Monday, June 27, 2016

Independence Pass

Just south of the Leadville Fish Hatchery, Highway 82 heads west toward Aspen, Colorado. Along that route lies Independence Pass, which at 12,095 feet is the highest paved crossing of the Continental Divide in the US.

Much of this road is closed until around Memorial Day, as there is too much snow to keep the road plowed through the winter. 
Twin Lakes Historic District
Shortly after turning onto Hwy 82 we came to the area known as Twin Lakes. Twin Lakes and Leadville are often mentioned together as a recreational area, and we expected to find a thriving little town there. We were surprised to discover only a small historic district with a few older buildings and a modern general store. There was a nice interpretive trail that offered great views of the lakes and mountains beyond. 
Twin Lakes
After leaving Twin Lakes the road began to climb and narrow. In some areas several switchbacks were used to take us up, up and up!
Switchback Ahead
The road is restricted to vehicles no longer than 35'. In spite of the restriction truck-trailer combinations occasionally get stuck in one of the switchbacks, resulting in the road being closed until they can be towed back out. The fines for this mistake are apparently very steep.
Hwy 82 approaching Independence Pass
As we approached the pass we ascended above treeline and encountered quite a lot of snow. This area is considered alpine tundra, with only small, low-growing grasses and flowers.
Alpine Tundra
While the area looks stark, there were some small wildflowers blooming, including this Dwarf Clover.
Dwarf Clover
We also enjoyed seeing a few Mountain Bluebirds. With no trees and few insects we wonder what they were doing up this high. Who knows??
Mountain Bluebird
As we descended from the pass toward Aspen, we came across several Yellow-bellied Marmots enjoying the warm sun.
Yellow-bellied Marmot
Once we got back below the treeline we stopped in several spots to enjoy the Roaring Fork River and hiking trails along the way.
Roaring Fork River
The river was certainly living up to its name. With maximum snow-melt occurring in June all of the area rivers are running full. The wet riverside areas had a nice variety of flowers in bloom, including Marsh Marigold and Globeflower.
Marsh Marigold
When we reached Aspen we found it to be crowded, expensive and touristy. But the drive over sure was nice!


Thursday, June 16, 2016

Got Warts?

In the last blog we described the insect breeding and feeding operation here at Leadville National Fish Hatchery. The purpose is to have live food for Wyoming Toads that are being raised here.
Boot Rack
The greatest threat to the toads is Chytrid Fungus. This fungus is thought to be responsible for the extinction of over 100 amphibian species worldwide and is considered the most significant threat to the world's montane amphibian populations. Since the spores of the fungus are widespread, special precautions are in place to avoid carrying them into the toad room.
Disinfecting Mat
The hatchery has special boots that are worn only into the toad room, and never outdoors. Each time someone enters the toad room they remove their shoes, put on the boots, and step onto a disinfecting mat. So far these precautions have worked well and our toads are Chytrid Fungus free.
Lunch is Served
The first step in feeding the toads is to collect the designated bug for the day, dust them with supplements like calcium and vitamins, and put them into the freezer to slow them down before feeding. 

We then go tank by tank, making sure that each toad gets the correct amount of food, which was two roaches each on this day.
Roach. What Roach??
 Unfortunately, it turns out that Wyoming Toads have lousy eyesight. They react only to movement, so if the bug isn't moving they don't see it. We spend a lot of time pushing and poking the food toward the toads in the hope that they will grab it. 
Nope. Still Don't See Anything. 
It can get a little comical as they strike at fingers, tweezers, and each other. Sometimes anything except for the food.
I See it Now!!
The most successful approach is to hold the food in tweezers and wave it back and forth in front of the toad. Between keeping track of which toads are which, and getting the correct one to eat the food, it can get frustrating!
Feeding the Toads
Ana is the hatchery Biotech who is in charge of the toads as well as the insects. And she just received 100 tadpoles which require their own particular food, so she stays busy. She allowed us to help with the toad feeding, but we'll end up spending much more time with the bugs than the toads.
Living the Toad Life
Eighteen of the Wyoming Toads raised here were released into the wild a couple of weeks ago, and more are scheduled to go out as they mature. Hopefully this effort will result in a sustainable population of toads in the wild.


Tuesday, June 14, 2016

Crickets and Roaches and Beetles, Oh My!!

Here at the Leadville National Fish Hatchery, the "featured" species is the Greenback Cutthroat Trout. This is a prime breeding facility for this threatened species.

