Posts Tagged ‘fish’

iPed Shuffle – The Southern Stingray

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Monday, July 30th, 2012

iPed Shuffle – The Southern Stingray by Jungle Pete

Stingray Shuffle

Stingray Shuffle Sign © Jungle Pete

From May through October, anyone heading into Florida’s coastal waters is encouraged to do the “stingray shuffle”. This Frankenstein’s monster-like gait stirs the underwater sediments and frightens the bottom dwelling rays into taking off. No doubt this aquatic march is a Sand Dollar’s (Echinarachnius parma) worst nightmare.

The Southern Stingray (Dasyatis americana) is the most common ray found along Florida’s coast. Its range extends from New Jersey south through the Gulf of Mexico and down the Atlantic coast to Brazil. This relatively flat-bodied, cartilaginous fish is related to sharks, whom happen to be one of their main predators. Despite their venomous bite and stinging barb, the stingray is non-aggressive, but those that don’t heed the “shuffle” warnings run the risk of stepping on one when they enter the water. Stingrays will burrow into the sand to rest and if stepped upon will involuntarily slap their four inch barbed tail up at the offender.

Southern Stingray

Southern Stingray © Graeme Teague

Less than two thousand incidences occur each year in the United States and most of them are minor injuries around the feet and ankles. The knife-like barb is serrated on both edges and terminates at a venom gland at the base which is equipped with a serious nerve toxin. Rarely is the injury serious or fatal and can be treated initially by immersion in hot water which breaks down the proteins in the venom and eliminates the pain. Further treatment is suggested.

If anyone should feel threatened it’s the clams, oysters, mussels, tube worms, coquinas, sand fleas, sand dollars, shrimp and even octopus that the stingrays feed on. The bat-like fish will flap its wings to uncover critters in the sand or blow water over the sand to achieve a similar effect. It even possesses an acute sensory system that detects its prey’s electrical field but most commonly uses its sense of smell.

What is harder to detect is a foot descending from the world above the waves. If you’re heading to the beach in stingray territory, make sure you shuffle; you never know what will surprise you.

Southern Stingray

Southern Stingray © Norbert Wu

Wyoming’s Cutest Cutthroat

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Tuesday, July 17th, 2012

Wyoming’s Cutest Cutthroat by Jack Ballard

Cutthroat Trout © Jack Ballard

One of the few native trout species to the northern Rocky Mountains, Cutthroat Trout are named for two elongated patches of skin on either side of their lower jaw colored in red or orange. Four sub-species of cutthroats range across Wyoming: Yellowstone, Bonneville, Colorado River and Snake River. The various sub-species evolved in particular watersheds across the state. Anglers who catch a specimen of each is eligible to receive a certificate from the Wyoming Game and Fish Department in commemoration of their “Cutt-Slam.”

My oldest son completed his cutt-slam as a 10 year-old. Although I’ve caught all four sub-species, my Colorado River specimen came from Colorado, not Wyoming. Along the way, I’ve paid due diligence to the natural history and genetic development of the different variations in Cutthroat Trout. These analyses have led to one scientific conclusion. Snake River cutthroats are the cutest.

Also known as “Fine-Spotted Cutthroats” or “Snake River Fine-Spotted Cutthroats” this sub-species differs from the others in appearance due to a profusion of tiny dark dots covering much of their body. Other sub-species of cutthroats exhibit just a smattering of larger black spots that aren’t nearly so cute.

Besides being cuter, Snake River Cutthroats are unique for a couple of other reasons. They’re much more inclined toward vertebrate prey (mainly other fishes) than other sub-species. Although they share portions of the Snake River drainage of Wyoming and Idaho with Yellowstone Cutthroats, they don’t frequently hybridize.

It’s always an angler’s treat to catch a native Cutthroat in its historic environment. Such a feat is doubly rewarding when it involves the Snake River sub-species, the cutest cutthroat.

Out-Fished

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Tuesday, June 19th, 2012

Osprey by Jack Ballard

While futilely attempting to tempt a trout from the Clark Fork River, I notice an osprey winging upstream with a foot-long fish secured in its talons. Why, on this lovely spring morning, can a bird catch a trout with its bare hands and I’m unable to get a bite with my several hundred dollars of fly equipment? As it turns out, when it comes to fishing tackle the bird is better equipped than the angler.

