Some of the Centennial Mountains on a May Morning

Some of the Centennial Mountains on a May Morning
Some of the Centennial Mountains on a May Morning Reflected in Widgeon Pond

Wednesday, May 27, 2015

How to Milk a Fish

Friday, May 16

Yes, I said "milk a fish".  The fish guys have been spending the last few days electroshocking fish to get lots of gravid grayling females as well as lots of males. (Gravid just means full of eggs.)  Friday was to be the day they planned to milk the fish for eggs and milt (sperm) and fertilize the eggs.  Some of these eggs would be put in special little pens over  gravel  with different amounts of silt added,  to see if the amount of silt in a stream is a factor in successful egg hatching. The rest of the eggs will be put in our little fish hatchery, that is made of 5-gallon buckets. (More on that  in a later blog.)

While Dick and I were transporting a male  fish to Widgeon Lake (lastblog topic), our boss, Bill, called us on the radio to tell us it was time to come watch the milking. We hurried back and then spent the next hour or so waiting for the fish guys to come down the stream with their boat that has the electroshocking equipment and bins in which to put the fish they have caught.


Waiting for the show to start

Here they come!
  The first thing to happen was to divide the fish into two pens that sat in the water, one of males and one of females.  These were holding their previously caught fish.  Unfortunately, this spring has been unusually warm here and the fish were about a week ahead of schedule. So a lot of the caught fish had already been upstream to lay their eggs and were headed back downstream.


Sorting male and female Arctic grayling into separate pens

Another view of sex separation

WOW! Look at this grayling's awesome fin.

Meanwhile the milking expert guy was setting up his tent and laying out his supplies.  The person in the background is going to gather tag and other data from each fish.


The fish milkar  - he does the milking in the tent to keep the eggs and milt shaded

Fish waiting to be milked

When the milking started the milker, was handed a female fish which he dried off with a towel and then squeezed her from the gills to the vent/


Readying a fish for milking - he dried each one with a towel so he could hold on tightly

The milking in process 

Data was collected on each fish - many were already tagged


This are the eggs from two females and the milt (the white part) from one male
As soon as the milker milked two females and then two males, a little saline was added and the bowl was swirled around for several seconds. Then the fertilized eggs were rinsed with fresh water from the stream and added to a water cooler.  They had to sit still and harden up for an hour before they could be hauled to the fish hatchery or added to the experiment on the effect of silt on eggs.

One of my jobs is to sometimes tend the developing eggs.  We started that project the next day.  You'll have to wait for next Sunday's blog to learn about that.

Sunday, May 24, 2015

Moving Day for a Rainbow Trout

Dateline: May 15, 2015

The refuge is bringing back Arctic Grayling. Montana is the only state with a few populations. Red Rock Lakes NWR has one of these populations and is dedicated to bringing this species back from near extinction. They cooperate with the Montana Fish and Wildlife and various researchers to do this.

To remove non-native competition, they are removing all rainbow trout and brook trout, leaving Red Rock Creek and Elk Creek with only grayling and suckermouths.  In the early spring, researchers set up upstream and downstream traps to catch and tag grayling and to record current data on recaught grayling. (See blog I wrote last year.)  Most of the trout end up in a food bank but 100 males got to go live in Widgeon Pond where they can provide sport for fisherman. The fish guys report to Dick, another volunteer,  that he has fish to transport, and he goes and moves them.

Dick wanted to learn more about the birds here before his birding friends come visit. So he and I did several chores together. I took him birding, and paused a few minutes to clean the bathrooms at the Upper Campground, we stopped to fix a lid on a bluebird box that had blown off, before we collected a rainbow trout from a pen on Red Rock Creek and took it to Widgeon Pond.

I thought you might like to come along on our trip to move the fish.


Dick removing the fish from the pen in Red Rock Creek

And moving him to...

A bin to which he has  just added creek water

Dick hauled him to the van and loaded him up and we were on our way to Widgeon Lake, a few miles further down the road. When we got there, we had to switch over to bird watching for a few minutes before continuing the move. 

