Tuesday, June 27, 2006

Trips This Week

I'll be going out tomorrow with Jennifer and Christian to collect more scarlet shiners and striped shiners at Limestone and Swan Creeks. Hopefully the shiner gods will smile on us and we can get a good collection with minimal effort. It has hardly rained locally for almost a month, so both creeks should still be low.

On Friday I'm launching my first foray into Lauderdale County, the northwest corner of Alabama. My list of flame chub collections has more entries from Lauderdale County than any other. There are several major creeks flowing south from Tennessee into the Tennesse, with high aquatic biodiversity that hasn't been too badly damaged yet (I think). I hope to work three sites in the upper Little Cypress Creek system, beginning just south of the Tennessee line. The first site will be Olive Spring, from which hundreds of flame chubs were taken in 7 collections in 1974. I have no idea why so many were taken, hopefully there are still some left. From there we'll work south closer to Zip City, visiting 2 other sites along Little Cypress Creek. This will be an all-day trip from Huntsville.

I also talked to Kevin today who is working on producing high-quality maps for this project. He's set up several maps that show the historic sites, using a numbered system based on the spreadsheet I've been working for. The one section he showed me from Lauderdale County is amazing to see, with many sites along the Natchez Trace Parkway. We might hit some of those sites next week.

Sunday, June 25, 2006

Back To Hurricane Creek For Flame Chub Sampling

I heard back from Nick Sharp yesterday. One of his bosses, the assistant director of the Alabama State Lands Division, noticed that we had found flame chubs in Hurricane Creek on the Walls of Jericho tract and wants more information on their status. So I've arranged with Nick that we'll return on Friday, July 21 and do a more extensive creek survey focusing on flame chubs. During our previous visit during the Bio Blitz we had only sampled about a 350 meter creek stretch, so this time we'll probably focus on some downstream sites. Since we'll be driving in we should have a whole day to do this. I hope to come up with some believable methodology to sample the creek so that we could produce a population estimate. For one thing I'll bring my kick net, which has a very fine mesh so we could sample for young of year.

Nick also asked for management suggestions. My reaction is to tell them don't change a thing; there's no logging allowed on this tract, and none has happened since WWII I'd guess. The only road access to the tract is on the utterly unimproved road we took out last time, and that has four locked gates at different points. As long as the headwaters of the creek in Tennessee aren't fouled I think the creek has a bright future.

Friday, June 23, 2006

Looking For Flame Chubs Around Wheeler, AL

Today we went out to three spots in the NE corner of Lawrence County, south of the Tennessee.

We started out at Mallard Creek in Lovettvile where it's crossed by the highway, Alt-72. The highway is now a four-lane road, and the bridge spans are much larger than the last time this site was sampled in 1980. We found fairly deep water over soft mud at the bridge, but worked downstream and found a surprisingly nice stream over gravel. Sampling downstream about 200 meters we found longear sunfish (nesting), green sunfish, stonerollers, striped shiners, and the most eyepopping scarlet shiners I've seen in a while. But we found no flame chubs in what seemed to be good habitat.

The second spot was Wheeler Spring, along Highway Alt-72 and behind the historic Wheeler House owned by Confederate General Joseph Wheeler. The site is closed for repairs, but the curator Melissa kindly let us on to the property and showed us what she thought was the best way to access the spring. This is a "blue hole" spring, with two deep, deep, deep holes in the sand with cold water gushing up. Her and the maintenance man were also adamant about how many cottonmouths are on the property. We decided to access the spring run by parking along the highway and crossing the rail tracks. The run looked great, but we only found lots of Gambusia in it. The spring was largely inaccessible there because some beavers had built a dam at the run outlet against the railroad tracks, raising water level by almost a meter. So we couldn't really sample in that area. The railroad is supposed to come by and clear out the beaver dam, so hopefully we can visit again within a month.

