Travel, yellowstone national park

Yellowstone: June 26th, 2013


Lewis Lake has been my favorite catchment thus far. The view alone makes it a 5 star catchment. The trail is beautifully groomed making it easy to hike and takes you through all different types of terrains, from riverside to forested to open meadow to beach. The views of Lewis Lake from the trail were breathtaking. It looks like you’re in Alaska with an enormous white-capped sea of a lake in front of you, with towering snow-covered mountains in the background. Ugh! It’s so freakin gorgeous! There are some beachy areas along the way where you can just relax and take in the view. We decided to survey the closest wetlands today and save the furthest away for tomorrow. It was an hour hike to our forested wetlands. The first one we surveyed was an “accident” or I like to think of it as a warm-up.  Andrew, who had the GPS at the time, thought that it was our first sight so we took the half-hour to survey it. We found tons of chorus frog metamorphs jumping along the wetland edge–which I guess is unheard of this early on in the year because the snow just melted in that location. Plus we found lots of chorus frog tadpoles in various stages of maturity and spotted frog tadpoles. When we finished and walked towards our next site, Andrew realized that we had surveyed the entirely wrong site. The one we had just surveyed was just outside the catchment boundary and the real Site 1 was in fact 60 meters away, safely within the catchment boundary. So we like to loving refer to that wetland as our warm-up. The real Site 1 was almost the size of a lake and took us each almost an hour to survey. Ironically, the real site didn’t come even close to having the abundance of tadpoles that our fake one had. To make matters worse, there were so many downed trees along the edge that it was like constantly doing hurdles. Going up and over, dipping your net, going up and over, dipping your net…this went on for an hour. Since my waders were still wet from the day before, I didn’t even bother taking them. Luckily, when I fell on my ass in the wetlands, of course,  I didn’t have waders to worry about. The rest of the catchment was easy and the one-hour walk back to the car was sooooooo nice.

When we arrived back at the dorm, the Germans had cooked us a vegetable & cheese casserole (one meat version and one veggie for me) in celebration of their last night in Yellowstone. They’re headed back to Germany to process their site samples and begin the tedious work of data analysis and writing it all up. All three of them are working on different projects and for different degrees. Their cooking was much appreciated, especially because it was downright delicious! Two home cooked meals in a row–things are looking up! I will say, the Germans certainly do love their sour cream. My system just doesn’t know what to do with that much dairy, but I devoured it all the same. To heck with the consequences, I was hungry! Most of us stayed up late, telling stories and making each other laugh. I will miss zee Germans. Such nice people. I’m lucky to have made their acquaintance.

Travel, yellowstone national park

Yellowstone: June 25th, 2013


Bison love Fishing Bridge.
This is cutthroat spawning habitat.
Fishing is no longer allowed off the bridge.
A view of the bay from the bridge.
Another beautiful view from the bridge.

The second day of the Tanager Lake catchment was not quite from hell but it sure wasn’t a good time either. It was filled with several nightmare worthy wet meadows, which are my absolute least favorite wetland to survey. I have perfected a technique to deal with wet meadows as swiftly as possible so you can get out of there fast and forget you ever had to contend with one. I like to call it the rowing method or the walking net scoop. You walk a few steps, row or net scoop and look at what you’ve caught as you simultaneous walk a few more steps and prep yourself for another scoop. This is all one continuous movement that gets you the heck out of there fast. I’ve also invented the BAZZ method or the Big Ass Zig-Zag. Technically, we’re supposed to survey the perimeter of a wetland and perhaps do a transect if it isn’t too deep. Since many wet meadows don’t have really defined perimeters, I just do one big ass zig-zag across the entire meadow and call it a day. That way I’m surveying  a  portion of the perimeter while simultaneously surveying many various water depths and little kettle holes that are hidden throughout the meadow. I , of course, managed to fill my waders very early on in the day. All was fine and dandy until I found the one hole in the meadow that led to the center of the earth. One moment I was on solid ground and the next I was up to my waist in muck. I made it out before Andrew had to throw me a rope and pull me out (I think he kinda wants that to happen so he can use the rope). So I did the rest of the wetland surveys in my sneakers, which I actually prefer. Wet sneakers weigh far less than wet waders and my hips have been killing me from all the intense hiking, hurdling over dead trees, and constant lifting of mucky waders. And the idea of sticking my feet and legs into mucky wetland soils where a ferocious damsel fly larvae could nip my leg off at any second doesn’t bother me at all. Plus, I’m delighted to know that my two dollar, second-hand, North Face field pants dry in about two to five minutes depending on the temperature outside. That fabric is amazing! Never will I fear peeing my pants again…just kidding!

Andrew and I arrived back at the dorm and I immediately headed out to the Fishing Bridge general store to purchase some sweat pants and more delicious Bitch Creek beer. I finally broke down and bought some sweats because I had apparently packed for a trip to Florida or the tropics or somewhere hot. I brought very few pants and most were lightweight and gross from field work. No, I needed some thick, cozy sweats to keep me warm because I’ve been freezing since I got here and my wader-filling day just made things worse. So beer and pants it was. The beer situation has been great. I’m a huge fan of Grand Teton Brewing Company’s Bitch Creek beer and Yellowstone has been the only place I’ve been able to find it. In fact, the first thing I did when I arrived in Yellowstone was to park my car at the dorm, walk to the Fishing Bridge Store and purchase a 6-pack of Bitch Creek. When the cashier looked at my New York id, I told him that I came a long way for this beer and he was certainly impressed. I wasn’t lying either. That beer is a large reason I came back to Yellowstone for a second round. I happily trotted past the bison and tourists with Bitch Creek under my arm, all the way back to the dorm feeling finally complete again. I’m going to have to stockpile the stuff for my trip back home. However, Alex (one of the three German hydro geochemists) discovered a beer I like even better at the Canyon general store so I may have to re-prioritize my love for Bitch Creek.

