My Montana

My Montana
My Montana

Tuesday, March 27, 2012

Carpe Carp III: Know Your Enemy

Carp, an invasive species of fish, has had a huge negative impact on Malheur NWR.  They compete directly with fish and plant-eating ducks and totally destroy sago pondweed, an important food for ducks.  They cause the water to turn from clear to so turbid, it looks like chocolate milk. The turbidity kills some of the invertebrates that the ducks feed on.  So the refuge is committed to reducing the numbers of carp.

But they don't know how carp move, where they like to congregate, and ways the staff can get the best of the carp. So the first step is to track where carp go in a couple of ponds so the staff can predict where they will be.  If they know this, a professional fisherman may be able to come in and remove them when they are in a big group.

To study carp movement, Linda, the fish biologist, is planing to put  radio tags in 25 carp in Bocca Lake, a fairly large lake on the refuge. She has already tagged five carp.  Today she recruited several staff members, including John, the Law Enforcement officer, who is a great airboat operator, her new technician, Kris, and me.  The plan was to put out gill nets to catch the carp and also to fish for them.  Last year they found that carp LOVE corn marinated in garlic so we were all charged with adding garlic to a can of corn last night. I was out of corn so I marinated black-eyed peas.instead.

This morning dawned cloudy, cold, very windy, and with rain in the forecast. That didn't even put a blip in the packing up and leaving.  However when we got to to lake, we found that Jess, who was supposed to operate the motorboat that Carla, the archeologist, and I were to fish from, found that he couldn't control the boat easily in the wind and didn't want to risk us taking a dip in the frigid waters. So we fished from the bank  instead - and found a nice place out of the wind. Meanwhile John, the airboat operator, Linda and Kris went out to put the gill nets out.  They got them out before 11:00  A.M. and then had to wait until 2:00 P. M. to go back and pull them in. Meanwhile we all tried to fish with corn on our hooks. I found that black-eyed peas won't stay on the hook, so just chummed with them. But no one caught a fish.  I think they were all huddled up in deeper water and not eating.

Finally after we ate our lunches, and sat around looking at our poles and chatting,  it was time to go bring in the nets. John, Kris, and Linda fought their way through big waves to the nets and pulled them in but only got 4 carp of big enough to implant the radio tags in.

I was the official carp holder.  First we had to anesthetize them by putting  a small amount of clove oil in a bin of water and then putting a carp in it.  As soon as it went to sleep, we took it out and added another while we operated on the first one.

The pictures tell the rest of the story. The characters were: Surgeon: Linda, Fish deliver/holder: Marilyn, Fish Recovery: Kris, and data enterer and photographer of the surgery: Karla

Linda showing Kris how to operate the radio antenea

Leaving to pull up the nets
Untangling the fish from the net

Fish in anesthetized in clove solution

Bringing the anesthetized fish to be measured

Holding fish ready for surgery

Figuring where to make the first cut

The slit is finished and she adds a needle to thread the antenna out

Pushing in the radio tag
Pulling the antenea out through the  needle

Suturing the fish - took 3 - 4 sutures

All done

Recovery room - Kris had to swish the fish until the effect of the cloves wore off and it could swim - the coldest job

This was a really interesting job.  If we had had sun, little or no wind, and had caught fish on out hooks, it would have been a superior day.  But we managed to have fun anyway.  And now there are 9 fish in Bocca Lake with radio tags.  And I'm invited to go help next time.

Monday, March 26, 2012

Love All About

I spent Saturday and  Sunday working which means I was using a company truck mostly for my fun.   Of course, I have to drive to refresh the brochure boxes anyway, and I get to count trail walking as "checking the trail" and I needed some pictures for the Power Point show I'm working on.

