Learning with the St Lawrence

Field Guide: Stephany Hildebrand


2206-25_Mouth of Wood creek UW.Stephany Hildebrand.0152b 3


Each side of the mouth of Wood Creek, a tributary of the St. Lawrence River, is distinctly different. One side is channelized for the use of small fishing boats, the shore is hardened and often mowed all the way to the water. The other side is shallow—the shore lined by shrubs and small trees. At the surface, damselflies can be seen flying in the hundreds. The bottom is soft but not so soft that you sink too deeply. It’s not unusual to see large fish like longnose gar or carp sunbathing near the surface of the water. Pumpkin seed fish are common here, they’re curious and approach you as you float by.

2209-16_Underwater Cornwall Harbour.Stephany Hildebrand.0072b


The Cornwall Harbour is a popular location for divers, it’s like an underwater garden with aquatic plants that grow upwards of two meters high. An eddy near the bay causes the current to move backwards and towards the shore. Large predatorial fish are common here, on any given day you can observe multiple northern pike within an hour of wading in the water. A large muskellunge has been observed on a couple different occasions, marked by a spinal injury and is the host of a couple lamprey (parasitic fish). It would seem that this individual seeks refuge from the strong currents of the main channel of the river.

2208-15_underwater OPG bay.Stephany Hildebrand.0340b


Algae are at their peak bloom at the end of summer when the water is warm. These almost florescent green organisms can be abundant due to human introduced nutrients but can also be found naturally. Filamentous algae create colonies that are often observed as large clouds underwater, sometimes engulfing plants whole—in this case, Eurasian milfoil, an invasive species of aquatic plant that’s pervasive in the St. Lawrence River watershed.

2208-23_underwater OPG bay.Stephany Hildebrand.0022b


An example of co-occurrence, a bundle of aquatic plants drifts downstream where they’ll eventually take root in a new location.

2208-16_Underwater Rotary creek.Stephany Hildebrand.0022b


Rotary creek is a man-made diversion of water that flows from the Cornwall canals back into the St. Lawrence River. A group of fragrant white-water lilies live in the bay at the bottom of the creek where the current is slow and inviting for young fish. Juvenile longnose gar are known to prefer habitats that are home to water lilies and eel grass. Like many predatorial fish, gar will ambush their pray by staying very still, camouflaged by their coloration and markings.

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Stephany Hildebrand is an environmental technician and documentary photographer who lives and works along the St. Lawrence River. Her work reflects on the interconnectedness of organisms, anthropogenic pressures, and natural processes in aquatic habitats. Littoral is a photographic series documenting nearshore habitats in the Upper St Lawrence River. Littoral zones of lakes and rivers are the intermediate area between land and water, where sunlight penetrates the sediments triggering the growth of plants and algae. These blooms lend themselves as food and homes for other organisms—this is a birthplace, a hunting ground, a transitionary area—supporting a diversity of species.

Exploring how these systems change over time allows us to understand how human activity affects ecosystems on a large scale. Through photography and science, Stephany aims to produce images that will increase public awareness about these sensitive ecosystems.