Cold days and nights with snow, ice, and few plants or
animals: my initial thoughts on spending time in the Arctic Circle were well
off the mark. Instead, the month I spent above 66° 33’ northern latitude didn’t
drop below 60 degrees Fahrenheit during the day, rarely included snow and even then
only at high altitude, and gave me the chance to find some of the most
remarkable alpine plants I’ve seen. I’ve taken loads of photos so I’ll talk
through my last month with those!
We got a lot of work done in the month on the Dalton Highway and managed to make the most of the few days off we had. If you ever get the chance to make the trip up here, it is well worth your time. Here are a few more photos with wildlife, trees, and a few more pretty flowers…
New Mexico is supposed to be “the land of enchantment” and every week my experiences are proving that slogan to be truth. The state flag has a symbol called the Zia which is a sacred symbol to early people of the region. It is a sun with four sets of four lines that represent the seasons, times of day, stages in a person’s life, and the cardinal directions. This symbol is still found all over the state, sometimes in the most random and surprising places. When we were judging our site’s soil to determine the color we accidentally made a Zia as well!
It’s been an incredible journey already with so much to learn and explore. Perhaps the most challenging part of seed collecting is getting the timing just right. Several plants on our list have longer, more continual flowering periods but others… not so much. There are a few species that will be flowering one week and totally fried the next week. Competing against the cows doesn’t make things any easier. We found a beautiful site of desert marigold all flowering (Baileya multiradiata) only to return and find half the population completely eaten! Finding that sweet spot of seeds is difficult, but it makes it that much more rewarding when we can get a collection in.
This week I was feeling the mid-season slump. I felt like we were losing against the weather, cows, and timing struggles and was bummed about not making as many collections as I had hoped for. Luckily, our mentor offered us some perspective. Aly and I had come back in from the field with an easy 200,000 seeds of Ratibida tagetes in our possession (which was already a pretty good feeling) when our mentor saw us and exclaimed, “You guys didn’t get ANOTHER collection did you?!” She apparently wasn’t expecting us to have found much and it was so reassuring that my slump-induced perception of mild failure was just a personal issue.
Although the actual collections have felt sparse, our seed scouting has taken some unbelievable turns in the right direction. We’ve found some breathtaking sites with wildflowers and grass for acres!
In addition to wildflowers and grasses, we’ve been having a lot of wildlife run-ins. Out of all the places in the world I’d never peg Carlsbad, NM as prime owl habitat and yet, I’ve seen more owls here than I’ve seen total in my life. There’s been a few times we’ve been sure that we witnessed barn owls flying away from us and there’s been several instances where we just have to stop and marvel at the burrowing owls. The other day we saw four leave the burrow one by one, perching on creosote bushes to watch us as we watched them. Believe it or not, we accidentally stumbled onto a sleeping bobcat this past month. In effort to get to some of last year’s scouting points we found the only road completely washed out. There wasn’t water (because, desert) but it was not crossable. Frustrated, we got out so we could at least explore this huge washout. This was the first time we saw a barn owl. Then, while we were walking on top of the ravine we had stopped to discuss our next move. Before I know it, Aly freaks out, pointing down, yelling, “Bobcat! Bobcat!!” I looked down, terrified at the alarm, to see the small spotty cat streaking away from us down the ravine. We figured it must have been sleeping in one of the eroded walls and became scared of us. We left shortly after, not wanting to disturb it further. BUT HOLY COW we saw a bobcat! In the daytime!!
So yes, you may need selective viewing to find Carlsbad beautiful with the abundance of oil and gas, but if you stick it out and stay strong, you can uncover the beauty that is the Land of Enchantment.
Another week, another federally listed threatened or endangered species! This past week we were introduced to the threatened fluvial bull trout (Salvelinus confluentus) of Deming Creek. The bull trout of this particular region fall within the Upper Sprague River core area of the Klamath Recovery Unit. Deming Creek is believed to support the largest local population of the species in the Upper Sprague River core area, with high relative abundance, quality habitat, and a stable population number. Deming Creek is also unique in that it is free of nonnative brook trout (Salvelinus fontinalis), a congeneric species that competes and often hybridizes with bull trout.
Our goal for the next two weeks is to determine just how effective backpack electrofishing is in achieving a high recapture percentage in bull trout, and therefore a higher confidence interval in population size. We are sampling two hundred meter reaches of Deming Creek in two day increments; the first day being the capture and mark portion of the study, with the second day acting as a 24 hour buffer for the fish to re-acclimate to their habitat. The second day we will conduct the same survey of the reach, walking upstream and e-fishing and capturing any fish we see. By comparing the recapture counts to the previous day’s capture numbers, we get a percentage of our productivity, with that goal to better understand the confidence interval of our population estimate.
After about an hour and a half drive east of Klamath Falls toward Gearhart Mountain, we entered Winema National Forest, and the location of our survey site. We began by setting up an initial block-net that spanned the creek from bank to bank. We configured another identical net two hundred meters upstream from the first with the purpose of maintaining the same density of fish within the two nets for the duration of our sampling. Starting at the lower block-net, the four of us (Nolan, our mentor; Jenny; Brianne; and I) began the arduous journey across the slippery rocks and deceptively tumultuous riffles in search of any flash of the white underbelly of a trout that has lost equilibrium due to the electric current.
Within the first twenty seconds we’d caught our first fish: a 124mm red band trout! The next three hours entailed rotating of tasks between the four of us — electrofisher, first netter, second “ghost netter” and bucket holder — the latter being the most awkward of the four as you are the one to transfer each catch to the bucket while protecting the bucket from the imminent and inevitable dangers of capsizing through your own demise due to the slippery creek bottom.
I think my favorite role is that of the primary netter, but as Jenny and I were reflecting on how reminiscent this week has been to our pasts of playing high school and college sports, I was reminded of how gratifying and crucial each role is to the greater purpose of the team. The thrill of netting a >200g red band or bull trout is palpable as Brianne locates the convulsing fish, Jenny lunges forward towards the anode for it and I shriek with excitement when I realize it’s a recapture from the day before as I gingerly transfer it to my bucket.