Actually driving the company truck didn't last long.  I got it stuck early Saturday morning while trying to find a place on land from which I could see the new island the Corp of Engineers built for Caspian terns. I had to walk about 1/3 of a mile carrying my backpack, with water, binoculars and camera plus a big box of brochures. I switched to a company  car and kept going. (The refuge rescued the truck on Monday and I'll probably have to get my canoe out and go out to the island to get its picture. )

On Saturday, I only managed to drive the upper portion of the refuge. Of course, I had to come back and edit - mostly throw out - about 500 pictures. Sunday I ended up spending several hours at Benson Pond and fell in love with the place.  And there were lovey birds all around.  Coots copulating, song sparrows singing their territorial songs, harriers sky dancing, blackbirds singing and displaying their epaulets, and lots of sandhill crane gentlemen walking with their ladies. (I drove behind one pair for at least 20 minutes until they found a field they wanted to visit and left the road.) The owls were  through with courting and were on the nest. A hawk pair was defending their nest so may already be laying. Canada geese were paired up and some males were being aggressive to other males if they came to close to their ladies.

And I was also in love - especially with Benson Pond  - but with everything I saw.  The day had a mix of sun and clouds which made for some beautiful landscape pictures.

Benson Pond looking west

Golden willows planted by the CCC almost 100 years ago.

Canada Geese


View along a canal behind the pond

A very wet mink

The invasive common teasel

Beaver Damage

And my punishment for getting the truck stuck?  I had to go on a tour for some Boy Scouts and ride with our resident archeologist/geologist/historian who explained lots more about the refuge to me.  THEN I had to continue my punishment by going to scout the area on Double O Ranch where the Llama Ladies will be leading a birding tour where each participant gets a llama to carry his or her gear.  So I only was allowed to work on the slide show for a few minutes before the tour and then I stayed behind and worked another couple of hours.

Sunday, March 25, 2012

Carpe Carp - Part II: I'm Rescued

Sunday Night

As I was walking out of my house to go eat and shop in Burns,  the Fire Manager showed up with another 7 carp, giving me a refrigerator  filled with bloody - figuratively and literally - carp. I decided that: 1) my hands hurt too much to start another long session with these carp - I would do them a little at a time and use them myself. 2) They probably still weren't enough to feed the crowd. 3) And I didn't have enough time to get them ready.

Monday Night

I was invited to come to the get-together with the workshop participants. One of the people I talked with was a man who ran a processing plant in Australia and who is putting in another plant in Minnesota.  I started telling him about my problem with not knowing how to fix carp,  and he said, "Just bring them in and I'll cook them. I'll need some toothpicks, some oil and butter, some flour, an onion, a red and a green pepper, and some salt and pepper.  And of course those fish you have in your fridge."  Wow!  I was energized and ran off to the grocery store, and then gathered up other supplies at home, including frying pans.

Tuesday Morning

Incoming Carp
Part of my help with setting up the workshop room was hauling in the carp and supplies to cook it.  Keith, the Australian, decided he wanted to clean and cook the fish at noon.  The word got out and several of the participants stayed around to watch Keith cut a fillet, then skin it, then cut off boneless parts of it.

Cutting the fillet - skin is on

Cutting the fillet along the ribs - working from front to back and going lower with each pass

Cutting the fillet above the belly

Cutting the fillet off the skin - start at the tail and stretch the skin as you cut flat towards the head
Cutting the boneless portion of the fillet off - this is the part over the ribs
Cutting the boneless shoulder off the fillet.
Trimming out the mud vein - red part
The last cut is a flat cut the leaves the tiny Y-bones behind and ends up with a thin little fillet.

Most of the fish were females and they were mostly eggs - the greenish mass
The heavy white membrane around the air bladder is used to flocculate wine

He dredged these in seasoned flour and fried them in a dab of oil and butter.

He threaded all this on toothpicks and then sauteed the entire kabob

Finished kabobs

Preparing the fish  took him about 3 - 4 minutes a carp. Then another few minutes to prepare everything. AND he cleaned up the kitchen.  I didn't have to do a thing except pass the plates of carp around.  Well, I did go buy him and his friend lunch with their money.  And I meant to help, but by the time I got back, the food was ready to cook and the kitchen clean.