And, as a thunderstorm system was closing in on us, we went to Wheeler Branch, several kilometers downstream from Wheeler Spring. This is an obscure site surrounded by corn fields on a County Road, with what is a very engineered bridge crossing the creek which is set down about 5 meters from the road at the bottom of a steep embankment. We crawled/slid down the embankment and found an odd creek; I'm sure that this stretch has been channelized in the past, with a very even bottom carrying waist-deep water. The creek was also full of the kind of trash that gets tossed into creeks around here, like microwave ovens and tires. We mucked around pulling the net but didn't catch a single fish; I'm not certain that any were in the creek. As we scrambled up the embankment thunder was cracking overhead and we could feel air pressure drop. Just as I finished doing my GPS reading where we were parked rain started falling and lightning was flashing very close to us. The drive home was through tropical downpours.

So we didn't find any flame chubs today. Next Friday I think we'll head into Lauderdale County in the NW corner of the state, where there are many flame chub records especially in the Cypress and Shoal Creek systems.

Tuesday, June 20, 2006

I Found A Flame Chub At Swan Creek Yesterday

I was wondering if this would happen. I've visited Swan Creek at Elkton Road in Athens, AL, three times now, and the third time I found a single flame chub. This is an historic flame chub site, that I've reported as lacking flame chubs in my surveys to date. My students and I spent 2 hours netting the creek in early April looking for flame chubs and didn't find any. Yesterday I went there with Christian and Jennifer looking for alpha male scarlet shiners for Jennifer's study, and I found a flame chub stuck in our seine's mesh about 50 meters upstream from the bridge. In three visits to the site I've probably seen 600-700 fish that we've netted, and only one has been a flame chub.

So, my corrected tally for this survey is now 33 historic sites visited with flame chubs found at 11 of them, a 67% range reduction. At most of those 11 sites we've only found a single flame chub. So I think the phenomenon is both range constriction, and small surviving populations. I re-read the flame chub species description at the http://www.natureserve.org site yesterday, and it was mentioned that the average number of individuals found in surveys was 10.3. That's certainly not the case for Alabama sites; I think I could name 5 flame chub sites that have healthy populations. So it's a work in progress, like I've been saying all along.

Monday, June 19, 2006

Updated Flame Chub Accounting

I sat down last night with my field notebook and updated my count of how many flame chub sites I've visited. The accurate count is 33 historic flame chub collection sites have been visited in six Alabama counties, and I've found flame chubs at 10 of them. I've also found flame chubs at 4 sites with no historic record. There is a very steady 70% range reduction in my observations. Even if you count the 4 previously unreported sites, for a total of 14 sites out of 37 visited, that still leaves a 62% range reduction. My (simplistic) explanation for this range reduction is habitat degradation or destruction, more obvious at some sites than others. By the end of the summer I hope to have hit 50 historic sites; this Friday we should visit some more sites in Lawrence County, AL, around Wheeler. There's a spring at the Wheeler Plantation, the home of famous local Confederate General Joseph Wheeler, that has produced flame chubs on three separate occasions going back to the '70s. Maybe our visit will make four, we'll see.

Friday, June 16, 2006

Flame Chub Sweep Across Morgan And Lawrence Counties

We visited four historic flame chub sites today, two in the southwest corner of Morgan County and two in the nearby southeast corner of Lawrence County. All four sites were creeks draining north off of the Tennessee Divide, tight against the Divide which separates Tennessee River drainage fishes from the Mobile drainage species on the south side of the Divide. The low mountains in this area are known as the Little Mountains, sandstone remnants of ancient barrier islands along a shallow sea.

Our first stop, Crowdabout Creek in Morgan County, didn't yield any flame chubs. The creek is a series of pools connected by shallow riffles. We netted lots of sunfish, and some stonerollers and blackspotted topminnows. But nary a flame chub.

Our next stop was about 3 km to the northwest at a site at Dutton Creek along S. Danville Road. Dutton Creek is a tributary to Crowdabout Creek. This one looked good at first site with clear, flowing water over gravel running through cow pastures (see picture below). There was some broken beer bottle glass but we could avoid it. We found smallmouth bass, bluegills, green sunfish,stonerollers, creek chubs, black darters, blacknose dace and... one flame chub! I didn't ID the flame chub until we got home, though. The interesting thing about this site was that the TDS was way high at 213 ppm, probably from heavy cow use? At least we avoided all of the rusty barbed wire hanging off of trees along the creek.