An immature bald eagle was sitting on the gate - photo by Dick

And an early-arriving western grebe was swimming nearby

Dick hauls the bin down to lake's edge

Captures the fish...

Makes him pose for a portrait....

Then releases him

Then we raced back to watch the milking of the fish.  Stayed tuned. 

Friday, May 22, 2015

My Hike to Mesa Arch

The Island in the Sky portion of Canyonlands National Park is less than thirty miles from Arches National Park.  Most of the natural arches are found in Arches, but Canyonlands has a few arches also.  One of them is Mesa Arch which frames a beautiful view and is supposed to be spectacular at sunrise, when the sun lights the underside of the arch and makes it a bright orange.

I didn't get there until nearly midday, but I enjoyed both the hike and the arch anyway.  It is only a half mile round trip to visit the arch so it did have lots of people on it, always a negative for me. And it made it almost impossible to get a decent shot through the arch since everyone needed to have their picture taken just where I needed to stand. But this was the only time the park felt crowded - the rest of the time I was either by myself or with less than ten people. So this is definitely a trail you should hike very early or late. There will always be a small group of people waiting for the sun to light the "ceiling" of the arch, even when the sun rises at 5:00 A.M.


This was across the road from the parking lot

This vetch was very common but made a lovely composition along the trail

These rocks almost looked like piles of cookie dough to me

Another beautiful feature seen from the trail

A trail view of a rock formation I took from several different locations. 

Some large lubines made a beautiful color combination with the orange soil

Different layers of rock are colored differently

Mesa Arch


The view through Mesa Arch - not the best time of the day for pictures

This tree spoke to me and I took several perspectives of it

This structure was on the way to Mesa Arch but I climbed after I got there
and found a better perspective of it

Structures seen on the way back

The day kept getting more cloudy and I was afraid the predicted rain would soon come

A clearer part of the sky let me get this lovely picture

Soon I was at the last set of steps before the parking lot

Then I went back to my campsite and finished packing.  This is Horsethief Camp, a BLM campsite with 57 sites.  I got one of the last three sites when I got there at 3:00 P. M. on Thursday.  This is one of the few cheap places to stay - $15 a night or $7.50 per night with a senior pass - and is less than 30 minutes from Canyonlands, Arches, and Dead Horse Point State Park plus other hiking and biking trails, so it is very popular.


My camp



I went to the library in Moab for a while and edited pictures and looked at e-mail and Facebook before heading out, STILL without rain.  But within the hour I got into showers and one little mixed rain and snow shower.  I also had to ride behind a snowplow for a while, although it was not yet clearing the road. But I did enjoy a shower and a real comfortable bed in a motel just south of Salt Lake City.  And I had time the next morning to visit Antelope Island State Park in Salt Lake before arriving at Red Rock Lakes NWR.   I'll tell you about that next blog.  

Since I'm getting further and further ahead on adventures, I thought I'd throw in couple of extra blogs over the next few weeks and try to get closer to catching up. I photographed twin yearling moose today and a badger yesterday as well as MANY pictures of birds, and the scenery. 

I also added my Facebook page, since I often post pictures that really don't fit into blogs there. See it to the right of the blog. 


Wednesday, May 20, 2015

Wild Bird Wednesday: House Wars


I came by box 14A  on my way back from surveying the 51 mountain bluebird boxes we have on a bluebird trail at Red Rock Lakes and had to stop and watch the action.  A mountain bluebird pair has built their nest but haven't started laying eggs. They were defending the box against four tree swallows.  It was so dramatic, I thought it needed to be presented in a slide show.


I put all my pictures from this fight on Flickr and someone who viewed them wrote me back to tell me that the Tree Swallows need the nest boxes more than do the bluebirds. AND the bluebirds are bigger and stronger and have been seen dragging tree swallows out of the nest.  For an interesting article by tree swallow researchers, click here.

