Collecting in the Potomac River

August 11th, 2008

On Saturday, a few GWAPA members got together in Virginia along the Potomac River to see what fish we could pull out of the river. Armed with the necessary permits and a few experts in native fish, we started pulling seine nets through some areas near the shore. Most of the shoreline was completely consumed by Hydrilla, an incredibly invasive exotic weed from Asia.

Potomac River

Potomac River, Virginia

Initially, the Hydrilla was way to thick, and besides pulling a few crayfish from the water, we didn’t have a whole lot of luck. We eventually crossed the street, and found a better location a little bit upstream in a creek that feeds into the Potomac.


Large Crayfish

Once we did this, we started pulling out all kinds of fish and critters. By pulling the net through the Hydrilla we were able to target the fish we were interested in, while also doing the river a service by pulling much of the noxious weed from the water and onto the bank.

Fish in Seine Net

Fish in Net

The main fish I was interested in finding on this trip was the Blue Spotted Sunfish, Enneacanthus gloriosus, which is a beautiful native sunfish that only gets to 2-3 inches in length. This makes it a wonderful fish for the planted aquarium, as it should not rearrange the tank like some of the larger sunfish, and loves the cover that plants provide.

Blue Spotted Sunfish

Blue Spotted Sunfish

We were also hoping to find some snakeheads, not to keep for the aquarium because doing so is illegal, but to see how widespread they really were in the river. Although a bit disappointing to us, I suppose it’s a good thing that we didn’t actually pull any in our nets. Had we found any, legally, you have to euthanize them on the spot.

Banded Killifish

Banded Killifish

We did get a large number of Banded Killifish, Fundulus diaphanus, which are also good fish for the aquarium. They get to about 4 inches in length, but most of the ones we pulled in were smaller than that. In addition to the killies, we also found one or two darters, specifically, the Tessellated Darter, Etheostoma olmstedi, which are fascinating bottom dwelling fish. I really would have liked to find more of these guys.

Tessellated Darter

Tessellated Darter

Besides the fish, we also pulled in a number of other aquatic creatures, including a countless number of nasty looking bugs, beetles, and dragonfly nymphs. In addition, we got some grass shrimp, Asiatic clams, and all sizes of crayfish.

Asiatic Clam

Asiatic Clam

The area where we found all the fish had a number of aquatic plants including Heteranthera dubia, Vallisneria americana, Myrophyllum, Najas, and a beautifully flowering Lobelia cardinalis. While many aquarists keep the small form of Lobelia cardinalis, you can see that this would be a beautiful pond plant!

Lobelia cardinalis Flowers

Lobelia cardinalis Flowers

With great weather, and a good haul, we had a really great time at the Potomac River this weekend. Huge thanks go to Bob in GWAPA for organizing the trip, and to everyone else for participating. Finally, I want to thank Jeff U for taking fantastic pictures, and allowing me to use them on this website.

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Shenandoah Valley Hike

January 24th, 2008

Last weekend, my family spent the long weekend down in the Shenandoah Valley. Instead of skiing, we decided to hike up the mountain, and follow a trail along the mountain ridge. The view from up there was incredible, allowing us to take in the whole resort all at once.

Shenandoah Valley

In addition to a beautiful view, the mountain elements there were very interesting as well. We got to see the winter versions of many of the summertime plants and growths. The trees were covered with mosses and lichens, but instead of maintaining their usual color, they were pale, matching the surrounding snow and winter sky.

Winter Lichens

The trail was completely rock laden, necessitating that we watch our step through the snow to avoid slipping on any hidden rocks below.

Shenandoah Valley

Some greenery managed to show through the ubiquitous snow cover, such as the moss below. There was also some green mountain grass frozen in the snow.

Mossy Snow Rock

As usual, there were many scenes that could easily be inspiration for an aquascape. The rock formations would make a lovely African cichlid rockscape. Can’t you just see the gaps being filled in with anubias, java fern, and bolbitus in the rocks below?

Shenandoah Valley

Speaking of ferns, I’ve always loved finding patches of forest that are covered with wild ferns. We saw a few places like that up on the mountain ridge, but unfortunately, they were all busy weathering the cold. I hope to get back to this trail sometime in warmer weather to see the ferns in their full glory.

Wintery Fern

There were also huge patches of mountain laurel in amongst some sparse pine trees. In combination with the rocks and snow, there were some really nice photo opportunities.

Shenandoah Valley

The mountain laurel still had the remains from some late flower buds or berries. The leaves were still green, and formed nice bushes along the path.