We moved towards our next two stops, along County Road 86 in Lawrence County to the west on the edge of the Bankhead National Forest. CR 86 turned out to be a recently well-graded and very engineered gravel road inside the Bankhead, running south into the heart of the Black Warrior Wildlife Management Area. Gillespie Creek was our first stop and it was well trampled by horses. The creek was mostly one deep pool below the road, drizzling into a longer series of stagnant, woody debris-choked pools. We pulled the seine through the first pool and found an interesting diversity of minnows: scarlet shiners, striped shiners, creek chubs and rosyside dace. Lower pools yielded only Gambusia, as far as we could work the seine. We found no flame chubs in this creek. Below is a photo of the roadside pool; notice that the plants in the foreground are silvery from a coating of gravel dust kicked up by passing vehicles.

Finally, about 1.5 km further down CR 86, we came to Lee Creek, our last stop. This creek looked even sadder than Gillespie. There was evidence that road construction had strongly affected creek, from the way that culverts carried water under the road to a truly weird feature: it looked like frontloaders had driven down the creek bed about 100 meters and deposited large amounts of road gravel as enhanced banks. All this seemed to do was create a very well defined series of stagnant pools filled with woody debris. As at Gillespie, there was one pool right below the road that looked OK. Pulling the seine through it came up with a large number of rosyside dace, and nothing else.

Below is a picture of the road crossing Lee Creek. Nice road, not so nice creek. I hope my friends in the Forest Service won't be upset if I say that this road seems to have degraded the local creeks.

So now my formal count is 31 historic flame chub sites visited in north Alabama, with flame chubs found at 10 of them. We're staying at a very steady 70% range decline.

Wednesday, June 14, 2006

Perfecting Our Scarlet Shiner Photography... I Think!

I spent two hours today with Jennifer photographing scarlet shiners. She has picked up floodlights with almost daylight spectral characteristics, two panes of low glare glass, and some sheet of dull matte light gray paper. This means we could set up our photo table with less glare, and more accurate color. The joke on us was that when we went to net fish out of my scarlet shiner tank, all of the large adults were female; I thought we still had at least one male. But none of them was tuberculated or vividly colored. So, we went ahead and sacrificed the two largest females with MS-222 and photographed them. We have to do this anyway so that we can compare their colors to the alpha males.

I wish I could post one of the photos but I don't have any at the moment... What we found was that adult females in breeding condition are also distinctly colored, just not vividly. Both fish had dark bluish bodies, with rusty brown-red swathes of color on their fins and a diminished orangish bar on the operculum. Maybe they're best described as handsome, rather than eyepopping like the alpha males. Our photo technique was to stretch out the freshly euthanized fish on the low-glare glass, using a centimeter ruler to hold out the very tip of the dorsal fin. The other fins we could spread out, and the moisture held them in place against the glass. We experimented with various exposures, finding that a very slight underexposure according to the automatic settings gave the best color with almost no glare (at one eightieth of a second, F3.5, with indirect reflected lighting). Jennifer has begun to fool around with the dental school image analysis software, so now she has two high quality images to work with (at least I HOPE they're high quality!). Next, we move on to working out the details of bleeding the fish to obtain 50-100 microliters of blood for testosterone assays. One of Jennifer's former co-workers who does mouse bleeding for a local biotech company has put together a small collection of articles for us that describe different approaches to bleeding small animals, and also pointed out that there's a website dedicated to zebrafish research techniques. Away we go!

On Friday, the flame chub trip will continue along the southern edge of the Tennessee divide in Alabama. We'll visit two historic sites in the southwest corner of Morgan County, along Crowdabout Creek, and two sites not far to the west in Lawrence County at the edge of the Bankhead National Forest. These are geologically interesting sites, sitting on top of a formation called the Hartselle Sandstone. They're on the edge of a low range of mountains that are ancient barrier beach islands from 220 million years ago when this area was a shallow sea, positioned much closer to the equator than now. The creeks we'll visit flow off this ancient mountain chain. As always I have faith that it'll be interesting......

Monday, June 12, 2006

One of my students is happy to know what is Fundulus heteroclitus!