And this past week, I fed every one I could coerce into coming to lunch on carp tacos.  I have a whole host of recipes now since Germans and Asians all eat carp.  It is even kosher.  I'm telling the refuge staff that I plan to work them up to the Chinese special recipe.  You cut the head off a carp and stuff it, then sew the head back on to serve it.

Next personal project - learn to catch my own fish.

And my current big project for the refuge is to make a slide show that will be shown each hour for about 20 - 25 minutes to those people going on the self-guided tour of the refuge.  I'll present it part of the time but someone else will present it when I'm doing other things.  So I'm trying to get the dialog and some music  added to the slide show so it just has to be turned on.

After the show,  we'll hand the participants a CD with directions and details about each site on it ,and they will head off to enjoy the refuge while at the Migratory Bird Festival.  Today I really worked hard - used up one camera battery and most of another getting pictures to use in the blank spots of my presentation. Of course, I couldn't pass up a good picture, so only got half of the drive done. And those two sandhill cranes that claimed the road ahead of me for almost half an hour didn't help my schedule either.

Wednesday, March 21, 2012

Carpe Carp: Part I: The Assignment - Serve Carp to the Carp Workshop Participants

 In the late 1930's 's common carp, Cyprinus carpio, were introduced into the Blitzen River watershed. Twenty years later, they started negatively impacting the wetlands, waterways, and lakes of Malheur National Wildlife Refuge.  They compete directly with native fish and birds for food, and destroy habitat - especially the sago which is the main dabbling duck food,  and make the waters turbid which is harmful for many species.

They have been responsible for degrading the habitat in the entire Harney Basin (the valley that includes another watershed) to the point that now we only have one-tenth of the historical numbers of ducks and geese. And this in an extremely critical area in the Pacific Flyway that is used as a rest and refueling stop by thousands of ducks and geese. The Refuge has been fighting carp since the 1950's with very little success.  In fact, the use of Rotonone to poison the carp, may have further lowered the numbers of native fish.

Now the refuge is working with 60 other collaborators to draft a comprehensive plan to manage the refuge over the next 15 years. The poor aquatic health is considered the most pressing issue to address.

I was lucky enough to get to go to a Carp Workshop where professors, professional carp fishermen, Ducks Unlimited Representatives, biologists, and a man who has plants in Australia and Minnesota to harvest and sell carp parts, all came together.

Several days before the workshop, I found a set of recipes from an eastern region of the Fish and Wildlife Service.  I forwarded them to my boss who sent them to the fish biologist, and workshop planner.  Linda, the fish biologist, is another wonderful, off the wall, ADH type of person and feels like my sister. She immediately recruited me to prepare some entries to share with the workshop participants. This of course, involved catching fish - not an easy prospect when they are in the deepest, water they can find - then figuring out how to prepare them, and then deciding on a few recipes and figuring out how to get the food to the workshop participants.

The refuge fire guys were charged with getting me fish.  Meanwhile I was watching videos and reading articles about preparing carp.  When nine carp were delivered to me, I knew it was time to try what I had learned.

Thursday Afternoon
Shane came to tell me he had put fish in my second, empty refrigerator.

Friday Morning
My first problem was not having a cutting board big enough to but the carp on - some were up to about 18 inches long. Then I realized the wooden pull out shelves of the old desk in our living room could do double duty. So I got started.

For purportedly dead fish, those suckers sure could move.  I soon found I needed more than my arthritic hands to hang on to them. I also found I needed at least three hands to do the job of skinning them.  ( My first information was that I had to skin them before filleting them.)

First skinning attempt - not done yet

I also figured out - the hard way, of course - that I needed to cut the fillet portion of the fish along the backbonde and belly, as well as behind the head and at the base of the tail, before trying to pull the skin off.  

Cut with the point of the knife cutting out - the scales dull it otherwise

Success - several fish later - skin to the left - filet to the right
At the end of this session  - actually it ended two fish short of the catch - I decided I didn't have enough fish to feed a group of 60 so tried to look really sad about it when I told the fish biologist that the carp sampling wasn't going to happen. This was on Friday before the workshop was to start on Tuesday morning.  I took the fillets off the smallest carp, and shook them in a bag with a mix of flour and cornmeal, Old Bay, and Tony Tony Chachere's Creole Seasoning, then lightly fried them in canola oil. My filets had the Y-bones in them but, by first breaking the fillet in half down the long axis, I was able to just pull the tiny bones out.  Very yummy!