From the tips of their talons to the point of their beaks, ospreys are uniquely equipped for fishing. Their feathers are dense and oily, allowing them to shed water like water-dwelling birds such as ducks and geese. Compared to other raptors, their legs are long, which facilitates snatching fish from near the surface of a lake or stream without become completely submerged. However, unlike bald eagles whose fishing repertoire consists primarily of plucking fish from the surface of the water, ospreys may become fully submerged when diving feet-first in pursuit of a fish. When diving, valves on the nostrils of ospreys seal to prevent them from breathing water. The opposable third toe of an osprey aids them in grasping wriggling fish, as do tiny spines on the bottoms of their feet known as spicules.

A host of adaptations equip ospreys for fishing, but even so, successful predation per attempt ranges from 25 to 75%. The depth at which their prey is swimming and surface conditions affect osprey’s efficiency. Deeper dives in choppy water result in fewer fish. Individual ability also varies from bird to bird. Researchers have found that some ospreys routinely exhibit higher success rates per predation attempt than others. When transporting prey, ospreys learn quickly that it’s easier to fly with the snout of the fish forward and almost invariably orient their burden in this direction.

As the bird wings out of sight beyond a curtain of cottonwood trees, I’m a little jealous. Maybe a 25% catch rate is on the low end for an osprey. But it sure beats getting skunked.

Too Warm, Too Soon

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Tuesday, April 3rd, 2012

Brown Trout by Jack Ballard

By now the record-breaking warm temperatures of March is old news. By March 22 over 6,000 record highs were toppled across the United States for the month, 710 falling in a single day. Here in the northern Rockies we didn’t see quite as dramatically hot temperatures as in the Midwest or the East. Nonetheless, daytime high temperatures ranged from 10 to 20 degrees higher than average for March.

Golfers, anglers, joggers and tennis players are loving it. Evidently migrating birds are too. By early March I’d spotted my first bluebirds and meadowlarks. Red-winged Blackbirds came even earlier.

Red-winged Blackbird, adult male© Greg Lasley/VIREO

Those birds, like humans, may be living with a false sense of security. A quick look at record low temperatures for my home town of Red Lodge, Montana, reveals it can still plunge below zero (F) well into April. Such a devastating cold snap could have dire consequences for small songbirds and the budding trees whose sap is already running freely.

But thus far, the most troubling aspect of the unseasonably warm temperatures involves the snowpack. With nights barely reaching freezing or not creating frost at all, the snow banks around town have all but disappeared. The mountain snowpack is diminishing as well, something that generally doesn’t occur for another couple of months. If the snow goes early, mid to late summer may see little water in the creeks and rivers. The rainbow, brook, brown and cutthroat trout of Montana’s rivers are particularly vulnerable to low water. Less water in the streambed means what’s left is warmer. In years of low flow, the water can become so warm as to become lethal to trout.

In reality, it’s too early to worry. April and May can bring substantial snow to the high country. Everything might turn out fine, but I’m guessing the trout have their fins crossed.

Underwater Wonderment

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Friday, January 13th, 2012

Japanese Seat Nettle (Chrysaora melanaster) by Kent McFarland

 

Kent’s Aquarium Flickr Slideshow

Nearly 40 years later I can still remember my wide-eyed wonderment at watching the North Pacific Giant Octopus (Octopus dofleini) move about its tank. My parents often took us to Oregon State University’s Hatfield Marine Science Center during the winter when the weather outside wasn’t so delightful.

Whether you are an adult or a child, there is nothing like getting up close and personal to life underwater, and the easiest way for most of us is a visit to the aquarium. There are over 200 aquariums accredited by the Association of Zoos and Aquariums, so there is probably one near you.

A great way explore an aquarium is with a digital camera. A camera has a way of slowing us down to dig deeper into the underwater world unfolding right in front of our eyes. Some animals at the aquarium may be sensitive to a flash, so it is best to keep it turned off. Once home, you can learn more about the animals using Audubon Guides and other resources and share them with others.

Giant Green Anemone (Anthopleura xanthogrammica) by Kent McFarland

Whether you watch the amazing colors of tropical fish stream by you or see an octopus of the cold Pacific, I look forward to sharing in your wonderment through the lens of your camera. Post your shots on the Audubon Guides Facebook page for all of us to see the hidden underwater world.

