Off the Grid  Retirement at our remote log cabin in Colorado

Friday, August 07, 2020

Gone Fishin’

Posted by: Rick

I recently volunteered, through Trout Unlimited, to help with some research being done by a CSU Masters Student and funded by Colorado Parks and Wildlife. The task was to electrofish for brook trout in two streams close to the cabin--Sheep Creek and George Creek, collect data on their size, and then take a small clipping from a fin to use for genetic analysis. There were four of us on this expedition including Dr. Kurt Fausch a retired professor at CSU from whom I learned a lot about fishes, fisheries, native versus non-native species, reclamation, and more. He is the author of a book For the Love of Rivers, which you can learn more about at the website: fortheloveofrivers.com. He is passionate about what streams and rivers bring to the human experience beyond the obvious--water. The others were masters student, Audrey as well as an undergraduate, Matt.

Brook trout are not native to Colorado, yet they are the most populous species in our streams. They were likely imported from the east in the late 19th century. Because of their spawning cycle (fall, not spring) and aggressive feeding, they have replaced native species such as a variety of cutthroat trout in most Colorado waters. There are a variety of research and reclamation projects going on to bring the cutthroat back. Around here, the native species is the greenback cutthroat.

I can't say I fully understand Audrey's research. But, I know she is heavily involved in a project to reintroduce native cutthroat trout into some headwaters in the Long Draw area. In order to understand how the introduced trout will move throughout the area, breed and migrate, she is doing genetic diversity studies on the existing brook trout. To have something to compare with, she needs genetic information from brook trout in other areas and George Creek and Sheep Creek were two of the chosen sites.

We drove into George Creek by taking S County Road 169 where after a few miles, we took a 4WD road to ACME Creek road. It was a pretty rough road and I was proud of our Ford Expedition's performance in 4WD over the rocks and washout. We even drove through the burned out area from a wildfire a few weeks ago. We did not take the obvious ACME Creek Road because of a need to do a river crossing at Sheep Creek which has a lot of water right now. We eventually arrived at George Creek and prepared for the electrofishing.

The sign here is an old sign from a previous attempt to introduce greenback cutthroat. The road continues on to Cornelius Creek.

Over the past several years, brook trout have been removed from George Creek in preparation for stocking with the native and threatened greenback cutthroat. This attempt has been unsuccessful based on our electrofishing experience. We managed to catch well over 100 brook trout along a few hundred meter span of the river. Don't get too excited if you are a fisherperson. None of them were "keepers". In fact, the majority were less than a year old (about 50 mm in lengh), the rest were one year old and perhaps a few that were 2 years old or older. The fish hatch in spring and then grow in the summer, and they will grow at a roughly uniform rate. As a cold-blooded animal, they halt growth in the winter. So, we could tell age from the length of the fish. The biggest one was perhaps 6" long, probably 3 years old. In fact, I learned that there are bones in a fish that get a new layer each day, so sectioning those bones and counting the "rings" can tell the age in days! We did not do that. Instead, Matt carefully measured the length of each fish while I recorded the length on paper. He also took a genetic sample from any fish one year old or older and Audrey carefully collected and tagged each sample in a separate envelope.

Matt and Audrey processing the fish we caught.

One of the bigger trout from George Creek.

Electrofishing sounds a bit scary. (And, it was when there was some lightning later in the day.) But, it is largely harmless to the fish. You wear a backpack that has a battery in it along with controls to set up the electic shock parameters (wave shape, frequency and voltage). There is an anode probe and a cathode "tail" that come from the backpack. You walk along the stream with the tail dragging in the water, and press a trigger on the anode probe to create an electrical path through the water. This shocks any nearby fish for a few seconds. The goal is to catch the stunned fish in a net and move it to a bucket of water quickly. The fish recover within a few seconds. After catching a bucket of fish, we'd stop for a while to process them.

George Creek is quite small so it was mostly a 2-person project with someone to carry the bucket (me).

We wore waders, which insulated us from the shock. But, I'm told it can be quite an experience to accidently touch or fall into the water while using the electrofishing machine. So, we had a protocol to yell out "OFF" if I fell while trailing behind with the bucket. 

I had a net too. And, I snagged a few of the fish. But, the more experienced people did the bulk of the "catching" work.

After we were done at George Creek we had lunch and then moved on to Sheep Creek. And, we decided to take the ACME Creek road back to County Road 80C and brave the water crossing. The road was actually in pretty good shape since they likely graded it and cut trees on the way to help with gaining access during the fire. The water in Sheep Creek was pretty fast and pretty deep since they are letting a lot of water out of Eaton Reservoir (for the city of Greeley). But, the Expedition plowed right through without any problems. 