This isn't really about Alabama fish. But I'm teaching a Biology 1 class, BYS 119, this summer. One of the students is older and works full-time for some kind of biotech company. I've talked to him earlier about Conservation Fisheries, Inc., (CFI) up in Knoxville, TN, who he came across with his daughter who goes to the Univ. of Tennessee. He even bought a CFI t-shirt and yukked it up with J.R. Shute and Pat Rakes, who told him that they knew that I hadn't bought one of their fundraising t-shirts. It's true, I just haven't done it yet, even though I urge everyone to go ahead and buy one (check out the latest CFI newsletter).

What really made this student happy is that at a Bioinformatics meeting last week he was almost the only participant who knew what is a Fundulus heteroclitus. One of the case studies involved this species, one of my favorite fish, the mummichog, commonly found in Atlantic coast salt marshes. All of the bioinformaticians had no idea what was going on. The mummichog has become a standard study animal especially in toxicology studies and now in genomics, I guess. I'm honored that attending my class gave this student a leg up on a bunch of genetic data miners.

Saturday, June 10, 2006

On The Flame Chub Survey, We Truly Hit The Back Roads

Eudy Cave spring run, tributary to Little Cotaco Creek, Marshall County, Alabama:We went out yesterday headed due south from Huntsville down Highway 231 to visit some of the relatively few historic flame chub sites on the south side of the Tennessee River. It hasn't rained for a week, and the day turned out to be very sunny and hot.

Our first site was Eudy Cave in Marshall County, about 15 km northwest of the town of Arab (no lie...). Our Mapquest maps turned out to be reasonably accurate; but once there we couldn't quite figure out how to get to the site. After some circling around and scouting a farm property with cow pastures along a creek at the base of two ridges (this involved Daniel being chased by a llama and two goats, luckily he ran fast and back over the fence) we stopped and asked at the house that seemed to be the farmer's. Mr. Saylor was used to people asking to visit the cave on his property, so he allowed us to drive into his pastures as long as we secured the gate behind us. He said cross the creek, hop the barbed wire, and a trail would take us to an obvious site.

Well, not so obvious. As we hiked out after parking the truck along the creek, we couldn't figure out where exactly the cave was; there was only so much barbed wire we were willing to slither over and under. But, we did find an obvious spring run creek at the base of one ridge, so as the cows bellowed at us we sampled this creek. Voila, we found a flame chub in the third setting, along with a banded sculpin, black darter, striped shiners and bluntnose minnows. So we wrapped up and hit the road, as the cows angrily glared at us. Comparing the GPS coordinates I took to the ones in the museum records, we must have been only 100-200 meters from the cave opening and pool. Puzzling, but I'm convinced flame chubs are still in the stream system.

Our next stop was the intersection of Highway 278 and Big Spring Creek east of Brooksville in Blount County. This site is right at the base of part of the Tennessee Valley Divide, forming the southernmost pocket of the Tennessee drainage. We didn't even see the creek until a second pass, it was so overgrown by privet and native vines. Highway 278 is now a major highway compared to the original site visit in 1975, and there was no way we could stop on the highway. We pulled into a really spooky abandoned cement factory (?) abutting the creek and tried to bushwack through the creek bottom jungle to find the creek. Finally we did, and found a mess; the creek now has steep banks, with deep, opaque, slowly moving water choked with large woody debris. No way could we seine it, not without casualties anyway. The museum record describes the site as surrounded by pastures and woodland; now it's the rural equivalent of a vacant lot. My guess is that flame chubs are no longer in this location, although that's only an educated guess.