Great Blue Heron

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Friday, December 9th, 2011

Great Blue Heron

Location: Ausable River, Adirondacks, New York

As a wildlife photographer, I spend a lot of time hoping to catch a frame or two of an interesting bird every time I’m in the field, even if I’m not specifically on an assignment to photograph birds. When I took this photo I was supposed to be catching trout on the Ausable River near Lake Placid, New York. The fishing was slow for me, but not for this great blue heron (Ardea herodias) which I spotted on a log on the opposite shore. He stood motionless, peering into the water. Several minutes clicked by, then suddenly he lunged into the lightly churning river. When he straightened up, he held a 5-inch rainbow trout in his bill. Another second later, the entire wiggling small-fry disappeared down his long graceful neck. The process repeated itself three times before Mr. Heron spread his massive 70-inch wings and glided away down the river.

The largest wading bird in the heron family, standing up to 55 inches from head to tail atop spindly long legs, I’ve always had a fascination with great blue herons. I’ve seen them in the Rockies, the Adirondacks and in Florida along both freshwater and saltwater shorelines. A subspecies (A. herodias occidentalis) in South Florida wade through the water in graceful all-white plumage, though the more common great blues are not exactly blue. Their flight feathers are slate-gray. They have a rust-gray neck and nearly white face with a black stripe from the eye to the back of the head.

For such large birds, great blue herons sure blend into their surroundings. I’ve had a couple take off only a few feet from me, causing a near heart attack. I’ve reciprocated as well. Several years ago, I was sitting in a blind on the Mississquoi River in Vermont when a great blue heron almost landed on my head. I’ve had friends complain that a heron moved into their neighborhood and cleaned all the fish out of their pond. Perhaps this one had harvested all of the trout in the Ausable River, or maybe I was standing on the wrong side of the stream.

Black Hills

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Wednesday, September 14th, 2011

What’s there to do in the Black Hills? Pose that question to most Americans and you’ll get one of two answers. Many will tout the merits of Mount Rushmore, a big cliff on a mountain where likenesses of four U. S. presidents were carved into the stone with dynamite and jackhammers. Others will likely drown your ear with memorable tales of Sturgis. Sturgis is home to what I believe is the largest motorcycle rally in the country, a place where upstanding dentists from Seattle trailer a pair of clattering, obnoxious Harley-Davidsons to South Dakota, rent an expensive motel room, then ride around acting equally obnoxious. If you love being annoyed by excessive noise from internal (infernal?) combustion engines, Sturgis is for you.

But these human-contrived attractions don’t tell the whole story of the Black Hills. Get beyond Sturgis and Rushmore, and there’s an incredible array of natural wonders to lure lovers of nature and solitude to the Black Hills. Custer State Park abounds with wildlife. Elk, mule deer, antelope, bison, and whitetail deer roam the among the park’s pines and prairie. Hiking trails and a handful of crystalline lakes are also found in the Black Hills.

I love the wildlife, but I’ve also recently discovered another diversion in this isolated range in western South Dakota. The trout fishing is outstanding. A couple weeks ago, my son and I idled away two days fishing Rapid Creek and Spearfish Creek. Our efforts were rewarded with numerous rainbow and brown trout, many caught in an unspoiled forest setting.

Visiting or passing through the Black Hills? There’s more than Rushmore and Sturgis. It’s a great place to get back to nature. It’s too bad more folks don’t realize it.

Washed Away – The Sculpin

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Tuesday, September 6th, 2011

On Sunday, August 28th, the Weather Channel reported the last bands of rain and wind had passed through New York City. Hurricane Irene was dubbed a meteorological flop. From the often storm battered coast of Florida, I found it hard to believe that this storm had let so many off the hook.

I checked my facebook page to see how friends and family in Vermont were doing. Photo after photo, along with unbelievable videos of catastrophic flooding proved that A) forecasters and news outlets were quick to dismiss the consequences of heavy rain in a landlocked, mountainous state and B) Vermont is in fact part of the United States. They even have maps to prove it.

