You may recall that several weeks ago, back when it was still late fall, I mentioned that it was the time of year when you and your students could go out to a trout stream and look for "redds," that is trout spawning beds. Well, Janni Jacob's class of 5th and 6th graders at Braintree Elementary School did just that, and I was pleased to receive a report from Rudi Ruddell, of White River Partnership, about the expedition. Here's what Rudi wrote.
Janni Jacobs' intrepid crew did, in fact, enjoy a 'redd hunt' on a sunny and relatively warm day on November 21 (relatively warm, considering early snows had already arrived and there had been some previous hard freezes). Though we saw some relatively clean patches of gravel, it was pretty hard to know if we were actually seeing redds, and there had been some recent high flows ahead of our outing.
Fisheries Biologist Bret Ladago from VT Fish & Wildlife noted, "Finding redds in smaller more mountainous streams can be challenging as the gravel tends to have less silt and therefore redds are less obvious. You would also be primarily looking for brook trout redds which are much smaller than the brown trout redds found in the Deerfield. Water temperatures are cold during spawning and students may encounter a small patch of clean gravel if they are lucky, but trout are rarely observed on the redd. Timing is also challenging and can be difficult to predict unless folks are closely monitoring weather patterns and flow rates."
It was still a fun outing with a great crew, and we got to check out a few macros that were still active; a few pictures attached from grandparent Peter Evans who accompanied.
Congratulations, Janni and kids, for getting out there in the interest of science! Here are five pictures that Rudi sent me from the outing.
Celebrating eight years of stream restoration work
On December 29, the Associated Press carried a story about stream restoration work in Vermont's Northeast Kingdom for the benefit of brook trout. That news report was originally carried in the Caledonian Record, looking like this:
Here's the full text of the AP article.
LEWIS, Vt. (AP) — The Department of Fish and Wildlife is celebrating eight years of improving trout habitat in northeastern Vermont rivers and streams.
Trout thrive in streams that offer places to hide, such as under trees that have fallen into the streams. Fallen trees also create a mix of pools and shallow areas that are used by trout for feeding, reproducing, avoiding high flows and hiding from predators.
The Caledonian Record reports that more than 27 miles of brook trout streams have been improved by the placement of large trees in strategic locations.
A six-year study in the East Branch Nulhegan River watershed found that on average brook trout abundance tripled in just three years at sites with added trees.
“By adding this large woody material to streams, we are helping to reverse the legacy of historic clear cutting and repeated log drives on these streams,” said Vermont fisheries biologist Jud Kratzer.
The fallen trees store sediment and organic material, helping to reducing the flow downstream of sediment, nutrients and slow runoff, reducing downstream flooding.
The work has been done by a variety of organizations, including Vermont Fish and Wildlife Department and Trout Unlimited, on lands owned by Weyerhaeuser and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.
This is an important comment on some of the characteristics that are critical to good brook trout habitat. As the article mentioned, not only the Vermont Fish and Wildlife Department but also volunteer organizations like Trout Unlimited invest a great deal of money, time, and energy each year in improving habitat by adding "woody debris," large boulders, and stream bank trees (to provide "cover").
Here's a five minute video that describes what's called the "chop and drop" approach to improving stream habitat.
Of course, Vermont is not the only state concerned about restoring/improving stream habitat. When I searched for "improving trout habitat" on YouTube, I got dozens of hits, including one for Vermont's "chop and drop" program above. Here's an image of the results page. It's a link, so feel free to click on it.
Let's get this party started! (And hope for good driving weather)
Plans are well underway for the several trips that will be necessary to pick up eggs at the Dwight D. Eisenhower National Fish Hatchery in North Chittenden, Vermont. As far as I'm aware, the first deliveries will be made on 1/7 and will continue through that and the following week. Our deliveries in southwestern Vermont are planned for 1/14, depending on the weather of course.
Based on the reports I've received, it sounds like pre-cycling is going well across the state. A day or two before you expect to receive your eggs, you should get your water temperature to somewhere between 43 and 45degrees. Presumably you've been thinking about temperature protocols as they relate to when swim-up will occur at your school.
If you still need to get up to speed on temperature and the swim-up process, I've got two resources for you.
Winter comes to brook trout land!
The new picture I'm using for the VTTIC blog (left) is one of several photo I took this past Sunday while I was out with my 13-year-old grandson looking for "partridge," AKA ruffed grouse. We found none. Here's another photo of the same beautiful stream.
How's the pre-cycling going?
I trust that many Vermont teachers are into the middle of the pre-cycling process.
Thus far I haven't gotten much feedback, but I'd like to hear how it's going. I'm also hoping that you're keeping good track of your data so that you can share that with us once your tank has fully cycled.
I have heard from two teachers, however, and I'll share some of those exchanges.
Devon Schrock's situation
Devon Schrock, of Lincoln Community School, reached out to TU-TIC volunteer Paul Urband and reported the following (this past Monday):
Thanks, Paul. Today I added more ammonia and Nite-Out because my morning test showed nitrate was 0 and ammonia level was 3.
