Monday, May 10, 2010

Flagship Electro shocking

Last weeks Flagship outing took us to Grant Creek for an afternoon of fish electro shocking with John Choka and Aubrey Benson of the USFS. Sentinel students learned all about what john does as a fisheries biologist. After a briefing on safety and equipment, we wadered up, and headed into the creek to find some fish. On our first few passes we were unable to shock any fish, and we were worried with only twenty or so minutes left that we might get skunked. Aubrey joked that when you are fishing with electricity you should almost never get skunked.

And we didn’t. The students managed to net a few brook trout that measured between four and six inches in length. John recommended we do one more pass before calling it a day, and good thing because what happened next will live in my head forever. As John passed his wand through an undercut bank we all watched as a well fed 16 inch cutthroat surfaced. I had no idea that a fish that large would be lurking just minutes from the Rocky Mountain Elk Foundation. We admired the beauty of the native cutthroat trout before quickly releasing it back into the creek. What a day! John guessed that the native beast was a resident fish rather than migratory spawner, leaving the rest of us fisherman dreaming of mid may when all of our favorite little tributaries open for fishing.

Monday, May 3, 2010

Swan Valley and Salmon Prarie Schools field trips!

I could tell as I slid out of bed the morning of the 27th that my body was not used to getting up at 6:00. I hurried to get ready and by some magic made it to the office by 6:30, the appointed meeting time for an all day Swan Valley/ Salmon Prarie field trip. Once there I met with our two awesome volunteers Chrissy Orangio and John Hughes and after "borrowing" our VISTA Emilie's lunch we were off! It is a field trip I have been wanting to take for a while and despite the sagging eyelids I was excited. After a sleepy trip, we finally arrived at the beautiful wilderness and Swan Valley School. This was my first meeting with one of our biggest supporters, Diann Erickson who works for the Swan Ecosystems Center, and it was was every bit as motivating as I thought it would be. (This is her above picking through gunk trying to find Macroinvertebrates.) Despite the time she was up and excited about our upcoming field trip. Leading us into the small, quaint one-floor school, Diann talked us over the plan for the day and showed us an amazing display she had put together using pictures and data from the past 7 years of data we have collected with the school.We then went in to talk to the K-1st group, preparing them for the upcoming field trip. Despite their young age, they all remembered working with us in the fall and/or in previous years. Patiently they listened and answered questions.

Before we knew it we were down by the river, which was flowing very quickly, and starting with the field trip. I was leading the physical station and I had to admit, I was a bit rusty. In the moments as the kids were coming down I went over what I wanted to talk about in my head: Cloud cover, flood plain, shape of the channel, velocity, how does the areal around the stream affect it? What affects velocity? What parts of the river move faster or slower? Soon I had a group of wonderful, cooperative kids. Each took his or her turn to throw a stick, the shouters would shout start and stop as they stood on either side of a 20ft line, the timers would time, and the recorder would record, then the thrower would go trade places with someone who had a different job. We all had a lot of fun and the kids learned quite a bit.

After we finished up with that field trip we went to lunch at the local Mercantile and then Diann met us with a homeschooler she had picked up to come on our next field trip. We all drove to a small, but well-kept one-room school house entitled Salmon Prairie School. It's sole student was our other field trip attendee. We all went down to a beautiful swift flowing river that I was told was home to many Bull Trout! The two students we were working with were older and well familiar with our field trips. They knew the protocol and were basically able to run the stations by themselves. We all had fun collecting 300 bugs and participating in all the stations rather than teaching.At the end of the field trip I realized how important our work was. Without us, those kids would have been in the class all day and may not have ever learned about the beautiful rivers that surround them! We got to give them hands on science experience and re-enforced watershed ecology and science concepts year after year. I know I wish I had such an opportunity in school. Chrissy and John felt the importance of what we had done too, and on the ride home we all felt satisfied.