Re-posted from Danelle’s Science Blog. I’ve added some extra photos at the bottom.
Since my research is on winter use of road salt, much of my field work has been completed in the winter. I’ve spent days climbing down storm drains to learn about municipal salt use. This year, the Wednesday before Thanksgiving, I spent the day in the field with Cathleen Yung (an undergraduate student who has been helping me in the lab) and my helpful husband Hogan. We visited Sugar Creek in order to hunt for a large number of a single species of flathead mayfly for a toxicity study that I would be conducting over the following two weeks.
Cathleen transfers mayflies into a clean container while I look for more mayflies under the rocks. Photo by Hogan Haake.
Normally, I wouldn’t consider field work before Thanksgiving to be winter field work, but when we arrived at the site, the water temperature was only 3 degrees C and there were small patches of ice along some of the stream banks. We proceeded to spend about 7 hours in the chill water (with waders on), picking up many small rocks (and several not-so-small rocks) with our bare hands in order to look for our mayfly friends. While slow and tedious, this hand collecting method is the most effective for gathering wild specimens without causing injuries to the delicate critters – as long as you can still feel your fingers.
By the end of the day, we had collected over 450 mayflies. As someone who is working to preserve aquatic life, there is a part of me that regrets taking so many animals from the stream. Fortunately, I know that this stream is supporting a very large and healthy population of this species. Within the 120-meter segment of stream where we sampled, we left large patches of habitat undisturbed and did not take the smaller individuals. In addition, there were many other patches of prime habitat both upstream and downstream of the area where we collected. I share these bits of information because I want to make it clear that, as a responsible scientist, I consider the environmental costs and potential long-term effects of any collection efforts that I undertake.
Flat head mayflies are abundant in this stretch of stream.
Before I close out this post, I need to express my gratitude to my two amazing helpers. Hogan and Cathleen not only helped get the job done, they were cheerful and enthusiastic about it! I could not have asked for better help in less-than-comfortable conditions!
I was a site leader for the RdP Trash Bash again this year. This year, it was a little closer to home. Our site was Deer Creek in Webster groves where it goes under Brentwood Blvd. Sonora and I got there early to wait for Panera to deliver breakfast.
I’m not sure what Sonora was doing here, but I know that we were laughing and having a good time.
Preparing in the new shelter where we’ll set up base camp.
Webster Groves parks and rec department was sponsoring this specific cleanup location. There were several Webster Groves employees there to help. This also meant that they brought out the big toys to help. We had all sorts of tools and even had occasion to use the backhoe!
Most interesting of all of all for this cleanup is the man cave that we removed from under the bridge. Somebody had spent a lot of time. I was torn about cleaning it up. It looked cool and they didn’t seem to be bothering anybody, but all of that stuff would eventually go down the river as trash in the next flood.
And if you didn’t catch it in the last image, that is a current publication of Cowboys & Indians magazine. Strange!
Danelle spends a lot of time volunteering with the Missouri Stream Team. She started with them in college doing water quality monitoring. Now she helps with a variety of things, including planning and attending river clean-ups, doing water monitoring with River des Peres Watershed Coalition during Bike With Your Boots On, and being on the board of Stream Teams United. She recently became one of the first START mentors – a group of trained monitors who help newly trained monitors gain confidence and experience. As a ‘thank you’ for signing up, the Stream Team organized a special guided hike of the LaBarque Creek Conservation Area with Mike Leahy, Natural Areas Coordinator with MDC.
A tiny snake met us as we started up the path into the conservation area. While it looks big in the photo, its head was less than a half inch wide.
Spring flowers were just coming out, including these Dutchmen’s breeches.
Mike described the unique sandstone geology of the area and how that made it different from most other nearby streams which are in limestone geology.
There are many interesting rock formations in the conservation area, including places like this where the stream flows through a hole in a large rock down into a cavernous grotto.
Our new mentor team enjoyed wearing the bright yellow vests to keep track of each other.
More new spring flowers, this time rue anemone (above) and yellow bellwort (below).
Karen took the opportunity at a brief rest stop to tell us a bit about her knowledge of the region.
Spring wildflowers weren’t the only new growth. These fiddle-heads would soon become fern fronds.
We all enjoyed the opportunity to have an inside look at one of the newest and most unique conservation areas in the St. Louis region.