My newfound love: the St. Lawrence River

We are very happy to welcome Colleen Burliuk to the blog today. Colleen is busy collecting data on the the American eel for her Master’s degree. While collecting this data, she tells us about how she fell in love with the St. Lawrence river.

Love at first sight is a beautiful electric thing, and that’s how I feel about the St. Lawrence River since I started doing fieldwork there a year ago. I was introduced to it in Mallorytown by setting crayfish traps for a lab mate’s feeding experiment in the mouth of Jones Creek. I was immediately struck by the river’s beauty and the diversity of life in and around its waters.  Since last April I have learned so much about many river species from crew members and my supervisor, and that has only deepened my affection for the water body.

Summer 2014 in Thompson’s Bay, one of our study areas on the St. Lawrence River.

Summer 2014 in Thompson’s Bay, one of our study areas on the St. Lawrence River.

I have had the opportunity to participate in studies on lake sturgeon and American eel on the St. Lawrence River. These studies required large amounts of time on the water but I’m not complaining! We have been locating acoustically tagged lake sturgeon that were caught by gillnets, conducting electrofishing surveys, and most recently we are locating radio tagged eels. These two species could not be more different but they each have characteristics that allow them to live in their specific niche. Sturgeon are cartilaginous and have large fins that allow them to glide along the bottom of the river. Eels have an elongate form which enables them to fit in amazingly tight spaces. These projects have provided valuable insight into the habitat requirements of both species and have given opportunities to observe other species as well.

Two of my favourite fish, a Lake sturgeon (left) and an American eel (right).

Two of my favourite fish, a Lake sturgeon (left) and an American eel (right).

It can be difficult to observe fish that aren’t implanted with transmitters but  I was able to see a variety of species through electrofishing surveys. I was a member of an electrofishing crew last June that was indexing eels and I was completely amazed to see all of the different size and colour fish swimming to the surface. These include but are not limited to sparkly minnows, gianormous carp, bright yellow perch, whiskered bullheads and catfish, colourful pumpkinseed and of course anglers’ favourite, large and small-mouth bass. In an undergraduate class I had learned that Ontario has the highest freshwater fish diversity in Canada, with a total of 128 species, which I could appreciate after a night of electrofishing!

The benefit of working in the field is that you can see all sorts of wildlife other than your study species. I love watching minks scamper on the beach or hearing goldeneye whistling overhead as they migrate south for the winter. This winter we were lucky enough to even see two enormous bald eagles on the ice. The wingspan on those things! But the most magical moment I’ve had on the river, apart from actually locating our radio tagged eels, was motoring beside a pair of low-flying trumpeter swans not 8 feet from our boat.

Spring field season has started and while I’ll be spending the majority of the summer locating eels, I’ll also be keeping an eye on all of my other river friends and hoping to meet new ones!

Back on the open river locating radio implanted eels!

Back on the open river locating radio implanted eels!

Colleen Burliuk (pictured above) is a Queen’s University graduate who is conducting research on the Upper St. Lawrence River with Dr.John Casselman. She is collecting data on the wintering habitat of the American eel for her Master’s degree.

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One thought on “My newfound love: the St. Lawrence River

  1. Pingback: Oh, the places we’ve gone and the places we’ll go | Dispatches from the Field

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