Friday, July 31, 2009

Me and My Shadow

Last week, a favorite (yes, we do have them) former student of mine called me with a request.
She had a college photojournalism assignment that involved "shadowing" a character around and documenting ... a "typical day in the life of ...".

Could she shadow me?

I told her, I was not doing anything exciting that day ... a haircut, a later than normal blog post 'cause of the haircut, Bear wrestlin', and maybe a collecting trip out to Cedar Key to get a head start on stocking my classroom aquariums.

She was interested anyway and we agreed to meet after the haircut.

At the house she photographed away while I blogged, teased Bear, made and ate a turkey sandwich, breathed, etc. Eventually it was time to head out to Cedar Key for the collecting.
She perched herself on a steeply sloping creek bank and photographed me while I waded the muddy creek and tossed the castnet in search of my favorite ectotherms, ... fish.
I love fish the way Zick loves birds, so I was pretty much in heaven as the net brought up a nice variety of euryhaline fishes.

Here are some items from that trip.

A young mullet. We call these finger mullet, because ... I don't really have to explain that name do I?

This one has great potential. At this size, she could feed a trout, redfish, flounder, tern, heron, egret, ... the list goes on and on. In a few months, she could feed you or me, pelicans, bigger fish, dolphins, ospreys, that list goes on and on too.
If she is incredibly lucky, she may dart, dash, and leap enough to grow fat with roe and make us all more finger mullet, but her odds are long ... as long as the list of predators who love them.

A female Sailfin Molly. Isn't she a beauty? And she's not even dressed up compared to her beau, who is waaaaay down at the bottom of this post. Sailfin mollies are native to Florida, not some runaway fish store type molly. The males get pretty big, I still can see one I dipped up in a ditch as a kid, I swear it was over 6 inches long.
Mollies are so amazingly adapted to coastal life. You can find them in fresh water, salt water, and everything in between. I checked the salinity of the water they were in and it was almost full strength seawater, but you could just as easily run into this fish in a clear, spring fed creek.

The toughest fishes in the creek though, are the killifish clan.

A long nose killifish in the hand is worth two in the water ... if you are going flounder fishing and need a bait that flounder can't resist. The many different killifish you find in coastal creeks are known as mudminnows to fishermen seeking them as bait.
It's not flattering, but it's actually a great common name because these fish will duck under the mud to avoid predatory birds and they are often swimming in water barely shallow enough to float them ... over muddy marsh bottoms.
And tough? I once stuck a thermometer into a small sink-sized puddle of saltwater left behind on a mudflat by a springtide low. The puddle had been exposed to the Florida June sun for hours, and the puddle water temperature was 101 degrees Fahrenheit.
I don't walk around with thermometers in my pockets by the way. It was during a summer marine science camp for kids ... before Jeb Bush cut out foolishness like that.
Anyway ... in the puddle were 3 or 4 longnose killifish ducking in and out of the mud on the bottom. There couldn't have been more than a handfull of stray free oxygen atoms in that warm water and those fish had been in there for hours and still had hours to go before an incoming tide brought relief.
I have no doubt they made it.

A mudminnow to a flounder is like fresh fried chicken to me. I don't give a damn if I just ate a 5 course meal, if I see it and smell it, I wanna have a piece.
What is it you Weight Watcher types call that ... a "red light" food?

Mudminnows are redlight foods for flounder.

Here's a view of the creek I was in. The tide is out, which concentrates the fish for predators like me.
What do you notice ... botanically speaking ... about the view above?

The left side of the creek is dominated by Black Needle Rush (Juncus), which tells you that bank is higher ground. Needle rush likes to dip it's toes in the water a bit, but prefers to not be completely flooded at high tide.

Directly across from the Needle Rush, on a lower shoreline, Cordgrass (Spartina) is dominant. Spartina loves the water and thrives in the lowest parts of the "land" in a saltmarsh. Only the tops of the spartina plants will be above the high tide, but that's the way, uh huh, uh huh, they like it, uh huh, uh huh.
So, you can gaze out over a salt marsh and tell at a glance where the "high" ground is by looking for Needle Rush.

The creek was so shallow, I just set my collecting bucket and aerator down in the center of it. Even though these fish are superbly adapted to the low oxygen conditions of warm, shallow tidal creeks, it's not fair to crowd them in a bucket with no added aeration.
I won the bucket and aerator above while down at Harbor Branch during a fish ID contest.
Go me!
Eventually, I was done and my shadow had all her pics, so we said our goodbyes and I headed east to my school to stock a few aquariums.
Once the fish were secure in their new digs, I locked up and pointed the JEEP towards home.
A few of the mollies went with me to live in a big outdoor tank and maybe, just maybe make some babies.

Here is that flashy male I mentioned back near the top of this post. Behind him are two preggy females. Mollies are livebearers. The eggs are carried internally and born "alive", but each has a yolk, ... each is independent of Mom for nutrition ... which means they are ovoviviparous.
Those birds so many of you go gaga over, are oviparous, and you, dear human reader, are viviparous.
(I can hear Miz S Googling and clicking now)


Anonymous said...

Gee, great pictures but I can't believe it's almost time for you to go back to school! Where has the summer gone? Actually here in Ohio, it's just plain where is summer? We didn't have a single day about 88 in the entire month!

robin andrea said...

You always remind me why I loved science in school. Great pics.

Sayre said...

Wow - great post! I learned a lot about our little minnow friends and mollie friends. Stuff I didn't actually know. Thanks!

threecollie said...

Great post! I love to read about your adventures in the wild and those are just wonderful fish. I'll bet you have several dozen readers who would love to shadow one of those trips.

TROLL Y2K said...

Very informative. Aside from "flounders like to eat mud minnows", I either didn't know or had forgotten all that stuff.

!JEB! said...

Don't! Mess! With! Me!



lisa said...

How is it that in birds and fish the males are so much prettier??? I quess some species do need to have pretty males. HE, HE

cinbad122 said...

Was that a jab at moi?!? Only because I actually talk like that! ;) Oh and thanks for the long response to your AP training. I am with you, Junior really needs dual enrollment rather than AP. Dual is pretty much saying..."Duh if I do what I am supposed to I get college credit!"

rick said...

you playing in the marsh in these pics remind me of hours and hours of exploration in the san sebastian.tomorrow i will try to fool a flounder to eat fake bait. plastic that is.

Miz S said...

Wow, that's so cool that Jeb reads your blog. Aren't you kind of embarrassed that you dissed him publicly like that?

I love how you wax poetical when writing about fish.

Explain to me again why you don't have a book deal yet.

Floridacracker said...

I still have half of August and even more if you don't call it work until the kids come back.

Thanks! I did too.

Hey Sayre,
Great! Glad you liked it!

Thanks! That would be fun!

I forget stuff too.

You are a spoiled rich kid whose claim to fame is your last name. You did stand up to the offshore drilling clan and I give you a point for that, but you defecated upon the children of this state for the 8 years you were in office.
So ... I just don't like ya. Good riddance.

LOL! So a human male can be a couch potato and stil get a pretty female? That is good news for about 80% of the males in this country.

Now you know I would never take a jab at you buddy.
It was more thinking out loud, I think I heard L or someone say that once about some food.

We DID punch that San Sebastion River time clock alot back then didn't we?

Floridacracker said...

Miz S,
Guess not, 'cause he just got another load from me.
I think the book problem is Pure Florida. I'm not sure I could do both ... or is that just a convenient excuse?

Robert V. Sobczak said...

Bloggers are a hard bunch to shadow, although I think the same characteristic makes for being a good tour guide ...

cinbad122 said... was probably me! lol Leaving today. Talk to you when I get back!