As we turn the corner from August into September here at US Fish and Wildlife, Brianne, Jenny, and I are soaking up our final bittersweet moments spent both in the office and out in the field. The last few weeks we’ve spent electrofishing and snorkel surveying Threemile Creek in the Cascade foothills. Our snorkel surveys entail a new work schedule of 6pm to midnight to keep in line with studies that have suggested night snorkeling is more effective for censusing of Bull Trout (Salvelinus confluentus). We were laughing as we drove to work last week when Brianne pointed out that we’d finally come full circle—with this new night schedule we’ve officially worked every single hour of the day during our time with USFWS.
Our surveys began with our usual recording of temperature and conductivity of the water in Threemile Creek. As soon as 8:45pm rolled around and the last remnants of the golden hour left the sky, we suited up into dry suits and broke off into groups of two, beginning our surveys at the downstream block net of a section of stream. I found night surveying to be pretty overstimulating in that 6°C creek — especially when my dry suit started to let in a significant amount of water about halfway through our survey — but by the end of the night, I couldn’t tell if my chattering teeth were a product of temperature or excitement.
The moment you army crawl yourself into a deeper pool and find yourself in the midst of a staring contest with two 200mm Bull Trout — one of which you’d marked the caudal fin of the day prior — you realize what graceful creatures these fish are. More than once I needed to gently touch a trout hidden between rocks in order to discern whether it was a recaptured fish, at which point it would casually wriggle one way to reveal itself as if we had an understanding that all I wanted out of that gentle poke was to record the state of its fin.
One night as we were suiting up and simultaneously swatting away the plethora of mosquitoes Threemile Creek has to offer, Brianne noticed an owl had swooped down to the tree next to our vehicle. As we shown our dive light on it, we realized it was a spotted owl (Strix occidentalis) and proceeded to take pictures and a waypoint to pass along our discovery to our wildlife biologist at USFWS who focuses on ESA terrestrial species. Elizabeth confirmed our finding, informed us that this might be one of only one or two mating pairs left in the vicinity, explaining that she hadn’t seen a spotted owl in the area in ten years!
But alas, all good things must come to an end, and as I write this, I’m reflecting on the wide array of skills I’ve honed, memories I’ve pocketed, and hurdles I’ve overcome in my five months here at US Fish and Wildlife in Klamath Falls, Oregon.
I’ve captured and counted thousands of endangered larval suckers, I’ve electrofished threatened species of trout to ascertain population survey productivity, I’ve sampled an endangered species of milk vetch (Astragalus applegatei), I’ve helped set up camera traps for wolves (Canis lupus), and I’ve estimated fecundity in nonnative Brook Trout (Salvelinus fontinalis). I’d never handled a fish before starting this position, so the learning curve was steep, but not without support along the way.
That list doesn’t include the times I’ve cried for fish we lost at the hatchery, or sworn expletives as I’ve slipped and fallen in a creek, but those less glamorous experiences shaped me in some way too!
The weekends I spent camping, biking, and swimming in every cardinal direction around Klamath Falls gave me a respect for and indebtedness to southern and central Oregon I didn’t have when I first arrived here in April.
The friendships I’ve made with Brianne and Jenny I’ll hold onto as we all head off to our next adventures in California and Washington respectively. I know that we’ll always have a home in Klamath Falls, whether we’re just passing through or hoping to stay a while.
We are so grateful to Nolan Banish, Zach Tiemann, Joel Ophoff, Michelle Jackson, Josh Rasmussen, Elizabeth Willy, Jeanne Spaur, Christie Nichols, Margie Shaffer, Evan Childress, Akimi King, Sara Miller and everyone else at the Klamath Falls USFWS office for the valuable lessons they taught us in and outside of the office.