However, a lesser known endangered species is raised here as well, the Wyoming Toad. Our refuge manager raised Wyoming Toads at his previous position at the Saratoga National Fish Hatchery, and he took the opportunity to add them here as well.
Wyoming Toads
But before you can raise toads, you've got to establish a food supply. And these guys eat pretty darned well!  Check out their weekly menu.
Lunch is Served
Where do they get all of these delicious toad delicacies? They raise them here!
Insect Room
They raise worms, roaches, crickets, isopods (roly-polies), bean weevils, and flour beetles. The bugs eat pretty well themselves. Another menu:
Delicious AND Nutritious
Some of the insects are pretty easy to care for. The bean weevils are left alone with their beans. You may have seen a few of these guys in your pantry.
Bean Weevils
And flour beetles live in big tubs of flour. Pretty simple. 
Flour Beetles
The Red Wigglers (worms) enjoy kitchen scraps, so the staff here save theirs for a little worm recycling. The commercial worm bin has several layers which makes it easy to collect the worms when the time comes.
Worm Bin
It seems like the "go-to" foods for the toads are roaches (Red Runners, aka Turkish Roaches) and crickets. These guys take quite a lot of care and feeding.
Food Prep
The bugs are fed once a day. First their fruits and vegetables are washed and peeled. Then they are cut into appropriate sizes for the different sizes of roaches and crickets.
Chop Chop
Container by container, old food is cleaned out, and new food and water is added. It is amazing how quickly the food is consumed each day.
Old Food
Larger insects get water bottles, while the little guys get a moist paper towel so they won't fall in and drown.
Fresh Food and Moist Towel
It doesn't take long before the insects are eating their fresh food.
Lunch is Served
 This isn't a job for the squeamish, so I guess it's good that Teri and I don't mind bugs!
A Whole Lot of Roaches
Check back for the actual feeding of the toads.


Sunday, June 12, 2016

Makin' More Sapsuckers!!

One of the first birds that we spotted here at Leadville National Fish Hatchery was a beautiful Red-naped Sapsucker.
Red-naped Sapsucker
If you look closely at the picture above you can see the little red patch on the nape of the neck that gives this species their name.

After seeing one bird alone for a few days, we came across a pair together in a tree. The male has more red and black on the head, and is generally a little darker.
Red-naped Sapsucker Pair
The female looks similar to the male, but with less red and black on the head. 
After dancing around on the branch for a few moments, we got to observe the actual mating of this pair. 
Red-naped Sapsucker mating

Like other woodpeckers these guys are cavity nesters. We've seen plenty of cavities around but don't know where these two are holed up. Hopefully we'll see some youngsters around shortly.


Tuesday, June 7, 2016

High Elevation Butterflies

Our "backyard" here at the Leadville National Fish Hatchery is a wonderful complex of hiking trails that access the Mount Massive Wilderness Area. We have hiked a couple of the easier trails and did a portion of a longer, steeper trail just a couple of mornings ago.

With morning temps still in the 30's we weren't sure about butterflies, but were pleased to see a few flying in sunny areas of the trail.
Thicket Hairstreak
Our first sighting was this small, rusty red Thicket Hairstreak. No larger than a penny, they have the habit of continuously "sawing" their wings back-and-forth against each other as they perch. I think that this is supposed to confuse a predator into striking at the back of the wings where false eyes and antennae are found. Better to lose the back of your wings than your head!!
Western Pine Elfin
Next were these Western Pine Elfins. Even smaller than the Hairstreak, they were incredibly active with 2, 3 or even 4 of them whirling around each other so quickly that you could hardly follow them. Whether it was males fighting for territory or a courtship behavior we couldn't say, but they certainly were burning off some energy.
Margined White
While not as showy as the other two the Margined White was pretty in a subtle way. And they are larger and slower, making photography a bit easier!

While we found each of these at elevations above 10,000 feet, none of them are particularly rare or confined to high elevations. They must just like the cool summer temperatures up here. Hopefully as summer progresses and we start to see a few wildflowers we will find more butterflies.


Friday, June 3, 2016

Stocking Turquoise Lake

The 5625(ish) Rainbow Trout that were loaded into the hatchery truck were destined for nearby Turquoise Lake. Once the truck is loaded the stocking itself is a one-person job, but we tagged along to help.
On the Road.
The lake has been lowered in order to catch the snow melt that is on the way. So Joe had to back several hundred feet down a long boat ramp. I helped him get into position at the bottom.
Getting Close. 
Once in position you might think that there is an elaborate process to gently introduce the fish into their new environment. Nope!  Kick the cap off of the big pipe.
And pull the plug on tank #1.
Tank #1 Going In.
What a Ride!
It takes about 60 seconds for a tank of fish to empty into the lake. On to tank #2.
Tank #2
In the Lake
With their sudden entry into the water we expected to see a casualty or two. But aside from a few confused fish that beached themselves in the excitement all seemed fine. Teri was in charge of helping those few back into the water.
Home Sweet Home!
Our final tasks were to check the water temperature (46 degrees) and get the truck back up the ramp.
Checking the Temperature.
All Finished.
The scenery on our drive back to the hatchery wasn't too shabby!
Mount Massive