Finally, we entered the Heart of Darkness and drove up Highway 67 into the southeastern corner of Morgan County, in the middle of the most rugged parts of Brindley Mountain. We were trying to find a site allegedly accessed by a "jeep trail" on the West Fork of Cotaco Creek back in 1993, described as being "2.25 miles NNE of Center Dale". I figured that this might be along a spur called Blocker Road, off of Rock Creek Road. On our first pass, we got hopelessly lost as the road names and layout had little to do with what was represented in both Mapquest and Delorme maps. Finally we found Blocker Road, a gravel road, and drove to the end of it looking for creek access. We didn't find it; we deadended at one house with 4 giant dogs out in front of a sign saying, "FIRING RANGE Do Not Enter", and deadended on another fork of the road in front of a dilapidated trailer while an even larger dog ran around the truck and a giant bearded guy came out and glared at us as we turned around and left. OK, see ya later! We finally found access to Frost Creek, about 600 meters upstream of the apparent historic site where several creeks join to form the West Fork, along another gravel road called Childers Road. Was this the real site, since Childers Road isn't much of a road? We found that the creek there was cold, clear and spring-fed over cobble and gravel, deeper at the downstream end of our visit; I think we found 6 springs running into the creek over the ~300 meters that we sampled. The only fish we found were green sunfish, blacknose dace and creek chubs. Since we were within 400 meters of the reported site at our closest sampling activity, I'm going to count this as an historic site visit, with negative results for flame chubs.

Below, looking downstream on Frost Creek at the Childers Road bridge, near Center Dale, Morgan County, Alabama.

Thursday, June 08, 2006

Species Count Update From Hurricane Creek, and Off To The Southern Edge of the Tennessee Valley Tomorrow

I finally had a chance to sit down this afternoon and look through the preserved specimens of fish that I kept from Hurricane Creek at the Walls of Jericho last Friday. One of these fish turned out to be a rosyside dace, Clinostomus funduloides, a locally common species that I had expected to find. The fish is an adult female, with more of a rosy blush on the side than the eyepopping coloration of a breeding male. With this species, we found 14 species of fish in a 250 meter stretch of Hurricane Creek. I'm still sure that we missed upwards of another 20 species, but a reasonable start under the circumstances.

Tomorrow we go back out to visit historic flame chub collection sites, heading south of Huntsville for the first time. Our first stop should be a place called Eudy Cave in Marshall County, AL, near the town of Arab. It's on a small dirt road called Apple Grove Road, and the site is described as a spring-fed pool 7 meters across. We'll also visit the only known site in Blount County at Big Spring Creek, and then turn around to the west into Morgan County. One site in Morgan County is the most obscure on my list, I think; it's a fork of West Cotaco Creek flowing off of Brindley Mountain that was reached on what was described on the museum record as a "jeep road". We'll at least try to get close to that point along the creek. Brindly Mountain is a long east-west ridge that defines the Tennessee River Divide, with creeks draining into the Tennessee to the north of it and creeks flowing to the south being part of the Mobile drainage. So we'll be visiting sites along the north edge of Brindley Mountain, where there was historically good habitat for flame chubs but few collections have been made.

Tuesday, June 06, 2006

Comparing Estill Fork to Hurricane Creek in the Walls of Jericho

A NANFA trip visited Estill Fork of the Paint Rock River on May 26, 2001. Below is the species list found that day posted to the NANFA e-list, along with water quality parameters and an attendance list. 33 species were netted or observed while snorkeling that day. The differences and similarities between the Estill Fork list and the Hurricane Creek list are interesting. At Hurricane Creek we found flame chubs, which have never been reported from Estill Fork to my knowledge. Also, no banded darters were found at Estill Fork, although they may have been found by other workers. And Estill Fork has Gambusia (mosquitofish) which we didn't encounter at Hurricane Creek. I'm sure that we missed species at Hurricane Creek in our time-limited seining, many of which are on the Estill Fork list.

"Estill Fork at County Road 140, Jackson Co, AL. 26 May 2001.
Dave Neely, Casper Cox, Bruce Stallsmith, Steven Ellis, Nick Sharp, Vitaly from Birmingham.
Mostly snorkelling, some collecting with seine and dip net. Notes: Beautiful gravel, lush water willow beds, crystal clear water at 65 F, pH 7.6 and TDS 160 ppm.
Species observed: longnose gar, largescale stoneroller, streamline chub, bigeye chub, striped shiner, scarletfin shiner, mountain shiner, palezone shiner (federally endangered, all released immediately!), bigeye shiner, Tennessee shiner, telescope shiner, sawfin shiner, bluntnose minnow, northern hogsucker, shorthead redhorse, black or golden redhorse, mosquitofish, northern studfish,blackspotted topminnow, banded sculpin, rock bass, bluegill, longear sunfish, smallmouth bass, spotted bass, rainbow darter, fantail darter, stripetail darter, redline darter, Tennessee snubnose darter, greenside darter, blueside darter, blotchside logperch."
(I'd forgotten that Nick Sharp joined us that day, just as he was about to graduate from UAH.)

