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Archive for January, 2009

 

On Paddle Georgia 2008 on the Flint River we learned about the Halloween Darter (and heard all those Halloween Darter jokes). We were lucky to have Mary Freeman, who discovered the Halloween Darter, along with us on Paddle Georgia to teach us all about the Flint, especially the Halloween Darter. We heard the story of how, while surveying fishes in Georgia’s Flint River, Mary and her husband Bud noticed that a certain darter fish had a striking orange color in its fins–much different than the Blackbanded darter that is prominent in the southwest Georgia River. They had come across a new species: the Halloween darter or Percina crypta.

You may be surprised to learn, though, that it wasn’t until after Paddle Georgia that the Halloween Darter “officially” became a new species.

This is what Mary had to say about completing the process to get the Halloween Darter officially declared a new species: “Hearing folks who might never have heard of a “darter” before telling Halloween darter jokes was a bit of a surprise for me, especially on that first night that I arrived at the camp at Camp Thunder.   Bud and I had years ago figured out that this little darter was different than any other known to science, but frankly, finishing a species description is tedious stuff.  Spending a week on the Flint with people from so many different walks of life, evincing such interest and concern about the river and what lives in it – especially those paddlers who helped pull a seine and at least acted  enthused about seeing what came up in the net – really motivated me to put other projects aside and do this one thing that I could do for the Flint.  That is – put an official, scientifically recognized name on one of the river’s unique critters.”

“The Halloween darter is a great example of ‘cryptic biodiversity’ — species that have gone unrecognized because they look a lot like other species that are known,” explained Mary, an ecologist with the U.S. Geological Survey and the UGA Odum School of Ecology. “Ichthyologists have documented many new fish species in the southeastern U.S., showing that despite nearly 100 years of scientific study of fishes in this region, there are still surprises.”The newly discovered Halloween darter is less than five inches long and upon analysis, was found to have a host of differences from the Blackbanded darter. The fish is common to only a few areas of the Chattahoochee and Flint River systems because it requires habitats with swift water currents over rocky areas–shoals. Findings were reported in a recent issue of prominent zoological journal Zootaxa.

According to Mary, there are far fewer shoals today because of the rise of dams on rivers and streams, as well as the removal of rock shoals to improve rivers for navigation. The discovery of the Halloween darter has definite implications for conservation strategies.

“Keeping track of the status of the Halloween darter, along with other species that require shoal habitats in the Chattahoochee and Flint Rivers, will provide information on how shoals as ecological systems are responding to changes in land use, water management and climate,” said Mary.

In addition to the Freemans, the research team included Noel Burkhead of the U.S. Geological Survey and Carrie Straight, a Ph.D. student at the UGA Odum School of Ecology.

 

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April Ingle takes in the scenery along the Coosawattee on a cold, blustery New Year's Eve Day.

April Ingle takes in the scenery along the Coosawattee on a cold, blustery New Year's Eve Day.

“The Lower Coosawattee doesn’t have any rapids. What’ll I need a change of clothes for? 40-degrees and windy? That’s what fleece is for!”

If you ever hear me saying these words, don’t get in a canoe with me…I know April Ingle may never again.

New Year’s Eve Day, April and I along with Doc Stephens in his solo kayak ventured up to the Carter’s Re-regulation Dam to scout Day 3 and Day 4 of Paddle Georgia 2009 on the Lower Coosawattee–a 24-mile section through rural farmland begining just below the re-regulation dam and ending in the shadows of the New Echota Historic Site, the old Cherokee Indian Capitol near the confluence of the Coosawattee and the Conasauga rivers.

Truth is there is one small rapid right below the dam, and within one minute of lauching our canoe, April and I were swimming down the Coosawattee tugging our canoe to shore to drain it and ourselves. April was smart enough to bring a change of clothes. I, on the other hand, was not. After ringing out the fleece we continued down river.  Sun and wind dries out fleece quickly, but doesn’t do much for feet encased in wet sneakers.

Doc Stephens inspects a "cave" along the banks of the Coosawattee.

Doc Stephens inspects a "cave" along the banks of the Coosawattee on what will be Day 4 Paddle Georgia 2009 route.

Despite the cold feet, we did take in the charms, curiosities and scents of the Lower Coosawattee.

Indeed, the section is void of any significant rapids, but frequent strainers stretching bank to bank keep you on your toes…wet though they be. One required that we climb out on the tree and pull our boat over.

Day 3 will begin just below the re-regulation dam at Carter’s and our launch site is actually the bed of the former Coosawattee prior to construction of the dam. The re-reg dam serves to moderate the flow in the Coosawattee below the larger dam and it also holds water that is pumped uphill back to the main reservoir in order to generate additional power at the hydro-electric facility.

Bluffs typical of the scenery on what will be Paddle Georgia 2009's Day 3.

Bluffs typical of the scenery on what will be Paddle Georgia 2009's Day 3.

Downstream from the dam, the river offers beautiful views of rock bluffs, a Native American fish weir near the mouth of Rock Creek and regular riverfront dwellings and fish camps. Here, you see how man and rivers don’t always mix appropriately. At one riverfront home, property owners have cut large trees off the top of a bluff, dropping them into the river in order to provide a clear view of water from the back porch. Not a bad view from the porch, but an ugly view from the river and a reminder that we river advocates still have much education to do when it comes to the importance of stream buffers and riparian vegetation.

And, sadly along the way there’s much evidence of mankind’s “out-of-sight-out-of mind” inclinations. At a handful of locations, the rusted hulks of cars and kitchen appliances litter the river banks, out of view of nearby farm fields but in full view from the perspective of the river.

Despite these distractions, the paddling is peaceful and pleasant.

Day 4 will offer up more of the same and plenty of curiosities–like an abandoned boat stuck high in a tree above the water line or crevices and cave-like cuts in riverside bluffs that are typical of the Oostanaula and Coosawattee through the limestone terrain of Georgia’s Ridge and Valley region.

Ruins along the Coosawattee. By June, we'll have the full story behind this structure for the daily descriptions!

Ruins along the Coosawattee. By June, we'll have the full story behind this structure for the daily descriptions!

We passed old industry–an abandoned mill structure. We scented more recent remains–farm fields sprayed with biosolids from a local wastewater treatment plant (like chickens and cows, we have our distinct scent). We took in the City of Calhoun’s water intake (it used to be on the Oostanaula, but pollution from Dalton carpet mills prompted a move to the Coosawattee years ago). And, we finished our trip within site of the Conasauga’s confluence where the Cherokees settled on a new capitol in 1825.

Interestingly, as the rivers wind toward their meeting place, at one point they are separated by only a half-mile wide ridge, yet you have to travel four and a half miles on the Coosawattee before you reach the Conasauga’s mouth.

Given wet feet and cold windy weather, this 24-mile paddle took us only 7 hours to complete. Warmth is quite the motivator.

Joe Cook

Jan. 6, 2009

Scouting trips will continue through the winter and spring as we continue to gather information to make Paddle Georgia a memorable trip. Paddle Georgia 2009 online registration is expected to begin in early February and brochures and registration forms will be ready by late February.

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