We Found Stippled Studfish In Lower Cornhouse Creek
We made a 12-hour trip to Clay, Randolph and Tallapoosa counties in 'bama on Saturday looking for stippled studfish. Our first stop was lower Cornhouse Creek in Randolph County, and in our second seining we caught 6, which is always exciting. The historic site we were trying to find is currently being clearcut for pine, and I didn't want to go down the county road through all of the newly exposed dirt. This site we visited is just upstream with access at a road bridge. Above is Joe Scanlan who joined us, looking at the backwater pool in the creek which we were about to seine. Below are the rest of us, photographed by Joe: Kaley, myself and Steven, l-r.
Joe and I had collected stippleds at a site way upstream from this back in 2005, and we've already extracted DNA from them. We'll also extract from four of the six fish that I kept from Saturday.
One thing I learned on Saturday is that it's probably not worth our while trying to seine in the Tallapoosa River itself, in which several of the historic collections on my list were made. Even at this point the river is big, with few shallow areas amenable to seining. So instead I'm going to visit creek sites that have never been sampled before, to my knowledge, as a way to better determine the fish's distribution. We visited two such sites on Saturday. The first was Hurricane Creek, which is across the Tallapoosa from the mouth of Cornhouse Creek. It's a beautiful creek with a sand and gravel substrate. But as far up as we went, we found no really good microhabitat such as backwater pools; the stream was a series of deep pools connected by fast-flowing races. We found various shiners, stonerollers and a hogsucker but no stippleds. The water chemistry was interesting: a very low total dissolved solids (TDS) value of 11 ppm, and pH 8.3
From there we decided to visit an upper part of Emuckfaw Creek. We'd visited Emuckfaw last time near where it runs into the Tallapoosa, far to the south in Tallapoosa County. So we took off on the back roads, which as usual were poorly marked and had a loose similarity to what is on various maps; little of these roads are paved, rather they're graded dirt. By luck we stumbled on to Emuckfaw Creek in Clay County not far from its origin, but still a substantial creek. This was on a large property owned by the G & A Hunting Club, none of whom were to be found on the site. Water chemistry was even more interesting, with a TDS of 9 ppm and pH 7.6; Joe assures me that this is typical of streams where he has found stippleds. But, again we found no stippleds in this creek, made up of pools over broken bedrock and runs over gravel. I kept several of the fishes we did catch, including a darter I still have to ID.
We headed south from there, and crossed the Emuckfaw again at a site about 12 km to the south in Tallapoosa County. The creek looked reasonably good there, but access from the road bridge was blocked by electrified barbed wire since cows are in the fields on either side of the road and creek. The creek banks were badly eroded with gullies and cow trails, never a good sign. So, we didn't try to collect there. And that was our witching hour to make the 3-plus hour drive home.
What I'm starting to think is that some creeks have stippleds up and down their length, while others don't have stippleds at all. This is certainly true of Cornhouse Creek, and probably true of Hillabee Creek; our next trip will attempt to find two historic sites in upper Hillabee Creek assuming we can figure out the county roads going in. Joe also told me about several sites he has visited in the past several years from which stippleds have been collected (not on my UAIC list) but which show obvious stream degradation and no longer have stippleds. I have a bad feeling we'll encounter more streams like that. But at least Cornhouse and Hillabee look good for now.