So that defines my broad expectations of what else should be present in Hurricane Creek at the Walls of Jericho. I also looked up the conservation status of redline darters, and in Alabama they're listed as S3, Vulnerable. This is also an edge of range effect like with banded darters, since redlines are common up through Tennessee and Kentucky. But in Alabama, the upper Paint Rock system draining south out of Tennessee is their stronghold.

Monday, June 05, 2006

More Thoughts About The Walls of Jericho Bio Blitz

My legs have stopped hurting and I can almost walk normally, so it's time for an update on the Bio Blitz. As happy as I am about finding flame chubs and a palezone shiner in Hurricane Creek, finding a banded darter (Etheostoma zonale) at the site is also interesting. I had forgotten that the NatureServe subnational (S) status rank for banded darters in Alabama is S2, or Imperiled. This is mostly a function of edge of range, with banded darters found only in a few streams in far north Alabama. I'm not certain that I've seen banded darters in Estill Fork of the Paint Rock River, the next stream to the west that I've collected in a number of times. Hurricane Creek is an ideal habitat for banded darters, being a large creek with moderate gradient and a substrate of cobble and gravel. My guess is that the population in Hurricane Creek could be the largest and most stable in the state. Not that banded darters are in any real danger, the global (G) status for the species is G5, Secure, since it's still found from Kansas to New York state with healthy populations especially in Tennessee, Kentucky and West Virginia.

I emailed Nick Sharp and told him that we'd be up for visiting the site again for a collecting day to further complete the species inventory next month if he'd like, with the big condition that he drive us in and out. Hurricane Creek sits at the bottom of a deeper gorge than I had realized, such that hiking in and out in one day is serious business, not even counting stream work. I've talked to two of the four students who went with me and they both said they had a great time but were sore all over for the rest of the weekend. Since they're about 30 years younger than I am and in good shape, I feel better about feeling well used myself. But damn that was fun!

For comparison, the following is from a posting on the NANFA mailing list I made about a trip to Estill Fork of the Paint Rock. The species list is roughly what I would expect at Hurricane Creek, which joins Estill Fork about 15 km downstream from the Bio Blitz site. And I'd forgotten that Nick Sharp had joined us on that trip, just as he was graduating from UAH. Notice that we didn't find flame chubs or banded darters, and we found no mosquitofish in Hurricane Creek:

Estill Fork at County Road 140, Jackson Co, AL. 26 May 2001. Dave Neely, Casper Cox, Bruce Stallsmith, Steven Ellis, Nick Sharp, Vitaly from Birmingham. Mostly snorkelling, some collecting with seine and dip net. Notes: Beautiful gravel, lush water willow beds, crystal clear water at 65 F, pH 7.6 and TDS 160 ppm. Species observed: longnose gar, largescale stoneroller, streamline chub, bigeye chub, striped shiner, scarletfin shiner, mountain shiner, palezone shiner (federally endangered, all released immediately!), bigeye shiner, Tennessee shiner, telescope shiner, sawfin shiner, bluntnose minnow, northern hogsucker, shorthead redhorse, black or golden redhorse, mosquitofish, northern studfish,blackspotted topminnow, banded sculpin, rock bass, bluegill, longear sunfish, smallmouth bass, spotted bass, rainbow darter, fantail darter, stripetail darter, redline darter, Tennessee snubnose darter, greenside darter, blueside darter, blotchside logperch.

Friday, June 02, 2006

The Bio Blitz At The Walls Of Jericho - We Made It In & Out!

It's been raining and thunderstorming off and on for the past two days, but we were lucky today. I went with four students to join the Bio Blitz along Hurricane Creek in the Walls of Jericho tract, now part of the Forever Wild land conservancy system in Alabama. We started at the hiking trail parking lot along Highway 79, not quite 2 km south of the TN border. We were the first to arrive, pretty much; I thought we were running late. We loaded up and hiked down the 2.5 miles to the base camp site, down some steep terrain on a reasonably good trail. I was carrying a 30 pound frame pack, just enough to make some of the hairpin turns dicey on a rain-soaked trail. The students were much less burdened, except that they carried the two seine nets and plastic bucket.

