A Stream Story

The weekends are technically off for the Photography 101 course I’m taking, but they make suggestions for ways to practice for those who are feeling gung-ho.  This weekend they suggested creating a series of photos that captured an entire scene.  It had been a while since I had been to the stream at work to look for insects, so I decided my series would include the stream…

Stream

Stream

… and the things I was able to find in it.  I’ve wanted to get photos of the insects in the stream for a while now anyway for a little field guide I’m working on for an educational program I do with high schoolers.  I did catch one fish and one crayfish that I put back, so this isn’t a complete series.  However, I was really worried either might try to eat this:

Stonefly

Stonefly

A stonefly!  In the oft-flooding, strange stream I wrote about for my “Mystery” post.  I was so excited to find this that I was jumping up and down and shouting.  Happily it was rainy and cool and there was no one anywhere near me to see me make a fool of myself, but I was excited.  I believe my level of enthusiasm for stoneflies is a holdover from the stream insect work I did in Arizona.  Stoneflies require really clean, flowing, cold water, and you only got two out of the three at best in a lot of the streams I worked on in the desert.  Stoneflies were always this amazing thing to find, something absolutely worth getting excited about, because you just didn’t see them often. They’re far more common in North Carolina, but I rarely find them in this stream, so I still feel my reaction was justified.  :)

Because it had just rained a fair bit and the water was muddy, suggesting at least some minor flooding had occurred, I wasn’t sure I was going to find anything in the stream. I was thrilled to find what I went to look for in the first place on my first dip:

Broad-winged damselfly nymph

Broad-winged damselfly nymph

That’s a broad-winged damselfly, an ebony jewelwing.  They like to lurk in the exposed root masses at the base of trees in the deeper areas of this stream.  I tend to overtop my boots a lot going after them, but they are totally worth it every time.  As you can see in the photo, broad-winged damselfly nymphs have a very long first antennal segment, about as long as all the other segments of the antennae combined, which makes them sort of alien looking.  They also have this sort of jerky movement.  I love them!

These little rock clumps I found on the underside of a larger rock contain insects:

Caddisfly pupal cases

Caddisfly pupal cases

There are pupae of caddisflies developing inside those.  Caddisflies are far and away the most common insects I find in this stretch of the stream, so I was not surprised to find these.  I did not, however, find any larvae, just the pupae.  Guess I’ll have to make another trip down there sometime later in the year for those.  Oh darn…

And last, just because I couldn’t resist, a vertebrate:

Salamander

Salamander

North Carolina is a hotspot for salamanders, so it’s always fun to find these.  (This is another holdover from Arizona – I saw one total salamander there in 20 years, despite working in many salamander-friendly habitats!)  I managed to get a good 20 of these little guys in my net today, and all of them were juveniles that still had their gills.  You can see the gills just above the leg.  These salamanders are awfully cute little buggers! I’ll take a few more photos of this little guy in the morning and then back into the stream he’ll go, along with his temporary stonefly and damselfly roommates.

If I had to work on a Sunday, today was a great day to do it!  It was cool and rainy, not to mention Easter, so I had the entire field station to myself all day.  And even though it had rained and the stream was a little higher and a little muddier than usual, I still managed to get a few things I need photos of for my guide.  Mucking about in a stream on a cloudy day – not a bad way to spend a day!

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Unless otherwise stated, all text, images, and video are copyright © C. L. Goforth.

Prairie Ridge Ecostation’s Aquatic Habitats

You all know that I am in love with water.  That’s one thing my new home state of North Carolina has in abundance!  There’s water in the air, water falling from the sky on a fairly regular basis (though I’m told it’s been a particularly rainy summer so far), and there are aquatic habitats practically everywhere I turn.  I used to have to drive several miles in Tucson to get to the closest water, a city park with couple of tiny ponds filled with reclaimed water, but now I’ve got 4 sizable “ponds” mere blocks from where I live and the Neuse River is less than a 1/4 mile away.  The idea of getting a boat has crept into my mind more than once and the thought isn’t completely laughable anymore.  I could actually carry a lightweight craft to the nearest body of water!  I absolutely love it.

The nature center where I’m working also has water.  Let me take you on a brief tour of the aquatic habitats.  I mentioned the little water garden in the demonstration garden last week:

Water Garden

Water garden

It’s small, but I still enjoy poking around in there to see what I can find.  I’ve always loved water lilies, and the carnivorous bladderworts fascinate me:

bladderwort

Bladderwort

I hope I can see one trap an insect sometime!  There is also a little bog garden in the demonstration garden that is filled with plants capable of surviving in saturated soils for at least some length of time.  But these two aquatic areas are nothing compared to the other aquatic habitats at the ecostation.  This is the pond:

Prairie Ridge pond

Prairie Ridge pond, in the rain

It’s not entirely natural and has a man-made earthen dam at the lower end, but it is fed by rainwater coming off the prairie.  I think it’s beautiful!  There aren’t any fish in the pond (yet at least), so the top predators in the pond are snakes and aquatic insects.  The pond is also where you find the biggest diversity of dragonflies on the Prairie Ridge grounds.  There are a lot of dragonflies there, including the comet darners:

comet darner female

Comet darner female

This individual was caught by a mist net that was set up to trap birds so that they could be banded and released.  Comet darners are widespread in the eastern US but aren’t especially common in any given place.  I feel fortunate to have seen both males and this stunning female at a pond that is so close that I can visit it on a quick break from work.  I find myself down there often!

This is also on the grounds:

Prairie Ridge stream

Prairie Ridge stream

This stream is absolutely beautiful and winds its way through the wooded area of the property.  The water is clear and I’m told that the quality is quite high. However, there is an Army National Guard base across the street and all the water from the extensive parking lots there flows into this stream.  The result is it floods quite frequently and there is a lot of visible erosion:

Prairie Ridge stream

Prairie Ridge stream showing erosion of the banks

I got to see a bit of flooding firsthand last week.  I visited the stream briefly to take the photos above and then revisited the same spot three hours later to help another entomologist set up some light traps for moths.  It had started raining in the interim and the change in flow in the stream was quite impressive! All that flooding unfortunately means there aren’t all that many aquatic insects in the stream, but I’m still looking forward to poking around in the water to see what I can find.  Might actually be a fun place to determine how flooding impacts aquatic insect recolonization in a humid region.  The moth traps turned up quite a variety of predaceous diving beetles, creeping water beetles, and other aquatic insects, so there’s got to be at least some good stuff in there!

Overall, I feel very lucky to be working in such a beautiful place.  My new coworkers have seen dragonfly swarms over the prairie, and I’m living less than 2 hours from one very heavily traveled route on the migratory route for green darners, so it’s a good place for my dragonfly research.  I can pop down to the pond in minutes and check up on what’s there easily, including the giant water bugs.  The stream is absolutely gorgeous and there are bugs simply everywhere.  Honestly, I couldn’t have picked a better place to work.  I hope you all enjoy hearing about my adventures there!

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Unless otherwise stated, all text, images, and video are copyright © TheDragonflyWoman.com