A few days after this happened, I was driving back with Dick, another volunteer.  I had been helping him remove dead fish eggs from our little hatchery.  If the dead eggs aren't removed, a fungus starts to grow on them and then, when there is enough of the fungus, it can kill living eggs.

We saw two ravens on nest box 13A.  They flew off as we approached and then I saw the top was off the box.  We stopped and I checked inside and only saw a few bits of grass.  I put the top back on and then looked down to see the entire nest sitting empty on the ground.  When I got home, I checked my data for this box.  It had had 6 eggs and the female was sitting on them.  The ravens had opened the box, eaten the eggs, and possibly the female, because, about 40% of the time she will stay on the nest when I open the lid.  If this happens again, I'll have to add screws which will make it much harder to do the surveys.

Replacing the roof - a wire is attached to the top and then the ends fit into holes
in the side of the box

The nest removed by the ravens - by Dick

Check out other wild bird blogs from around the world.

Click here

Sunday, May 17, 2015

A Virtual Hike on the Grand View Point Overlook Trail

Saturday, May 9

The forecast was for a rainier and cooler day than was Friday, so I chickened out  of camping, and got up with the dawn to pack  and leave. But then the sun came up and the day was mostly clear, so I went back to my original plan to go hiking and take pictures. I still planned to go further north and get a motel that evening.


The lovely sky changed my mind about leaving

After grabbing a quick breakfast, I set off for the very end of the road in Island in the Sky, the Grand View Point Overlook.  I got there a little after seven o'clock and found I had the mile long trail to myself. (This condition lasted almost the whole way in and it wasn't until I was almost back out that I saw more than a handful of people.) And most of them only went about 200 yards down the trail before turning around and thus missed most of the spectacular views that occured in three directions.

Come along on a virtual hike with me along the Island in the Sky Plateau, between the Green and Colorado Rivers. The trail is one mile each way but I'm sure it took me almost three miles to complete it due to all the little detours I had to make to take these pictures.  But that won't tire YOU out.

The stacked stones or cairns mark the trail which is mostly over rock


I tried to take at least one picture at every cairn

Sometimes steps led up or down so the trail was easy

This was a little opening in the rock

This  yellow wildflower was just starting to bloom

Many of the views were too long for my camera to do them justice

I took this formation from many places in the park - this was from a side trail to the mile - long one

This view was also from the same side trail

This flower was growing in a crack from the same place I took the previous two pictures

I took this scene over and over, hoping for more light in the carved out portion

A highly magnified shot so you can see details of distant features


Closer views along the trail

A western subspecies of the blue-gray gnatcatcher

Another long view 

This was one of two guys that passed me near the end of the trail who is now
 enjoying the distant view

The sandstone was often wondrously carved

This is the real color of this Indian paintbrush if was fluorescing in the sun

A balancing rock in the making

Some hoodoo- like rocks at the end of the trail

A little arch at the end of the trail

The tenacity of plants always amazes me

The light was better looking off to trail right to show the fantastic colors in these formations

The rocks and vegetation often made pleasing arrangements

I planned to finish packing up my campsite, then go to the Moab library and put up some pictures on my Facebook page before leaving to go to Salt Lake City, where I planned to get a motel room.  But I decided I still had time to visit Mesa Arch.  You'll have to wait until my next blog to see it.

By the way, I do a lot of Facebook entries about my daily life. I put a link to my page on the right on my blog.  Just scroll down for some of my favorite links to find it, as will as links to more of my pictures.

When this blog comes out, I will have been at the Refuge one week.  During that time I've repaired or replaced any bluebird boxes that needed it and collected my first batch of data, done some cleaning around the refuge, run errands, and today got to go watch how we milk eggs and milt from the grayling fish to obtain the eggs we incubate. Tomorrow I'll go learn how to remove sick eggs so that we ca keep as many healthy eggs as possible. And yesterday I watched an exciting fight between bluebirds and tree swallows which I'll try to show you soon. And I have two more little adventures from my trip to share with you.  And pictures of the grayling egg project. And I'll have pictures of the nursery project. Life is definitely exciting and interesting.