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NFC: nolichucky trip - good & bad results

Howdy folks,

I got back last night, too bushed to summarize the trip.  In short, I
didn't come back with anything I went there looking for.  But I did come
back with something unexpected and very welcome.

When we arrived at the campgrounds just outside of Erwin, TN on Friday,
the weather was beautiful.  There was a spring-fed babbling brook
winding through the camping area and dumping directly into the
Nolichucky.  There was also a spring-fed pond about 20 yards or so from
the river, but totally landlocked.  The water was clear and rich with
vegetation.  I could find no evidence of small fishes but that is no
surprise considering there is no way for fish to get in or out other
than by introduction.  Notice I qualified the assessment with the word
"small" as in "small fishes".  There was one big trout in there all by
himself, no doubt snacking on any creature that dared to enter his
little pond.

Since I was officially there as a chaperone for a church trip, and had
to keep an eye on the kids, I couldn't get out and find much in the way
of creeks other than the one that went through our campsite.  So I got a
couple of the kids to start upstream of me, while I firmly placed the
dipnet in a narrow section of the stream, and they danced down the creek
kicking over rocks and such and sending them on down to the dipnet. 
Unfortunately this didn't turn up a single darter.  We ended up with one
crayfish, and some sort of shiner which I haven't yet had the chance to
ID.  Unfortunately most of the shiners died when a well meaning child
put some flakes of doritos in the bucket trying to feed the fish.

Before it got dark, some of the kids came running down to me excited
telling me they "found a pond chock full of lizards".  I figured it must
be some kind of newt they were talking about, and eagerly grabbed my
bucket and dipnet and followed them to this pond.  The pond was another
landlocked body of water, fed entirely by cold springs bubbling up from
underneath.  No fish population was evident, which made for a very very
safe place for a thriving amphibian population.  Sure enough, there were
newts all over the place that would stay still until just before you
came up on them, at which point they would dive down into the weeds.  I
dragged the dipnet through the weeds and I don't think I could have had
a fuller net if all of these critters were confined to a barrel.  I
immediately recognized the newt as the Eastern Newt (aka Red Spotted
Newt), Notophthalmus viridescens.  I've had a dozen of these collected
in upstate PA for several years in a small terrarium in my kitchen, and
my wife and I both feel that this is one of the best newt species to
keep as a pet.

Each scoop of the net would turn up fistfulls of adult newts, and
picking through the weeds would reveal even more juveniles complete with
gills.  I only kept a few of the young, preferring to allow them to grow
and breed themselves so this tiny treasure of a pond can keep this
thriving population of eastern newts relatively undisturbed.  After one
or two tries of my own I handed the net off to the kids, which I must
say were surprisingly good about sharing and quite excited to see that
they too could easily catch these animals with the right equipment.  We
had a little pondside chat about the life cycle of this species, and how
we weren't getting a chance to see the beautiful red eft stage.  Most of
the animals recovered were returned to the pond, but I did bring back a
number of adults both for my own interests and to trade.  I also brought
back a few tadpoles and a very very small number of the unidentified
shiner did make it back alive (though they are too small to display the
adult colors, and unfortunately all the adults perished when doritos
were introduced to them by well-meaning kids as food).

We also found a LOT of baby copperhead snakes, in the creek, and luckily
no one was bitten because it seems when we were dancing on the rocks to
scare up fish we also scared up a number of the young venemous snakes
who were also interested in finding fish.

It became pretty apparent that night why the little creek didn't have
much in the way of life.  When it rained that night, the peaceful little
brook became a raging river.  Walking across the creek was unadvisable
and actually quite dangerous.  You could hear the forceful water pushing
large rocks downstream.  A foot bridge further up stream got washed out
from the high water levels.  If this happens every time it rains, I
would imagine it would be difficult for fish to become well established
in this stream.   This is just a guess, of course.

We drove past many promising looking streams on the way up and had I not
been a chaperone to the younger folks I would have disappeared in my
truck, and hopefully had a bit more to report.  I could definitely see
returning to this place to rendezvous with other native fish enthusiasts
to explore these other streams in the future.

Saturday night, when I was bagging up the catch in preparation for the
long drive home in the morning, I got quite a large audience asking many
good questions about the newts.  One of the other chaperones, the
preacher's wife in fact, is also a school teacher.  I talked to her a
little about Adopt-A-Tank and I think I sparked some interest,
especially when she saw how much interest the children of all ages had
in the creatures I had in that bucket.  Another chaperone told me he has
a creek running through his back yard, in which there are "tons of
minnows swimming around".  He asked if I'd be willing to come out to his
house sometime and catch fish, and have his children there as well so
they can learn about the creatures in their backyard.  The stream in his
yard drains into the Flat River, which in turn drains into the Tar
River.  We're going to hook up at some point soon to collect some fish
at his place.

So while I didn't come back with a nice cache of darters or dace like I
set out to do, I did come home with those newts I so treasure.  And more
importantly perhaps, I helped to increase awareness with our next
generation of leaders, teachers, scientists, and voters.  For many it
was the first time touching a crayfish, or seeing tadpoles in different
stages of development, or to learn that newts were not reptiles related
to lizards but were in fact much closer kin to frogs.  None of them had
even heard of darters so getting to talk about that a bit was also a
good experience for them.  While this was totally spontaneous and I
didn't have all the answers to all their questions, I think it made a
difference.  One of the teenagers (a more popular one with the other
kids, who has a lot of people wanting to go wherever he goes and do
whatever he does) wants to go collecting with me on the Eno River and
bring some friends along.  This is a very good thing IMO and only good
things can come of it.

So if anyone else here is involved with a church, YMCA, PTA, whatever,
by all means bring your equipment with you on trips where you know there
are going to be kids around.  I wasn't expecting this outcome at all but
I'm so thankful that it turned out this way even if I didn't get my
precious fishes that I was looking for. :-)


"Opportunity is missed by most people because it is dressed in overalls
and looks like work." --Edison 
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