After the pants-purchasing, I arrived back at the dorm to a homemade enchilada casserole made by Patsy, our mother/sociologist studying bear jams. Andrew doesn’t eat real food and we all jump at every chance to rag on him about it. His wife makes him eat better when he’s at home but his field diet consists of hot dogs, ramen noodles, cookies, doughnuts, chips, packaged cheese and crackers, soda, coffee, and his favorite, ginger beer.  I’m not sure what this casserole of real non-processed food did to his plumbing–and I don‘t really dare venture a guess–but I’m sure his body was perplexed with what to do with things like vitamins and minerals and such. The entire crew, sans the Wisconsinites who were still car camping north of Yellowstone, sat around the table and enjoyed Patsy’s delicious cooking and good company. I’ve been really hungry for hearty food lately but we’re hours away from the nearest restaurant (the norovirus is going around Yellowstone so I’m avoiding eating in the Park). It doesn’t help that my cooking is inedible and I’m living on PB&J’s. I’m ravenous but I have no appetite for anything that I have in the fridge so it’s kind of like slow torture.


A very early spring

It's an early spring breeding season for amphibians and reptiles. Here is a lovely American toad trying to find it's way to a nearby wetland where it can partake in some social networking.

I think the amphibians are just as confused as we are about the early spring we’re having. Two nights ago I spent a fair amount of time patting the butts of American toads trying to get them to move out of the way of oncoming traffic. It had been really warm outside that day and there was an impending rainstorm coming (which to them is an invitation to party) so they were out in full force that night. Unfortunately, as the sun went down it had gotten a little chilly so these little fellas were pretty slow going. Some didn’t make it, sadly. It’s hard to compete with the speed and size of a car, especially if you’re a cold toad.

This recent experience made me miss doing field biology work. I always enjoyed performing reptile and amphibian road surveys. Nothing beats that feeling of helping these wonderful creatures safely get to their destination so they can fulfill their biological and social needs. I strongly urge you to stop and help a fellow creature in need cross the road. Make sure to do it safely (my friends are laughing at this right now because the last time I stopped to help a snapping turtle cross the road I ended up putting my car in a ditch…don’t do that!). You will often get a little attitude from the creature–and perhaps peed on–but it’s all in good fun.

Before you go out and save the world. You should be aware that there is good form and bad form. Please practice good form.

Bad form:

No, people do not get warts from handling toads but their skin glands do secret an irritating substance (makes them less appealing for dinner) so just make sure to wash your hands after handling them. That goes for contact with any animal though.
  • Never, ever take an animal home with you–to keep as a pet–thinking that you are doing it a favor. You just uprooted that animal’s entire life. This thinking is disrespectful and shows a complete lack of empathy.
  • Don’t release the animal in a habitat where you think it will be “happier.” This thinking has contributed to the invasive species epidemic we are experiencing today. That animal could have a disease, parasite, or infection that you could be introducing to another ecosystem and thus spreading it. The animal could also out-compete the local inhabitants for natural resources such as food. Not to mention that the animal could eat up the entire ecosystem. I’ve seen that happen with introduced bullfrogs. They literally ate every amphibian, every rodent, every bug, every reptile, and every small fish that they could fit into their mouths until there was nothing left.
  • Don’t harass or over-handle the animal. Amphibians especially have very sensitive skin. Many don’t have lungs and breathe through their skin so just imagine someone putting their stinky, oily, heavily lotioned hands all over where you breathe. Not good.

Good form:

  • Be swift, gentle and safe.
  • Put the animal on the side of the road where it was heading. Don’t send them back to the start. That’s just down-right mean. They aren’t just aimlessly wandering. They have an exact location they are trying to get to. In this case, just accept the fact that the animal knows more than you do.
  • Put the animal a few feet away from the road so no one will swerve to purposely hit it. I absolutely loathe people that do this!
  • If the animal has been injured, call a local wildlife rehabber. Don’t try to nurse it back to health yourself.
  • Wish them a safe journey! It’s okay, no one’s around to watch you talk to the little guy (or gal).
How do you tell a lady toad from a dude toad? Easy. Females are usually bigger. Breeding males also have dark pads on their thumbs and inner fingers. These pads help them hold on to the larger ladies when they are breeding in the water, thus the term nuptial pads. Plus, males do a lot of calling for mates so their throat pouches are darker by comparison.
Toads pretty much inhabit every ecosystem, from mountains to backyards. Besides long hops on the beach, they enjoy shallow pools in which to breed, burrowing, and moist soil. Their death row meal would be a delicious assortment of insects and invertebrates (including those tasty hermaphroditic superfoods we call worms). Yum! I'm fairly certain they stole my last meal idea.