NANFA-L-- French Creek, and a snot otter, finally!

Crail, Todd (tcrail-in-UTNet.UToledo.Edu)
Mon, 7 Aug 2006 23:07:11 -0400

Hi gang,

Was out in Buffalo this week for a stream restoration course with the esteemed
David Derrick, finally got to meet Scott Schlueter in person, and made a pit
stop at French Creek on the way home as bait for the undergrad I drug to the
conference. Worked out pretty well... Well, excepting this little gut
abberation I've got going now. I'm concerned I snorkeled up some giardia
(they just had a flood pulse), but we'll see as time goes :/ Ugh.

Anyway, enough unpleasantness... On with the eye candy!

The water was stained, but it worked out okay. I got some good shots of
stuff. French Creek, if you're not aware, is a little slice of the Ohio River
watershed that goes almost up to Erie, PA from the Allegheny. It's in pretty
good shape and has a significant portion of the stream supporting gonzo
aquatic diversity, esp the mussel fauna. Basically, if you want to guarantee
seeing a spotted or varigate darter, this is your stream. They're under every
flat rock in a riffle from Meadville north.

The segment we were snorkeling wasn't all that hugely rich in mussels compared
with some other streams in the central south, but I think a lot of that is
just linked to the habitat types present at the sites we've sampled. For
example, if we worked a few other habitats, we might be able to pull close to
30 species, but we saw 20. What it does have, the species are in strong,
recruiting populations that are disappearing everywhere else. Rabbitsfoot and
rayed bean are super abundant in their respective habitats. It's also perhaps
the strongest population of the Fed End northern riffleshell, which you'll see
lots of pictures. The only species that concerned me were a lot of very
recent deaths among black sandshell, and two size classes, both of which were
adult. I didn't see any smaller specimens, even in the middens.

The stream is wall to wall with mucket and kidneyshell, which after looking at
it all again, almost seem like keystone species among the mussel fauna,
especially with the rabbitsfoot. The most dense congregations were in places
downstream from middens. Hydrodynamically, I guess that makes some sense, as
they sit right on the surface. The other abandoned valves would break up the
energy upstream. Might be something to test.

On the fish front, the thing I enjoyed the most was watching a roving band of
slenderhead darter. They have to be the most pelagic darter I've ever seen.
The few I keep at home (only had them for about a month) mainly stay hidden in
the plants, but are becoming more aggressive at feeding time. These wild fish
were swimming and hunting all over the place, but wouldn't come near me, which
may explain their retiring habits in 18" of front to back from "The Keeper".
It really was neat to watch them though.

We had some lamprey give us a jump when they'd shoot out under the rocks we
were turning over. It's awesome to see this big yellow band go fluttering
away. Also got a quick glimpse of a couple madtoms that were probably
northern madtom, but could have been brindled or mountain, I didn't net them.

And then there were those darters. Man, Casper really got it right when he
figured out the best way to see the fast water fish was to just get in with
them. You become part of the habitat and they are totally unafraid of you.
Blake (the other fella) was trying to catch them with his hands, but they'd
always just move away once he got just that close. Those fish are totally in
control in their habitat. We're just lucky enough most of the time to
convince them that the seine is a better place to be at than our roving feet.

Of course, the big salamanders were the highlight of the trip. I'd been
skunked on two occassions where folks told me I had a good chance to find a
hellbender (and consequently got Mr. Z all excited too), and I wasn't going
home without a picture this time. The first day we were there, I was moving
some rocks and stuff around off a pool, I moved a rock, and viola, there was a
hellbender. I froze. It just didn't look real. You know what it looks like
from pictures, but you just can't even imagine that first moment when you're
looking at one in the wild. I got hold of him with one hand, and quickly
learned why they call them the "hellbender". He shot right out of my hand.
In doing so, I dropped my camera, and was confronted with the _dilema_ of
getting the hellbender _or_ the $1000 of equipment I just slopped into the
abyss. Man, why is my brain wired this way? :)

We went back the second day to that pool and set the perfect dipnets up in a
sort of an array where we could just flip one into the net and then look. It
still turned out rougher than you'd imagine. For a big glob of goo, they are
very fast swimmers, and they can get under a rock unlike anything I'd ever
imagined. So I got my second chance at one (might have even been the same
animal). Wasn't a huge one, but still it was big enough, and freakin' cool.
We also got a good look at two mudpuppies. Equally as neat.

Also made me take a closer look at some of the "cylindrical papershells" I'd
been looking over. Sure 'nough. We could have had a voucher for our Maumee
Guide when I was at French Creek last year :/ Oh well. That's what makes
this mussel thing so fun. There's always something more to learn :)

Fish List
Lamprey (only saw while snorkelling, so no ID)
Spotfin shiner
Gravel chub
Streamline chub
Striped shiner
River chub
Silver shiner
Stonecat madtom
Banded-type madtom (northern, mountain, brindled)
Northern hogsucker
Redhorse sucker (only saw while snorkelling, so no ID)
Smallmouth bass
Greenside darter
Fantail darter
Spotted darter
Varigate darter
Banded darter
Logperch darter
Slenderhead darter
Dusky darter

Mussel List
Mucket (abundant & recruitment)
Kidneyshell (abund & recruit)
Fat Mucket (abund & recruit)
Wavy-rayed lampmussels (3 fresh dead)
Pocketbook (~5 alive, many fresh dead)
Northern Riffleshell (abund & recruit) (Fed E)
Spike (abund & recruit)
Snuffbox (10+ alive, all adults)
Rayed Bean (10+ alive & recruit)
Salamander mussel (1 alive, 4 fresh dead)
Round pigtoe (2 alive, 15+ fresh dead)
Hickorynut? (2 younger fresh dead, still had rays)
Long solid? (1 fresh dead)
White heelsplitter (1 weathered)
Giant floater (5+ alive, a couple fresh dead)
Rabbitsfoot (50+ & recruitment)
Flutedshell (10+ & recruitment)
Black sandshell (6 large, 20+ relicts, but all same age class)
Elktoe (15+ & recruitment)
Threeridge (3 FD)

The Muddy Maumee Madness, Toledo, OH
It's never too late to have a happy childhood.
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