At Sheep Creek, we used two electrofishing machines, Kurt took one and Matt the other. They each had nets and Audrey was netting also. I, again, was the bucket boy. I did not want to wade in the fast water and risk dumping the bucket of caught fish. That would not have been good at all. So, I walked along the bank. When they'd net a fish they would hand the net to me and I'd hand them an empty net. I'd then carefully dump the fish into my bucket and we'd move on. It was hard work, at least for those in the water. It rained some, along with lightning. Not a good idea to be standing in water electrofishing with lightning around, so we'd take advantage of those times to process the fish we'd caught so far.

Kurt, Matt and Audrey working a nice deep hole.

Kurt and Audrey in some fast water.

Matt was quite persistent in making sure we got every fish, even if it meant getting into a tangle of downed trees.

Audrey's goal was 40 brook trout from Sheep Creek. We got 41, along with a couple of nice brown trout (8" long or so), a sucker of some kind, and a fourth species that I don't recall. There is a lot of fish diversity in Sheep Creek. I've even caught a rainbow trout a few times.

In all, a long and tiring day, but very interesting and rewarding. I'm glad to say that as far as I know, we only lost one fish out of the roughly 200 caught. And, the results of the survey and genetic testing will help in the eventual restoration of native species to Colorado waters.

One final note. We observed COVID-19 safety protocols throughout the day by wearing masks. Yes, we were outdoors, but also in close proximity to each other. So, my only regret of the day is that I don't really know what any of those folks look like!

Tuesday, May 26, 2020

Who Doesn’t Give a Hoot

Posted by: Rick

A few posts ago I mentioned that one of our evening pleasures was sitting on our front porch with a whiskey in our hand (which occasionally makes its way to our mouth), while watching for moose and listening for the Great Horned Owl that has occupied the land for many years. This year, our efforts were disappointing. Even depressing as the owl's silence led us to think that perhaps he was gone--for one reason or another.

However, as this rare game camera shot shows, the owl is still around. And, hunting in our meadow. 

I walked out on the porch for some reason and spooked the owl who was sitting in the meadow near the salt lick. I suspect he had a mouse, vole, or chipmunk cornered. He took off and flew north toward the woods, and luckily triggered the game camera pointing at the meadow. I know it is not much of a photo, and I've enlarged it some, but it does prove that he is still around. And, we hope, will soon grace us with his hoo-hoo-hoo-hoo.....hoo-hoo message.

Sunday, May 24, 2020

Wildflowers Galore

Posted by: Rick

Since it is a cold and snowy day (as predicted in my last post), it is a good day to catch up on our wildflower posts. The purpose is to not only show the great diversity of wild flowers, but do chronicle when we see them for future reference.

First, however, here is the scene out the window as I write this post:

With this weather, the satellite Internet connection is pretty unreliable, so it may take a while to complete this post. Bear with me.

Okay, here we go with the recent wildflowers. Now, keep in mind that wildflower identification is an art, not a science. Well, to botanists I guess it is a science. But, for a couple of amateurs with a few apps and a stack of books, it is an art. Many of the flowers look alike and are only distinguished by their size, leaves, habitat, season, etc. And, most have many variations. All have multiple common names. So, this is our best stab at these, feel free to comment. Also, I am not a very good photographer with my phone. Lynne does much better with her camera and she tends to remember to get a couple of shots from different angles and include the leaves and stems, etc.

This one is pretty easy. It is Arnica. It grows prolifically in the forest around here. It seems a bit early to be seeing it, but there were only a few.

This is also pretty easy. It is a Ball Cactus (it has other common names).

This one is a bit trickier. Sure is pretty. We are pretty sure it is some kind of False Dandelion. There are no leaves along the stem, only at the bottom. May also be known as a Cat's Ear of some kind.

This one has us scratching our heads some. We are pretty sure it is Lambstongue Groundsell. We have obviously struggled with this in the past also since there is a dried version from years ago on the Lambstongue Groundsell page of one of our books!

We think this is a Lanceleaf, also called an Alpine Spring Beauty, although there are other types of Spring Beauty.

Another pretty easy one: Larkspur.

Loco. (Don't let your horses eat this.)

Oregon Grape Berry

Slender Fringecup.

This is a patch of Wild Strawberries near the cabin. These plants will produce tiny strawberries that pack a huge flavor. Unfortunately, we hardly ever get to harvest them since the local critters love them too!

And, finally for today, a beautiful Yellow Violet.

A note of comments left on the blog site. While the commenting seems to work, notifications don't. So, you won't get notified if someone else also comments, etc. The software platform that runs this blog is now very, very old and frankly, I'm a bit surprised it still works at all...

Tuesday, May 19, 2020

Quick Update to Yesterday’s Post

Posted by: Rick

Glenn L gets the "win" for identifying one of the wildflowers from yesterday's post. We believe he is right in thinking the daisy-like flower is a Hooker's Townsend Daisy, aka Townsendia Hookeri. It is a member of the aster family, so at least I got that right.