I passed the exchanges between Devon and Paul on to "our science guy," Robb Cramer. Robb wanted to know what the nitrite levels of Devon's tank were. Devon came back with this (on Tuesday).
Numbers as of today are:
A student who filled water to add to the tank dumped it into the tank this morning untreated. I added the dechlorination solution to the tank and hope that will work ok. Thanks for everyone's advice and help!
Here's Robb's response:
Without fish in the tank the lack of the dechlorination step is fine and not problem.
The cycle is working but their ammonia is too high. You need to do a 25% water change ASAP and add fresh Nite-Out II.
So, got that? Never let ammonia or nitrite get above 5 ppm. If either does, do at least a 25% water change AND, after you've done that, add more Nite-Out II. Why do we add more NOII? Because ammonia or nitrite levels of 5 ppm will have killed your bacteria.
By the way, this is a good opportunity to let your students practice their math skills in a context where it could be a life and death matter! Let's say your ammonia hits 6 ppm, as the Lincoln Community School's tank did. Robb recommends you do a 25% water change. How much is that of a 55-gallon tank (or whatever size your tank is)? That's one "real life" computation. (I get 13.75 gallons.)
So, if you remove 13.75 gallons of water with an ammonia reading of 6.0 ppm and add the same amount of water with ammonia of 0.0, What should your new ammonia reading be? (I get 4.5 ppm.)
You can also turn this into a number of "what if" exercises: What if we did a 30% water change? How about a 50% water change? Etc.
Tiffany Tucker's Tank
Here are four photos Tiffany Tucker, at Elm Hill School, took of her pre-cycling date.
Here's what Tiffany said to Robb Cramer:
I started the precycling process last week on 12/3. I still haven’t seen a nitrogen cycle, and I’m curious what I may be doing wrong or that I’ve missed.
Robb responded with:
(1) Is the Nite-Out II fresh and new? Add more if it is a new bottle. If an old bottle, get a new one. There is plenty of ammonia there for the cycle to start.
(2) The tank temp is a bit low .. ideally should be above 70 F.
(3) My gut tells me something is wrong with your Nite-Out II or that you have not added enough.
Everything else looks fine!
Yes, the Nite-Out II is brand new. I’ve got the heat cranked in our classroom. I can try adding a heater.
Should I add more NOII? Or add food??
Here's what Robb said in response:
To start — add more NiteOut II today, then also again on Friday. You have plenty of ammonia in the tank to kickstart the cycle.
If you have an aquarium heater, by all means add it and bump to 72 F.
What did we learn from this exchange?
Nitrogen cycle graph
While I'm on the subject of beneficial TIC-related math assignments for your kids, let me challenge you to have your students graph the nitrogen cycle that takes place--we hope!--in your tank. I've pasted below the "classic" nitrogen cycle that's featured on page 32 of our TIC Manual. The problem with that representation is that in actual practice, the nitrogen cycles TIC classrooms see are almost never so perfect. It'd be helpful to be able to show teachers a representative collection of more realistic nitrogen cycle graphs.
Interesting, educational videos that your students may enjoy
Our VTTIC web site contains numerous videos that help explain trout life cycle and habitat as well as what our trout will eat in the wild, threats to their existence, etc.
Here's one of many examples. It's part of the Vermont PBS Outdoor Journal series. Here's a link to that series's home page: Outdoor Journal.
I've also provided a link to the Other Trout Videos page on our VTTIC web site below.
Here are some of the topics that videos available on that page address:
As those of you who have been in the TIC program for a while know, we've been using Microsoft Excel spreadsheets, both as a template for data entry and as tools that you can be used to predict or control the very important "swim-up" stage.
Over time, I've come to realize that many VTTIC teachers don't typically have access to Excel and, more generally, the Microsoft Office suite of applications.
So, recently I've recreated the Excel files we've been using as Google Sheets files. Here's what the folder looks like on our VTTIC Google Drive:
(That image above is also a link to the real folder.)
The first two files (below the folder) are the ones you should use for data entry. The one with the "X" is the Excel version; the one with the cross is the Google Sheets file.
The third and fourth files (below the folder) are the ones to use to predict or determine when swim-up will occur.
Once you've opened one of these from the drive, you should "Make a copy" (on the File menu) and in that process (a) rename it so that it's recognizable as your school's spreadsheet and (b) move it to the "Individual school spreadsheets" folder. The final thing you need to do is to "Publish to the web" (that command is also on the File menu).
Joe Mark is Lead Facilitator of Vermont's Trout in the Classroom program.
In June 2012, I retired after 40 years in higher education, having spent the last 32 years of my career as dean at Castleton. One of the first things I volunteered to do in retirement was to work with a parent-friend to help the Dorset School, where his kids and my Vermont grandkids attend, start a TIC program. Gradually that commitment grew into my current role, which is both demanding and highly rewarding.