Sunday, September 30, 2007

A Day at the Shack

Saturday, I returned to Shackleton Point, this time as a TA for my Field Biology class's field trip. Shackleton Point, "The Shack", or more formally, Cornell Biological Field Station, is a research station operated by my Natural Resources department on Oneida Lake, a large shallow lake near Syracuse. I spent my summer after freshman year as an intern there, doing my first real fieldwork on nesting colonies of gulls and terns. Since that summer, I've jumped at every chance to return to the station. I had returned as a student in Field Biology to learn about fishes and aquatic research, now I had come back as TA of the same class.

One big moral of this story is - never forget your camera. The biggest thing I wanted to post about was all the cool fish we saw, but I had no photos. No pictures of my students bumbling happily around in oversized waders, no pictures of the cool Pumpkinseed with a healed-over bite taken out of its back. I think I will throw in a link to some pictures from my previous experiences at the Shack just for old times' sake.

The class split into three groups. My group got to do fishes first. We went out on the lake in the Trawler and, well, trawled. We netted a huge mess of hatch year Yellow Perch, dumping them into a big bucket. There were so many you could just scoop up handfuls and not make a dent in the mass of fish. What to do about it? Make the students count them! Our group had just over 1500 ~70mm Yellow Perch with no other species at all. Another group later in the day exceeded our count, with over 1900 Perch.

The students next donned the aforementioned waders, and tried seining the inshore areas around the harbor. We got a lot more diversity from the seines, catching and studying in tanks:

Yellow Perch
Banded Killifish
Brown Bullhead
Sunfish sp. (hatch-year unidentifiables)
Bluntnose Minnow
Tessellated Darter
Logperch (a big Darter)

Rusty Crayfish

I love Darters - catching two species and not having my camera was frustrating.

The last bit of fish catching involved electroshocking. This process involves shocking the water, temporarily stunning fish so they float to the surface and can be caught. We got to see big, living examples of:

Freshwater Drum
Smallmouth Bass
Rock Bass
Brown Bullhead
White Sucker
Yellow Perch (if it isn't been obvious by now, Yellow Perch is the most abundant fish in the lake)

And one final added bonus, were the two long-term captive Longnose Gars in the office fishtank:

The rest of the day consisted of a floodplain forest walk with Charlie Smith (our class professor) and tours of the lab areas. We noticed a fair number of birds on the walk, including some moving raptors. A front had just passed through the day before and hawks were moving south on the winds. We saw Bald Eagle, both Sharp-shinned and Coopers, Turkey Vultures, and Red-tails. We also got lucky with game birds, encountering a Turkey flock with mostly-grown young and running across some Pheasant.

The coolest bird encounter was one that made me wish (again) that I had my camera. We ran into a small flock of migrants - Ruby-crowned Kinglets, Black-throated Green Warblers, a probable Black-throated Blue Warbler, and Chickadees. What made it special was having all but the BTB coming in and bathing in a pool at very close range, allowing fantastic views. Having them in close allowed all of the students see these delightful birds, too.

It was a very satisfying trip overall. The students learned a lot (or at least I hope so!), and I know they had fun. The trip had some level of finality for me too. I have returned several times as a student to the station, and this is probably my last in the foreseeable future. The director is planning his retirement, my grad student advisor is (finally!) graduating, and the cycle of two and a half years have replaced many of the grad students and techs at the place since I first arrived. If I do not return for a long time - so long, Shack, it's been good.

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