My Montana

My Montana
My Montana

Wednesday, May 28, 2014

Tending the Grayling Fish Eggs

One of the strategies Red Rock Lakes NWR uses to increase the Arctic grayling population is to raise babies.  The do that at a remote site incubator (RSI).  This incubator is at the Elk Spring. Getting there is lots of fun.  It is about 10 miles from headquarters, over Red Rock Creek and past Widgeon Pond.  There are long views across prairies to the hills and the snow-covered mountains behind them.

Stewart, one of the summer hires and a housemate,  let Kirsten another summer hire and housemate,  and me tag along and he showed us how to remove the eggs infected by a fungus.  This is done each day to buy time for the other fish to hopefully get to hatch. 

View across Elk Creek to  Centennial Mountain Range
 W had about a quarter of a mile hike to the site. I heard house wrens, yellow warblers, common ravens,  and other birds who were busy defending their territories and foraging.

Hiking in up Elk Creek to the spring
I was surprised at the incubation system.  It consists of 4 black 5-gallon buckets with attached pipe system.  Water comes directly from the mouth of one of the spring openings to the pipes and and then is returned to the creek after feeding each bucket individually. The tops are covered to keep the eggs in the dark, which is healthiest for them.

The Incubator 
There is a LOT of watercress there.  I had to take a few bites.  It is still as deliciously peppery as I remembered from my encounters with it as a child.


Then it was time to get to work.  Stewart took the 5th bucket, which has a much bigger fungus infection in it and demonstrated how to suck out the diseased eggs.  I brought a towel but he is using his jacket to screen the bucket from the really intense sunlight. He uses a plastic pipette to suction up white eggs.  This bucket had around 150 infected eggs. Kristen and I both had about 50 infected eggs in each of our buckets and were able to each finish two buckets while he did this one.

Stewart pipetting eggs

The eggs - we took out all the white ones

Another view down the creek - I found this on the way back. 

The eggs hatch in about three weeks. Then the fry will struggle to live, but most of them will be eaten.  The few that do make it can live up to thirty-two years and will start spawning at four - seven years. 

I'm writing this while waiting to help Stacy with her telemetry project.  She works with the guy who put the radios in the grayling.  (See last blog for a picture of one of the fish we will be tracking today.)  My job is to be the moose diverter.  I get to carry the bull horn and bear spray and take down the data while she holds the radio receiver.  Hopefully this old body will make through the hike along Red Creek. (Just back from that trip - and still mostly alive - but never did get to prove my prowess at scaring off a moose.)

I also am going to survey bluebird boxes.  Really looking forward to doing that job.  We have mountain bluebirds here and they are fighting with the tree swallows for the nest boxes.

The male bluebird is fending off a pair of tree swallows as the female arrives with nest material.