Following the birds:
I left New York nearly a year ago with my eyes set on the West Coast. My destination was the Cosumnes River Preserve (CRP) in Galt, CA. That opportunity was a CLM internship with the Bureau of Land Management. My experience was great. So great, in fact, that I decided to reapply to the program and see if any new/fun opportunities presented themselves.
During my last few semesters of college I began to dabble in fisheries courses. Prior to that, nearly all of my attention and study was focused on plants, because plants are awesome. What I soon found out, however, is that fish are pretty neat creatures too (and I find the fieldwork to be more fun). Some of my experiences at the CRP further reinforced this newfound notion and I began seriously looking into opportunities for fisheries experience.
Now, I am in Klamath Falls, Oregon working with the Fish and Wildlife Service with the main focus on working in their Sucker Assisted Rearing Program alongside another CLM intern. Before hearing about this opportunity, and unlike Galt (which I had never heard of prior to my internship there, although it now has a place in my heart), I had heard of Klamath Falls before. This is perhaps unsurprising for birders or anyone working or interested in the Pacific Flyway. As it turns out, the Klamath Basin is also popular among birds and their enthusiasts. I had, however, never really heard about anything more than that. I wrapped up with some volunteer work at the CRP just a Friday prior to my start here, and as I did so, I realized that like many of the birds that had called the Central Valley home for the winter, I too was soon to be migrating north along the flyway*.
*Whether or not this is a sign of some deep connection with the birds, I cannot say. Although, much like them, I am happy to be escaping the heat of Central Valley summers.
Details of the position so far:
As part of the Endangered Species work here in Klamath Falls, there is an ongoing propagation effort to rear endangered suckers (Lost River and shortnose suckers) as supplements to the existing populations. These populations are battling many factors outlined quite well in the USFWS’s Revised Recovery Plan for both species. For the sake of keeping this post relatively concise (mostly, to save me having to write them all up for you), I am including a link to that plan.
USFWS Revised Recovery Plan (Lost River and shortnose suckers):
Working in this program has already provided a good variety of tasks. On a day-to-day basis, the suckers require tending and some slight monitoring. This means things like checking water temperatures (adjusting if necessary), feeding, salting (when needed to help prevent disease and parasites), and checking for mortality or abnormal behavior (hopefully, unlikely). Being a relatively new project, with a moderate amount of troubleshooting and amending plans for efficacy and to resolve unpredicted errors, there is a fair amount of maintenance/construction required as well.
Once fish are big enough, they are released back to their normal stomping (swimming) grounds (waters). In our first week here, we were able to assist in the release of quite a few fish. This process involves netting fish out of their holding tanks, scanning them for PIT tags, transferring them to the release site, acclimating them to the water at the release site, and then ultimately releasing them. They are then free to face whatever the future has in store for them (hopefully not too much predation or too many harmful algal blooms). A pretty good description of this process can be found at the following link:
When studying any animal it can be important to observe their movements. This can range from daily movements to more broad movements (i.e., migration). This helps folks to better understand when, where, and why a species of interest is utilizing an area. I leave plants out in this regard, because, as I assume we all know, most plant/plant-like things are not moving about in quite the way that animals do. Here at the office, this means that 200 of the reared suckers (~180+ mm in total length) are receiving radio tags.
Now, one doesn’t just put radio tags in fish all willy-nilly. Much like any surgery, there are some things to consider. How big do the fish need to be to receive the tag and be able to function/survive with it? Where will the tag be installed? How do you prevent them from tangling while they recover from surgery and await release? In order to address these questions proactively, staff here at the office organized a trial run to make sure their procedure would work effectively and efficiently. Lucky for us, we were able to sit-in on the operation (and assist with some small details) and it was quite an experience (add fish OR assistant to the resume?)
Our time here would feel unfulfilled if we did not get the opportunity to see some mature adults heading upstream to spawn, so we headed out for a couple of days with Bureau of Reclamation staff to do some monitoring and tagging of suckers at a place called Gerber Reservoir. Using trammel nets, we caught suckers (and some bycatch—perch, crappie, bass, and bullhead). The adult suckers were scanned for PIT tags, inspected for parasites/disease/or injury, measured, sexed, identified, and had a PIT tag inserted (if they were lacking one) before being returned to the water to go on their merry way. To summarize: We caught some big suckers*.
*While uncertain of the origins of this colloquialism, and the extent of its use in rural-American parlance—I like to believe it comes from a long-fought, line and tackle battle with a member of the Catostomidae. For instance, “Holy cow, that’s a big sucker!” Again, whether this is the case, I assuredly cannot say.
Looking forward to another great season.
USFWS-KFFWO (Klamath Falls, OR)
*Any opinions expressed herein are my own.