My friend Chris Saylor, the ranger at Camp Plymouth State Park in Ludlow, Vermont uploaded some stunning photos and videos of the park as the rampaging Buffalo Brook stormed through it. Turbulent mud and boulders had ripped through roads and taken out bridges leaving behind an unfathomable landscape of debris and muck. In all of the destruction, one little curiosity caught Chris’ attention. Buffalo Brook is known for gold panners who occasionally find flakes and nuggets. Chris found something else bright and shiny. He sent me a photo and asked “what’s this?” In his hand was a now deceased Sculpin (Cottus sp.) that had been washed away from its stony brook hideaway into an open field.

Vermont is home to the Mottled Sculpin (Cottus bairdi) and the Slimy Sculpin (Cottus cognatus). Both thrive in the pebble and stone filled streams and creeks that were severely impacted by the hurricane. These slow-flowing, well-oxygenated waterways are breeding grounds for aquatic invertebrate larvae which sculpin feed on. Although the cryptic coloration of the sculpin aid them in blending in to their aquatic surroundings, they are preyed upon by trout who share the same habitat.

It’s hard to say how Hurricane Irene impacted the wildlife of Vermont’s brooks, streams and rivers. It is clear how it has affected the Vermonters. Despite over 200 road closures, 30 bridge washouts and hundreds of houses destroyed across the state, the people of Vermont are picking up the pieces, digging themselves out and standing tall in the face of adversity. Their positive spirit can not be washed away.

To help Vermonters in need please visit the Vermont Food Bank and offer what you can.

Photos provided by Chris Saylor.

Brook Trout

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Wednesday, June 22nd, 2011

Location: Horse Creek, WY
My normal fishing waters are in the mountain streams of the Vermont, New Hampshire and the Adirondacks where a big Brook Trout (Salvelinus fontinalis) measures 12 inches and weighs a pound. For the record, I’ve never caught one that big, so when I hooked the 18-incher in one of the ponds at the Horse Creek Cattle Ranch near Cheyenne, Wyoming, I would have fallen out of my boat if I hadn’t been in one of those super stable Hobie kayaks. The fish was so strong it towed my boat through the water as I concentrated on preventing it from snapping off the delicate tippet. Fifteen minutes later, when I finally landed the fish, I was ecstatic when I saw how big it was and how vibrant the color.
I can always tell identify a brook trout by the white line on the leading edge of its lower fins, which, on this goliath, was nearly a quarter-inch wide. Just past the spawn, the ruby red in this hefty square-tail’s sides and fins glowed like a flaming band on the horizon just before the sun sets. Its spots looked like mini multi-hued bull’s eye. And the worm-like squiggles on its back were mustard yellow rather than the light pastel typical of the smaller stocked brookies that I usually catch.
Brook trout are not true trout. They are part of the char family. They like the coldest clearest water, which is why I found this one at 7,200 feet above sea level in a pond that’s ice-free for three months per year. Brook trout cannot survive when water temperatures get much higher than 60 degrees. No danger of that here.
The world record brook trout weighed almost 15 pounds. This one was only a third that size, but it was a personal record. As I released it back into the chilly depths, I knew I would remember this fierce fighting fish forever.

Spawning Rainbow Trout

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Friday, April 8th, 2011

Location: Colorado
There’s something about making that first cast of the year into a clear running river. To me, it means spring is here. While my feet are still happy to glide down mountains in ski boots for another week or two, they also welcome the chilly pressure of moving water over my wading shoes. Last week, I took a break from the slopes at Copper Mountain to spend a sunny afternoon on the Blue River, a nearby trout stream in Summit County. I didn’t catch anything, but it didn’t matter. My memories of a similar outing last March on the Yampa River near Steamboat made up for the lack of fish last week.
We floated our flies on the Yampa just as the rainbow trout (Oncorhynchus mykiss) made their spring spawning run. Each spring, rainbow trout swim upstream to the place where they were born to reproduce. The female fish lay their eggs in nests called “redds”, which they scoop out of the gravelly river bottom with their tails above a section of choppy water. She releases up to 8,000 eggs, which a male then fertilizes.
Rainbow trout reach sexual maturity earlier than other trout, often at the end of their second year, when they reach at least 12 inches in length. The largest rainbow trout ever caught in Colorado weighed 19 pounds 10 ounces (2003 in Morrow Point Reservoir). Though this one was a quarter that size, it was still an impressive fish and beautifully colored. When rainbow trout spawn, their color deepens, especially the telltale red stripe along their sides. We let it this one go, allowing it to continue on its upstream journey.