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NFC: Recent collections

Well, I'm tired, very sore, but overall quite pleased.  I set out today 
in search of a P. welaka site which Jan Hoover and Dave Neely clued 
me into.  According to the information I have, over 1100 individuals 
were collected from this site over the course of a life study of the 
fish.  I wasn't sure of the exact location, but I had a general idea of 
where to look.  Best of all, the area is only 1.25 hours from where I 
live in Pelahatchie, MS.  I passed several promising streams along 
Hwy. 13 until I arrived at my target area, Hwy 587 north of 
Columbia.  Along this highway there are several tributaries to the 
Pearl River.  My first stop was a clear, gravel-bottomed stream 
which had good access from the road.  This was one of those 
beautiful creeks which is teeming with fish, which are visible over 
the gravel.  It was obviously not, however, welaka habitat.  I 
netted one Hypenteloim nigricans and passed up several more.  I 
also found Cyprinella venustus (ho-hum, this minnow is very 
common throughout the Pearl drainage).  Just as I was wrapping up 
my field notes, a youngster drove down to the streamside.  He was 
probably 13 or 14, but it is not uncommon for kids his age to drive in 
such remote areas.  Anyway, he gives me the customary greeting in 
Mississippi: "Watch out for water moccasins.  I killed one just the 
other day".  Now, water moccasins, like Chopper (the junkyard dog 
in Steven King's "The Body") are the most feared and least seen 
animal in the state.  "Yada yada", I'm thinking.  But this kid went 
one better, and showed me two recent fang punctures on his leg!  
So, when I went to my next site I was a little more cautious, 
especially since this stream was densely vegetated.  It was in fact 
prime welaka habitat, and I almost missed it from the road because 
the eel grass was so thick.  Alas, I found no bluenoses there, but 
did get a dozen or so P. signipinnis; this despite my bucket turning 
over at one point:-(  Fortunately I was able to recapture most of 
the obliging flagfins, which remained near that spot.  This stream 
also turned out to be madtom heaven, as I netted 7 speckled 
madtoms, which is a record for me (yes Andy, I've got you 
covered!).  In addition I captured several small salamanders (sorry 
Jeff, I don't know what they are).  

The next spot was very unproductive except for a couple of sunfish 
which I haven't ID'd yet (one had a very conspicuous red eye).  It 
was another clear, gravel-bottomed stream.  After failing to capture 
anything on one side of the road, I moved to the other where I 
netted the centrarchids.  A little further downstream I was startled 
to see a brown form slither into the water not 6 feet from me.  I 
clearly espied the snake's brown patterned body and large triangular 
head at the bottom of the pellucid creek.  This was my first 
encounter with the real article, a small moccasin of about 2 feet in 
length.  But despite several attempts to capture it with my dipnet, 
the snake made good his 'scape in the woody debris near the 
water's edge.

After another similar site, I passed a swampy looking area and 
decided to sample one more site for the day.  This was a grassy 
stream like before, and I netted many more signipinnis there.  But on 
the other side of the concrete culvert which ran under the road, the 
vegetation suddenly gave way to a cypress swamp.  Surely, I 
thought, the welaka will be here, just at the margin of the eel grass. 
 But it was not to be.  I did get an Elassoma zonatum and some 
Fundulus notti, and the ever-present F. olivaceous.

So, altogether a successful trip.  Even if I did not find the object of 
my quest, I did find two new (to me) signipinnis sites, plus a good 
madtom spot.  



"Cry to it, nuncle. as the cockney did to the eels when she put 
'em i' the paste alive; she knapped 'em o' the coxcombs with a
stick, and cried 'Down wantons, down!'"