Tuesday, July 15, 2008

Finding fish

June 8th

The hot days of summer make herping and birding in the midafternoon sun just unappealing. On one of the 95+ F days that made Ithaca a furnace in the early summer, I convinced Shawn to join me on a snorkeling venture to find some cool fish in this lovely little hidden swimming hole near downtown.

We spent the morning at the Farmer's Market, and by the time we left there, it was already sweltering. Trudging across downtown yielded one fantastic sighting - in an abandoned field we were cutting across, a family of four Short-tailed Weasels (Mustela erminea) ran across the path. It was so sudden it almost didn't register, but I was quite excited. I really like weasels, and I had only last winter seen my first, a Mink while birding for winter finches. This was a life mammal in downtown Ithaca! I just wish I could've gotten my camera on the lovely critters so I could share them here.

After a break in the air-conditioned Wegmans for some water, we completed our trek across town to the hidden swimming hole. By now thunderstorms were building up and passing around, but we had to get in and cool off before one came our way:

Swimming in the cool water was an amazing relief. I saw a bunch of fish down there, but I couldn't ID them. Take a close look at the photo above and you'll see my glasses crammed inside the mask - an ineffecient system at best. I failed to capture anything from the small schools of mid-sized cyprinids and what looked like young trout, but I did see a Northern Hog Sucker (Hypentelium nigricans) which I could identify without catching.

Before long our luck ran out and a thunderstorm began bearing down on us, so we packed up the snorkeling gear and got out of there (not before a ten minute search in the grass for my wallet that was in my pack the whole time).

Take a look at this creek. Totally hidden from the surrounding downtown, cold, clean (looking) water, no people at all except a few kayakers passing by. I need to go back.

After waiting around in a McDonald's for the T-storm to pass (and attracting the usual looks bedraggled wet dirty backpackers get) we decided to go herping at the nearby Buttermilk State Park for an hour or so until we could meet Eric. He wanted to go check a spot south of town for an introduced population of Redbelly Turtle that we thought might be there.

On the way over to Buttermilk, we stopped in a creek to net a few minnows, just to identify something. Shawn watched the behaviors of the crayfish in the creek (the densest I've ever seen) while I ran around and tried to net something. I came up with some Blacknose Dace (Rhinichthys atratulus):

I also came up with this cyprinid whom I have not identified yet:

By now the sun was back out in force and it was HOT. We tried herping the cool forested slope for some salamanders and whatnot, but effort was not warranted in the heat. Instead we chased a few butterflies in the field on the way to our rendezvous with Eric and just rested lazily in the shade. I don't have any field guides for these handy, so your help would be appreciated for the ones I don't know:

Ebony Jewelwing (Calopteryx maculata)

White Admiral (Limenitis arthemis)

Spicebush Swallowtail (Papilio troilus)

Skipper sp.

One very cool find on our sweltering trudge was a caterpillar being carried by a swarm of ants. It doesn't take all that many of them to keep that thing cruising through the grass:

Eric rescued us from sweating on the roadside, and we pursued to chase more distant herps. Our turtle venture was a failure - the water bodies we had hoped to access were actually all privately owned rather than public, and we had no easy view of the water to scan for basking turtles. Eric did manage to get peed on by a Painted Turtle found on the roadside. We decided instead to try for a local spot for Black Rat Snakes, and failed on those too. I'm betting a 95+ day is no happy time for them, either. We did find a beautiful Grey Treefrog (Hyla versicolor) that was not living up to its name. I like it when they're this shade:

In an Agalychnis pose:

June 29th

Several weeks later, the desire to get back in the water finally was realized. I joined Amanda and Tom for a day of seining the local creeks, trying to turn up any cool fish we could. It was pretty slow, with most spots yielding dace (Rhinichthys spp.) and not much else. Here are a few of the non-cyprinid finds:

Young ictalurid catfish, unknown whether a bullhead or madtom

Young Micropterus bass

Fantail Darter (Etheostoma flabellare)

Young suckers

A mixed haul of Blacknose Dace, Rhinichthys atratulus and Longnose Dace, R. cataractae
I really wish I had gotten a better picture of the super-bright cataractae in the bottom right:

The highlight of the effort was a lifer fish: the Cutlips Minnow (Exoglossum maxillingua). I probably wouldn't have picked it out without ichthyologist Tom's help, as it is easy to pass as a dull Rhinichthys:

Tom took him out briefly to demonstrate the namesake cut lips. The identifying trait of this species is the lower lip being divided into three lobes. Wikipedia says they use this modification for feeding on mini shellfish, Tom says they also like to eat other fishes' eyes. Think about that next time you go for a swim, and be glad they don't get all that big...


  1. ooh, your damsel is an Ebony Jewelwing =)

  2. Ah, that's it! I first found this species last year but I just couldn't remember the name. Thanks!

  3. That video of the ants carrying the catipiller is great!

  4. Thanks! It was a pretty cool sight to see.