Swimming with the fishes…

Posted on October 10, 2010. Filed under: Uncategorized | Tags: , |

Last weekend I took the opportunity to go on the retreat with the ecology/evolutionary biology (EEB) group at the university.  They were heading to Adam’s River in BC for the salmon run.  I am not technically in this group.  My interests have me straddling the fence between physiology and ecology and not really fitting into either one.  I emailed the EEB coordinator and she was kind enough to invite me along.

I knew it was going to be an interesting weekend.  I didn’t really know anyone going.  I had met a few at the TA workshop and Biology Grad Student Orientation, so at least I could recognize a few faces.  I was riding with three girls that I had never met (Lisa, Madison, and Cecilia).  As I waited for my travel companions to converge on the loading dock, I thought “Oh man, I don’t know how well this is going to turn out… either way there will be some bonding going on.”  We had a six hour car ride ahead of us.  As it turned out, the girls I rode with were great.  They are all in their second year of their Masters.

We took our time getting there.  One stop was at Dutchman’s Dairy for milkshakes – not as good as the ones I used to get on West Campus at A&M, but still pretty good.  They have some strange flavors of ice cream up here, one being black licorice (it looked like it had tar oozing out of it).  I took the safe route and stuck with chocolate.  Dinner was at a fantastic little pub in Salmon Arm. We arrived at the hostel around 8pm.  Had I mentioned we were staying at a hostel?  Did you see that movie??

We turned onto a dirt road next to a dilapidated general store.  There were no street lights so anything that was beyond the scope of Lisa’s headlights was in complete darkness.  There was a rusty stop sign and a rope stretching across the road.  Not sure if this was the right place we turned around and went back to the store.  Cecilia drew the short straw and got to go in to ask if we were where we were supposed to be.  Since the other girls had not seen the movie “Hostel”, I quickly filled them in.  It made a sketchy scene even more sinister.  We were in the right place so we drove down the dirt road until we saw some cars.  People had already gathered around the camp fire and tents were popping up everywhere.

I chose to stay in one of the “dorms”.  Essentially they were real cabooses that had been brought in. The beds were at one end and a kitchen/desk were at the other.  There were even two robber chairs so that the people on the train could keep an eye out for pesky desperadoes that might try a heist.  The hostel had a sauna as well, which was pretty cool.  We were right there at the water so there were some amazing views (especially in the morning).  A canoe was available to take out on the water.  There was also a beaver lodge just down the shore.  I met a lot of people that first night. We had a group of about 30 people.

As the sun rose Saturday morning the jumping salmon were seen everywhere.  However they weren’t the only wildlife moving around.  I saw a couple of beavers cruising down the river in search of new materials for their lodge renovations.  A pack of six coyotes was also seen on the other side of the river.  I’m sure they feasted that weekend – there were a lot of dead salmon along the banks. I know it’s hard to see the critters in the photos below – but they are there — I promise!  Maybe Santa Claus can team up with the Easter Bunny and bring me a new telephoto lens (hint, hint).

Saturday morning we heard a talk from a salmon expert then we loaded up and headed to the Adam’s River to see some fish.  We were a couple of weeks ahead of the predicted peak time, but it was still pretty amazing. The interactions between the fish were fascinating to watch.  A male picked a female and guarded her.  If another male came along there would be a fight.  The female is guarding her nest site (even before a nest has been dug) and will fight other females that get too close.  Normally salmon have a lot of small teeth, but when getting ready to “run”, the front teeth enlarge for the sole purpose of fighting.  I had never given that much thought to the journey a salmon takes.  They spend the first year of life in freshwater and then make their way to the ocean.  After spending three years cruising the oceanic currents, they make their way back to the area they originated from so they can spawn.  Once these fish leave the ocean and start their difficult trip upstream, they stop eating.  So here are these bright red fish who haven’t eaten in several days and have to have enough resources to not only swim upstream, but to also fight off competitors and reproduce.

Saturday afternoon we were able to explore more of the area around the hostel.  I wanted to go to the beaver lodge and was told to follow the trail of creepy Barbies.  Okay.  This should be interesting…  Four of us headed off to find the random door that led to the Barbie trail.  I don’t know what purpose the Barbies originally had, but for us it felt like we were wandering down a path that was frequented by a sociopath.  The dolls all had fairy wings so I guess they were “flying”.  In reality they were hanging from tree limbs with fishing line.  We followed the path deeper into the woods, not knowing what we would see next.  The path led to an odd shaped building (like an upside down cone) which we had to explore.  It was an old building that hadn’t been used in awhile (at least we hoped not).  There were even more toys inside.  Now we have the image of the psychopathic children using the trail and the “playhouse”.  We moved on – not sure what would be waiting for us around the next bend.  Finally we reached the beaver lodge without further incident.  It was decided that those who had not seen the creepy dolls would have to go down the trail at night.  We even had a couple of people hiding in the woods to scare them.  I must admit, the pictures I took do not give the dolls their homicidal due.  They were freakier in person and even more so at night.  Many people felt like they were in a scene from The Blair Witch Project.  It definitely fit the evening – people in tents out in the woods, dolls hanging from trees, and the creepy house where the witch could have lived.  Goes to show you never can tell – one night I’m in the movie “Hostel” and then next I’m in “The Blair Witch Project”…

Saturday evening we did some EEB activities and had s’mores at the campfire.  The next morning we did another EEB activity and then loaded up to head back to Calgary.  As we left Salmon Arm, my co-travelers and I stopped off at a local winery for a tasting.  We make a quick stop at Lake Louise. One of Lisa’s field sites is there and she wanted to grab some samples while we were in the area.

I had a great weekend – saw some beautiful country, played outdoors, and met new people (all for about $80 – gas, food, and lodging).  The EEB group is discussing traveling to Waterton next year to observe the elk rut.  Hopefully I can tag along again.

As a side note – most of the scenery pictures were taken on the way to and from BC so they were taken out the window of a speeding car.  My apologies for the poorer quality…

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