There was more struggle with the yellow flower, but Lynne finally recalled it is Golden Smoke or Corydalis Aurea. The photo on the linked website is not great, but be careful if you decide to Google "Golden Smoke". You will end up with a lot of smoke shops in Colorado! Try adding "wildflower" to the search.

We had a nice long walk "around" this morning, after a breakfast of eggs, bacon and pancakes. The dog's should sleep well all day.

Monday, May 18, 2020

Just Another Pandemic Monday

Posted by: Rick

We have been exercising our "extreme social distancing" at the cabin for a few days now. Spring is definitely starting to spring. The birds are getting more plentiful and there is more variety. The aspen trees are just starting to leaf out--we can see the difference each day. Bart's Creek is running pretty good from the snow melt. We still can't drive down Hidden Meadows Lane, but there has been significant melting. I think one could probably drive it in another couple of weeks.

One thing we are seeing is the wildlife. I gathered the memory cards from the three game cameras closest to the cabin. And, while there were some image of a moose and some elk, there has not been much activity. We sit on the porch at sunset each evening listing for the Great Horned Owl, but no hoots heard yet. I'll go gather the memory cards from the three other cameras later today, and post photos of anything really interesting. We have heard some loud crashing noises in the bottom of the valley a couple of times and assume it is a moose or maybe an elk crashing around as they walk along the creek.

Some chores are getting done, too. I've cleaned up the "shop" side of the barn, even vacuuming the floor! The porch swing and also the swing in the yard have had their wood treated. Bird houses have been repaired and moved as necessary.

After we returned from the cabin a few weeks ago, we groomed the dogs. They were so clean and fluffy and smelled so good. They are now a little dirty again. At least Destin has not rubbed in anything foul yet, so they smell okay. They sure love it here--especially when they find a remaining snow bank on our walks.

We take a long walk almost every day, weather and wind permitting. And, we are keeping track of the wildflowers we find on our property. So, here is the latest installment:

We are not really sure what this is. It grows in the disturbed areas of decomposed granite and is very prolific. It looks like something in the pea family. We will continue to work on identification, but if you know what it is, let us know, please!

Of course, this is the common dandelion--a really very pretty flower. Destin's nickname is Dandelion Boy because his identifying ribbon color as a puppy was Dandelion Yellow.

This is some kind of daisy or aster. There are so many varieties that I've not tried to ID it yet.

Finally, a flower genericly called a Snowball. It is the Western Saxifrage variety (there are 6 different varieties). You can tell because of the red stem

Some of the barrel cacti in the area are just strarting to bloom, so we'll get photos of those later.

We think we have a ghost. The other day, one of the rain barrels was knocked over. It has some water in it and so was quite heavy. There had been no big wind. But, there it was on its side spilling water. Then, this morning we heard a weird noise. It was pretty loud and, to me, sounded just like when an avalanche of snow slides off the metal roof. But, there is no snow. We ran outside and inspected the entire outside of the cabin and the grounds around it, but saw nothing that might cause the sound. We've also looked around everywhere inside for something that fell or slid from its normal place, but nothing is obvious. Very, very weird.

Okay, time for my COVID-19 rant of the week. Things are starting to open up some. There have been some businesses that have taken advantage of the minimal loosening of stay-at-home orders, as well as taking advantage of people's frustration with being shut in, and have opened their doors to customers without requiring masks, social distancing or limiting the number of people in the business.

We hear a lot about "rights" from the people to who take advantage of this. And, I get it. We do have rights, but they are not unlimited. And, when an action can harm someone or, even more importantly, lead to the harm of another, our rights have always been restricted. Speed limits on highways, for example. Still, I get it, people are frustrated and want things to go back to normal. They say "it is my life, if I want to take the risk of exposure and get sick, it is my decision." And, they use that logic to justify not wearing masks or observing social distancing. But, what they don't seem to understand is that those practices are not really in place to keep them from getting sick. They are in place to keep them from making others sick. So, I see it as a blatant disregard for other people's lives, especially those in the vulnerabe population. It is selfish behavior. Thinking only of oneself and not of others.

People who do expose themselves by flaunting the orders and recommendations related to masks and social distancing, could get infected and, if so, will likely be symptom free for at least 5 days, maybe longer, and they may even go forward symptom free. But, that is no justification for their behavior since they can then easily infect another person once they become contagious. So, it is not about our rights to make ourselves sick if we choose to do so, it is about how wrong it is to make others sick, maybe deadly so. Downright selfish.

Rant over.

By the way, I've turned commenting back on for this blog site. So, feel free to comment if you choose.

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    Posted to: ‘I've Been Lazy’ by Steve on 06/29/2020

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