Stream Survey At Coon Creek, Alabama
I spent yesterday at Coon Creek, Alabama, part of a 500-acre parcel of land in Jackson County (N.E. corner of the state) that the Alabama State Lands Division has recently purchased. It's between the steep western face of Sand Mountain and the Tennessee River. The property has obviously had some wear and tear over the past 140 years including clearcutting and coal stripmining, but even with that is recovering and looking good. The odd thing about the property is that it's an "island" of sorts, with no legal land access for most people. We had permission from a private landowner to open a gate and drive through that property on to another land parcel owned by the Tennessee Valley Authority (TVA), and then on to the Coon Creek parcel. Otherwise, access is by boat up Coon Creek.
Two students, Jesse and Kevin, accompanied me to meet Nick Sharp and Courtney of the State Lands Division. My truck made it in and out on an even worse road than the Walls of Jericho, so I'm happy for that.
The creek is relatively wide and deep in some of the areas we sampled. It runs down a steep gradient from the side of Sand Mountain, and at times I'm sure it's a scary torrent of water. But yesterday it was calm as the result of our drought, otherwise I don't think we could have netted fish in it. The creek bottom is mostly covered with bowling ball sized chunks of sandstone smoothed by high water flow, and these stones are covered by a thick mat of diatomaceous algae which are very slick. So the footing in the creek was terrible... We netted fish by having two snorkelers chase fish into the net held by two other people, with a fifth helping to lift the net.
We found 13 species of fish, predominantly fish better adapted to high gradient creeks:
Black snubnose darter
Tennessee snubnose darter
Logperch and whitetail shiners were common in deeper, flowing pools, and the redbreast sunfish were everywhere along with large schools of young spotted bass. It's a different type of creek from what I'm used to working with. The diversity is lower, and the creek is more violent at least at times. But it's dropdead beautiful, with extremely clear water. We sometimes walked unawares into deep water because the bottom was always visible, so a spot that seemed to be maybe three feet deep would be more than neck deep.
Interestingly, all of the snubnose darters we found in the creek were Tennessees, and the only black snubnose was found in a small spring run tributary coming out of a nearby cave (the sculpins were found there, too). These were the first undeniable Tennessees I've seen for a while, with the possible exception of Hurricane Creek at the Walls of Jericho.
So we have to go back at some point to some points lower in this creek, along with two other creeks on the property. Below is a picture of our starting point. Notice the rounded stones, along with Jesse and Kevin from behind: