An email landed in my inbox a couple of days ago from the company that hosts this blog. It would seem that changes are on the way and changes no less that will enable me to be a bit more creative with the content and the way in which that content is displayed. From next March the current Blogware software that sits behind the words that you see will be replaced with WordPress which allows more flexibility with content and the way in which that content is managed. It will be fun experimenting with the new system when it's up and running and I should be able to include a lot more graphics in the posts than has been possible in the past.
The one thing that you can say about an Ecologists job is that no day is ever the same. My colleagues at PBA having spent yesterday rescuing native crayfish at Sheffield got down and dirty around Malham Tarn today collecting otter spraints. As I have mentioned before an MSc student from UCL is working here next summer on a project to identify the diet of our dales otters and it seemed a good idea to begin collecting during winter to establish if diet is seasonally influenced. The spraints are to be stored in the freezer at the office so if you happen to drop in and get offered some fishy smelling canapes just be a little suspicious.
The river has been very quiet over the past few days with a moderate flow – just right for an invert sample or two so if it's not bucketing it down tomorrow morning early light will see me stomping about in the river at New Inn looking for wee beasties.
I'm a bit late again this week due to extreme Christmas shopping and another Parish Council meeting mind you, the weather has been pretty atrocious here just lately preventing much outdoor activity.
We had the first severe flood of the winter last Tuesday and those of you who keep an eye on the Settle weir webcam will have seen a monster stopper wave rising above the weir. All the pastures and meadows around Studfold were flooded and the river overtopped at the foot of Newhouses lane. Water levels have remained high all week and rose significantly again last night as we caught another winter monsoon.
There was an interesting segment on Countryfile on Sunday about the breeding of Arctic char in Wales. Population numbers are falling in many Welsh upland lakes and the EA are conducting an experiment to see whether captive breeding will help to supplement surviving stocks. Each population is genetically different because of the length of time that each water body has been isolated following the retreat of the glaciers at the end of the last ice period in the current ice age. It was also thought that char were originally a marine species that has adapted to fresh water conditions. This is interesting as it suggests that my own hypothesis that brown trout did the same is not far off the mark.
I will try later to get the Tarn webcam back up and running its been stuck for a good few days now, but the weather here has not been conducive to technical work.
Another quiet week, but with pretty good water levels in the river the salmon continue to make their way up in reasonable numbers. It will be interesting to see what the redd count reveals when this is done in a few weeks time. The suspicion is that migratory fish numbers are down this year, but we may yet be surprised as the run has persisted over what seems to be a longer period than last year. The risk though is that salmon will still be spawning when our trout arrive on the gravels and early trout redds will suffer from disturbance.
My shoulder problem that put paid to the invert check last week has noticeably improved since yesterday and I once again have a moderately functioning left arm. I am tempted to do a late check just to see what impact the recent good water may have had, but we are now languishing under a fair snowfall with more forecast overnight and through tomorrow.
The Tarn is playing host to a solitary cormorant and I have been trying without much success to persuade it to clear off and find a friend. Whilst on the subject of wildlife PBA have arranged for a Masters student to carry out a study of the impact of otters on the ecology of Malham Tarn. If time and funding permit I am hopeful that we will be able to take a look at otter sprains on the river also. This will provide some info on diet and may give an indication of potential impact on fish populations. We also have the promise of another student who will look at trout populations and may be able to extend the work to sample the river. These two studies could give some valuable data to inform the actions we need to take to encourage trout recruitment so that we minimise any possible conflict between the interests of members and native predators.