthy stand of Chain Fern which is the host plant for the rare Chain Fern Borer moth, native Brook Trout, Bridled Shiner, and abundance of Spotted Turtles, 5 moderately productive Vernal Pools, Musk Turtle, and the highest bird diversity of any site with 71 species including winter waterfowl, Wood Duck, Mallard, Virginia Rail, Woodcock, Ruffed Grouse, Bobwhite, Red-shouldered Hawk, Sharp-shinned Hawk, Coopers Hawk, Eastern Bluebird, Black-crowned Night Heron, Osprey, and Spotted Sandpiper. There is also a very high activity of Otter along the lower Nemasket with an abundant Deer population.

Town River Area
This site on the river is located in the town of Bridgewater and is characterized by a small leatherleaf bog with uncommon Atlantic White Cedar groves along the marsh border. It is the most diverse floodplain wetland area studied with the most locally uncommon species. The invasive Purple Loosestrife is problematic in this area. Species found in this area include a very rich invertebrate life in the pools and marshes including abundant fingernail clams and mussel beds, a very good warmwater fish habitat, 5 Vernal Pools supporting Wood Frog and Spotted Salamander habitat, nesting Wood Duck, Blue-winged Teal, Mallard, Spotted Sandpiper, Black-billed Cuckoo, Otter, Mink and Gray Fox.

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