Mountain Berries

The rocks were usually set in relatively straight lines, as if something had slid over top of them in a uniform direction. I’m not sure if this is the case or not, but I suspect that this is exactly what happened with glaciers.

Shenandoah Valley

Finally, some pine cones were still on the trees, which I enjoyed taking pictures of.

Pine Cone

I hope you enjoyed my pictures and tale of our mountain hike. It was quite cold (16F degrees), but we were heavily bundled up, and had a fantastic time.

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Luray Caverns Virginia

January 23rd, 2008

We took advantage of the long MLK weekend to venture down to the Shenandoah Valley. On our trip down we stopped at Luray Caverns.

Luray Caverns

Luray Caverns is the largest caverns on the East Coast. It has been privately owned and operated by the same family since its discovery, and used to be a travelers’ destination and railway stop, frequented by visitors all over the globe. Unfortunately, due to private ownership, and a lack of proper preservation methods in place during the early days, the caverns are not completely intact.

Luray Caverns

They used to encourage visitors to break off stalactites to take home as souvenirs. As a result, many of the structures along the corridors are broken off. And then, of course, nature also broke off some huge pieces, such as the multi-ton piece shown above.

Luray Caverns

There are all sorts of structures that formed naturally in the cave. Many of the formations look as if they were handcrafted from plastic, but they reassured us that they with the work of mother nature.

Luray Caverns - Reflecting Pool

Throughout the caverns, many reflecting pools reflect the ceiling, making for some very unique looking illusions, such as the one above. Again, it looks like something from another world.

Luray Caverns - Eggs

One of the things I remembered from the caverns when I visited them as a child was the sunny-side-up eggs. This is another case where they broke off a structure, and the resulting inner core looked like a fried egg, so they added it to their tour.

Luray Caverns - Tower

There are some huge structures underground, such as this enormous tower above. I estimate that it’s probably 5 stories tall, and a very impressive feature of an even larger room.

Luray Caverns - Wishing Pool

Toward the end of the tour, they encourage visitors to toss coinage into their wishing pool. Yes, the pool is green from all of the copper coins. They say that they clean out the pool every year and donate it to charity. Despite painting a somewhat negative view of the Luray Caverns company, I really did enjoy our visit. The shear enormity of the caverns, as well as, the unique structures within make the trip worth it.

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Jamestown Island

November 5th, 2007

I recently spent a few days down in Colonial Williamsburg, where I had the opportunity to visit historic Jamestown Island, the location of America’s first colony. Of course, while I did pay quite a bit of attention to history at hand, I also enjoyed the beautiful watershed that surrounds the entire area.

Jamestown Island Watershed

A number of creeks and rivers come together at this area near the Atlantic Ocean. Much of the area is brackish, with extensive marshes lining the banks all around, providing some really beautiful views.

Jamestown Island Watershed

In the skies, above the pine trees, lots of large waterfowl circled overhead occasionally dive-bombing the water for fish or other tasty critters. I tried to get some pictures of these birds, but I didn’t come away with anything I was proud to show.

Jamestown Island Watershed

We also saw a number of fish jumping from the water, and fisherman on the banks trying to catch them. There were nice beaches to walk along, but unfortunately that serene environment was ruined a little bit by signs reading that the water is unsafe to swim in.

Jamestown Island Watershed

According to some of the roadside signs, the Jamestown area was originally full of hardwood trees, which were quickly cut down by the settlers for building and export. While a few hardwoods still remain, most have been replaced by the fast-growing pines we see all over the eastern United States.

Jamestown Island Pine

I’m not sure if they’re native or not, but in the historic Jamestown area, walnut trees were quite prominent. The walnut fruit and nuts lined many of the pathways and grassy areas under the trees.

Jamestown Island Walnut

A number of swampy areas also were present throughout the island. Where the reeds and rushes were not, there was no shortage of mud, especially during low tide.

Jamestown Island Marsh

As I was walking along a path, I noticed a large number of holes and pits in the muddy banks. Then, I swore that I saw something moving out of the corner of my eye, but every time I looked, there was nothing there. Eventually, I saw clearly what was scurrying along. Fiddler crabs came out of the holes to sit in the sun, until they detected movement, in which case they hurried back into their holes.

Fiddler Crab

While I wasn’t really searching through the water itself, the only freshwater aquatic vegetation I recognized was a plethora of duckweed. Being a national park, it would be illegal to collect any plants there anyways, so I was more than content simply enjoying the beautiful views.

Jamestown Island Watershed

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