To be continued.

Sunday, March 18, 2012

My New Home at Malheur

I'm finally finding a place for all my junk and getting move in.  AND I got a housemate last week.  Roger will be here for most of the time that I'll be here. We'll get another housemate soon and that will fill this  little house up.

The living room is plenty big enough for three people but the kitchen is made for only one cook at a time.  So far, Roger and I take turns using it but it may become more of a problem when another person arrives.One of my favorite things about this house is that is is NOT white. The walls are a buffy yellowish color or a very light salmon or peachy color.

 My bedroom is pretty small but I got lifts for the bed and stored my junk under it. So the room feels much bigger now.

And the view from the desk is wonderful.  I can see out across the front yard to Lake Malheur to the north and out to my yard and across to the maintenance area. The other day, in really poor light, these California quail made a nice arrangement on our fence. I have a bird feeder up in a tree by our front door and I watch the birds there while working on my computer. So far I've only gotten red-winged blackbirds and California quail to show up.  I've made a peanut butter/lard mixture up for the bluebirds and other suet eaters but I don't think I've had any takers yet. I put it on the fence between our house and the other volunteer house because I've seen western bluebirds there and that yard also has several bluebird boxes.  I did feed my carp garbage to the black-billed magpies and they gorged themselves for a couple of days. The magpies also tried some of my suet that I left on our picnic table.

Today I found the first flowers of spring spring up by one of our big trees in the main area. They are snowdrops and must have  been planted here long ago, before the refuges started trying to only use local native plants in their landscaping. But it gives us hope that spring will eventually show up here, even though the temperature is supposed to fall to sixteen degrees tonight and we have snow showers in our forecast. 

Monday, March 12, 2012

Pete French's Round Barn

A finger of Malheur Lake as seen from the Princeton-Narrows Road east of the refuge

I spied a pair of pronghorn antelope on the way to the Round Barn
This area has a rich history.  There are links to history all over the refuge and immediately off it. Today I visited the Pete French Round Barn. Peter came here from California in 1872 with several vaqueros, a Chinese cook and 1200 head of shorthorn cattle.  He was opening up a new area for his boss, Dr. Hugh Glen.

He bought what the refuge calls P Ranch from a man named Porter who sold his squatter rights, a small herd of cattle, and his P brand. Pete French built his ranch up to 160,000 to 200,00 acres, covering three valleys.

He broke thousands of horses each year and designed three round barns so the horses could be broken through the winter. Only one barn still exists. (And the refuge owns the P Ranch now.)

The round barn is 100 feet in diameter and thirty feet high.  It has an interior corral made of stone that is 60 feet in diameter. You can see the barn from the highway.  It looks like a huge coolie hat sitting in a field. I was there all by myself and felt a great peace when walking around inside. I could almost smell the lovely warm smell of horses and hear their nickers and stomps. But it was empty except for a raven that appeared to be building a nest on top of the corral wall.

The Round Bard as seen from the approach

The working side is behind the barn.

The horses were worked around this outside "donut"
The center part was used as a corral
This is the 30 foot long center cedar post with the roof supports coming off of it

The gates were built with mortise and tenon joints
I also had a good visit with Dick Jenkins, who owned the barn and a huge ranch.  His son is runing their ranch now and he is running the  lovely Round Barn  Visitor Center.  He sells a HUGE collection of books about the area, about cowboys, area cookbooks, books on natural history and the the history of the area. It was a fascinating place to visit and he gave me lots of information about the area.

I get to go to the Carp workshop for the next three days.  Thursday I'm going on a tour and will record the conversation, then come back and transcribe it. I've been figuring out how to turn carp into various foods.  The hard part is getting the skin off of it and then cutting fillets without bones.  But I'm hoping to become an expert on it.