TOP

Fish

Blue Ridge

“The Highs and Lows of Stone Mountain”

We completed a 3.3 mile hike on the Stone Mountain Loop trail after breakfast. Along the way we found an brightly colored red eft, the terrestrial juvenile phase of the Eastern Red-Spotted Newt, on the trail. We determined it was a salamander rather than a lizard because it had no scales and no claws. FYI, all newts are salamanders, but not all salamanders are newts. Newts are toxic to fish and small mammals. Adult males have something called nuptial pads, which are raised rough ridges, on the inside of their hind feet during the breeding season to help hang onto the females.

Bright red salamander with sand stuck to its back held in an open palm. The salamander is about 3 inches long from nose to tail tip.

Eastern newt in the red eft life stage encountered in Stone Mountain State Park

We snacked on the summit of Stone Mountain while we observed the minerals in the igneous rock and discussed the processes that we thought were responsible for the creation of the granite dome, including continental collisions, magma cooling underground millions of years ago, and tons of weathering and erosion.

12 adults standing or sitting in two rows on top of a rock face of Stone Mountain (North Carolina) overlooking the Blue Ridge Mountains

The Blue Ridge Institute poses atop Stone Mountain, NC.

After lunch, we met with TR Russ, one of the eight non-game fisheries biologists in the state that work for the NC Wildlife Commission. He passed around a stone roller fish preserved in alcohol, as well as a paddle fish, just 2 of the more than 200 species he works with!

Using a backpack electroshocker and a swine net, we collected (for observation only) a handful of species of fish, along with a few crayfish/crawdads, 2 with a leeches attached to them. TR found a horsehair worm, the stuff of nightmares, a parasite that burrows into a cricket’s body, driving it crazy and drawing it to the river, where it then EXPLODES out of the poor creature to continue its life cycle in the water.

We then went snorkeling to observe the same fish within their natural habitat. The heat and humidity was bad today, so the cold river water felt refreshing.

Two people pose for a selfie holding up a small fish that is mostly a light brown color.

A quick selfie with Lenae, Becqui, and a striped jumprock fish while exploring the Roaring River at Stone Mountain State Park

This was followed by a visit to the bottom of Stone Mountain Falls, a 200-foot tall cascade. The problem is, to get to the Falls you have to climb down a flight of 300 stairs…and back up again.

We also learned to use the Seek app, which is a very resourceful tool in identifying species of flora and fauna. And experts within our group presented on topics of the hemlock wooly adelgid, the southern flying squirrel, and the raven. We received a bookmark full of adelgid information, played a group game featuring flying squirrel facts, and created a make and take modeled after the amazing raven.

All this in our first day! And what a day it was.

Blue Ridge

“Inquiry Fever”

Inquiry Fever:  The fervent desire to explore, observe, and learn.

We all have “Inquiry Fever”!  The excitement is contagious.  We spent the day in Stone Mountain State Park, starting with a hike up to the summit for a geology lesson on how the region was formed.  Along the way, we encountered a pair of Pileated Woodpeckers, a Red-spotted Newt, a deceased Eastern Red Bat, fence lizards, a goldfinch, and so much more!!

Next, we went to Roaring Fork River and met representatives from the NC Wildlife Commission. We put on waders and wetsuits and went seining and snorkeling in the river in order to identify a variety of fish, including a Brook Trout, Smallmouth Bass, and a Redlip Shiner.  We were also able to identify three different kinds of crayfish. It was a cool experience — literally — the water was quite cold! To cap off the afternoon, we hiked to Stone Mountain Falls and splashed in the water there.

We are all learning from each other and especially from our leader scientists.  It is awesome to be among like-minded educators who are willing to stop and explore!  For example, we spent a significant amount of time observing and inquiring about two Broad-necked Root-borer Beetles laying eggs.

We are now gathered together at camp working on our projects and smelling delicious burritos cooking.  Can’t wait for tomorrow’s adventures!