Monday, March 31, 2008

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.

Monday, March 24, 2008

A Call From Nick Sharp

I got a call from Nick Sharp this afternoon from his office at the State Lands Division office in Montgomery. One of the private landowners along the road in to the Walls of Jericho had complained about "college students" driving on to his property and camping. To do this one would need to have the key to the several locked gates along this road, and I still have one in my possession. But like I told Nick, it wasn't me. He didn't really think it was, but a very short list of people have this key. So I told him I'd mail him my copy while we're both thinking about it. He also mentioned that the state has received title to a parcel of land downstream along Hurricane Creek from the Walls. I offered to do a stream survey this summer, and he was agreeable.

Everyone will be happy to hear that my new 20-gal aquarium holds water. Another week or so and I can move the surviving adult scarlet shiners in to it.
It's not really about fish, but below is a photo from last week in Harpers Ferry, WV. I keep going back every several years to the restored Provost's office to surrender; several of my ancestors surrendered there in May, 1865, at the end of the late War Between the States. I guess I only need one set of parole papers...

Friday, March 21, 2008

A New 20 Gallon Aquarium

I got back today from several days visiting my father in Baltimore. He gave me a 20-gallon tall aquarium with accessories that he had used to winter goldfish from a pool in his backyard. Since they're all deceased he no longer needs the tank, and I drove it back to 'bama. It's full with a running hanging filter in my lab now, and mercifully shows no signs of leaking. Once it's cycled I'll used it as a stock and display tank.

Brittany gave me all of the data she's put together about the telescope shiners project. We have some interesting results for April and May fish. Not surprisingly, there's a tendency for larger fish to have more ripening eggs in them than smaller fish. And there's no tendency for eggs to get bigger with fish size, which is true of most local freshwater fishes. A species produces eggs of a given size, the only difference being that larger individuals will produce more eggs. So our data fit within this relationship. I think that Loren has finished her egg measuring for the other months of interest, so once she gives it to Brittany and we average their observations we'll have much of the project completed. We already know that the peak month for GSI is June for both males and females, and that females are significantly larger (not by a lot) than males, so we'll be able to tell a fuller story soon.

James and Andrew, if you read this, we're still on for a trip next Saturday to the Tallapoosa.

Friday, March 14, 2008

Young Scarlet Shiners Eat Ants & Emergent Flies

The title is probably not breakthrough research. But Sandi and Daniel have found more interesting gut contents in our February collection of scarlet shiners from Limestone Creek than was found in January's collection. A few fish from January had indistinguishable goo in their guts, and maybe one identifiable arthropod fragment. More fish from February had obvious small flies or ant parts in their guts; these fish were usually ~45 mm long and probably Year 2 fish rather than the ~30 mm fish that are Year 1 fish. It makes sense that more food is available at the end of February in local 'bama streams since winter is ending locally at this time.

Today James, Andrew and a new participant, Steve, did another round of DNA extractions on the one stippled studfish we found at Elkahatchee Creek, and several longnose killifish that I collected at St. Joe Beach in Florida 3 years ago. I think they got some product; we'll know once we have access to the UV spectrophotometer. Our next trip to the Tallapoosa region is still on for March 29.

Tomorrow is the first field day surveying possible habitat for slackwater darters (Etheostoma boschungi) in the upper Flint River system in Madison County, AL. Hopefully it won't thunderstorm in the morning, although recent rains may help to identify good spawning areas. This fish typically spawns in seasonally flooded forest floor along creeks in late winter, so seeing where water is standing or flowing above creek beds will be of interest. I have no idea what to expect, I guess that's why it's real research.

Monday, March 10, 2008

Tallapoosa Fishes That We Found

I sat down with James on Friday and we looked more closely at the fishes we caught in Emuckfaw Creek in Tallapoosa County. Most of the darters that we caught were Rock darters, Etheostoma rupestre (~6). The habitat we found them in is about right, rapids just above the Fall line, although I haven't found other references to finding them in this stretch of the Tallapoosa drainage. The ~45 shiners we kept were about equally split between Tallapoosa shiners, Cyprinella gibbsi, Silverstripe shiners, Notropis stilbius, and Pretty shiners, Lythrurus bellus. So these are all interesting and different to me after all of my Tennessee drainage trips of late.

I still have to get official training from the university so I can access my grant money. But I can't do it tomorrow as I had registered, since the Vertebrate Zoology class is reversed and I have to lecture 3-4, instead of 12:45-2 as usual. So hopefully after spring break I can finally do this once and for all. Universities are nothing if not insanely bureaucratic.

Does anyone have a spare UV-band spectrophotometer they'd like to give up to a deserving research lab? I'd like to help you, if so. Let me know!

Tuesday, March 04, 2008

We Found No Stippled Studfish In These Creeks

In reverse order, here are the creeks in Tallapoosa County, AL, we visited on Saturday to see if they still have stippled studfish (Fundulus bifax). None of them did...

Below is Josie Leg Creek. The area is under surprisingly heavy development, with areas in the wood having been scraped clean for some sort of housing. The creek has a new bridge over it, and the road in is freshly scraped dirt. Much of this dirt is now in the creek. We found lots of striped shiners, pretty shiners and creek chubs but no studfish. Below is James looking stricken and Andrew facing the other direction.

Emuckfaw Creek is just north of the Horseshoe Bend battlefied where Andrew Jackson was almost killed by the Creek Indians in the 1810's before his Cherokee bodyguards saved him, and the U.S. forces carried the day. The creek is drop-dead beautiful, with an old highway bridge upstream of the current bridge. We spent about two hours seining every possible corner of the riffle/pool areas, and found many fish species but no studfish. I'm tempted to revisit this site later and make sure; it's in good enough shape that in principle it should still have studfish.

And we began our day at Sandy Creek, on the southern side of the Tallapoosa River. This creek shows clear evidence of siltation, which isn't good for studfish that prefer sandy creek bottoms. We found pretty shiners, in particular, and even kept netting hogsuckers. But no stippled studfish. We also found a freshly discarded porno DVD, which I guess is better than finding recently executed dogs.

So, no stippled studfish were found. Maybe that's the story? We've now found studfish at two of five sites we've visited. Our next trip is likely to be March 29.

Sunday, March 02, 2008

Trip To The Tallapoosa Drainage, Quick Take

We made it down to Tallapoosa County yesterday for a stippled studfish survey. In brief, we didn't find any studfish at the three sites we visited. Two of the three sites were obviously messed up from recent landuse mismanagement (there shouldn't be significant amounts of soil in the bottom of the creek...); one seemed to be more pristine but still produced no studfish. I'll have pictures and more comments in the next day or two. The good news is that we didn't find any dead dogs this time, but we did find recently discarded porno. Yeehaw! We didn't keep it.