The trail crosses a shallow ford at Hurricane Creek. It's posted with warnings to hikers that if you cross to the other side, sudden rains can cause the creek to rise and cut you off from the trail back to the lot. We stopped there and began to seine, since we knew it was only about 200 meters from the Base Camp.

The first photo-graph shows three of the students in Hurricane Creek, with the mouth of Turkey Creek in the background. The water was very clear, fairly cold (16 deg. C) with a TDS of 124 ppm (high) and pH of 8.0. There's a lot of limestone karst geology in this drainage. Five minutes after this photo was taken, we had caught 2 flame chubs and an Endangered Palezone shiner in the mouth of Turkey Creek. That made the day right there... There was lots of fog blowing down the creek, you can see it in the picture.

The second picture shows the Base Camp later in the afternoon after some more participants had made it down the ridge. The guy on the right talking on the walkie talkie is Nick Sharp, the one full-time employee and manager of the property. Nick had just driven down in his state truck with a generator, tables and chairs for researchers to examine what they find over the weekend.

By mid-afternoon we were ready to leave, ahead of the approach-ing band of heavy rainstorms. In truth we weren't looking forward to hiking back up with wet nets, and luckily Nick offered to drive us back. The third photo shows my four students, from left to right: Jennifer, Leigh, Sandi and Daniel. They're all glowing at the thought of driving out.

Here's our species list, off the top of my head. We didn't find as much as I'd thought we would, but it makes up in quality:

Palezone Shiner, Notropis albizonatus (first in this creek, I think)
Flame Chub, Hemitremia flammea (definitely a first in this creek)
Telescope Shiner, Notropis telescopus (very common)
Striped Shiner, Luxilus chrysocephalus (very common)
Scarlet Shiner, Lythrurus fasciolaris (very common)
Bluntnose Minnow, Pimephales notatus
Stoneroller, Campostoma oligolepis
Blacknose Dace, Rhinichthys atratulus
Creek Chub, Semotilus atromaculatus (two big, robust individuals)
Banded Sculpin, Cottus carolinae (large, healthy specimens)
Tennessee Snubnose Darter, Etheostoma simoterum
Banded Darter, Eth. zonale
Redline Darter, Eth. rufilineatum (most common darter, interestingly)

The gaps in my expectations are finding no centrarchids, and no killifish, especially Northern Studfish which is common in other tributaries of the Paint Rock River. Nick told us that he has seen redhorse suckers, which are usually only caught with an electroshock rig that I don't own. Nick also invited us back anytime, since he's trying to make a full inventory of the tract's biodiversity. If other people in NANFA are up for a serious in-country trip, let me know, we could camp at the site of the Base Camp. What I noticed about this creek is that it shows few signs of human degradation, not even Asiatic Clams. For a population study of flame chubs, in particular, this could be a good creek, since we easily found more than one which is very different from other sites where you're lucky to find one in two hours' work. Hmmmm.........

Thursday, June 01, 2006

Preparing For The Bio Blitz

Tomorrow's the Bio Blitz at the Walls of Jericho on the AL/TN border. I've packed my old Kelty backpack for the day hike in and out. This includes one of my copies of Scott Mettee's Fishes of Alabama for ID purposes, my GPS transponder, pH and TDS meters, field notebook, water shoes in a bag, towel and clean t-shirt. The lower compartment of the pack is entirely Nalgene jars each half- full of phosphate-buffered 10% formalin for any fish I decide to keep for further examination. I hope that the students going with me bring enough with them to get through the day.

I think we'll only be working Hurricane Creek, a tributary of Estill Fork of the Paint Rock River to the southwest of this site. I've reviewed the ID's for palezone, Tennessee, mountain and sawfin shiners, which are only found in this corner of Alabama. I'm not entirely sure what to expect at this site, I've been to lower stretches of Hurricane Creek where it's fairly large but this site will be about 6 km upstream. Hopefully it won't rain heavily tomorrow, or even better, at all. I guess that's a hazard of the business.