Saturday, March 28, 2009

Northern Saw-Whet Owl

If there was ever a contest for the cutest bird ever, this bird would definitely be in the running! Presque Isle is a stop over for the occasional saw-whet owl in late March and early April. The saw-whet is one of the smallest owls in North America (length 8"; wing span 17" weight 3 oz.) and definitely the smallest owl to migrate through Presque Isle. The saw-whet is reclusive by nature and is strictly nocturnal on breeding grounds making it somewhat difficult to research. There are specialized monitoring operations in the Great Lakes Region which is a major passage for the migrating owls. One such operation is at Allegany State Park where banding is done in the fall. For more information about saw-whets including some wonderful pictures, visit Monarch's Nature Blog and do a search for saw-whet owls.
The owl in the picture above was spotted by Jerry McWilliams on March 26, 2009. Jerry conducts a bird identification class in the spring and occasionally in the fall on PISP. He scouts out the areas on the park that the saw-whets frequent and sounds the e-mail alert for all in his class to meet him at the park at a designated time in hopes the owl will have stayed put. Jerry has seen more saw-whets on the park than most and knows to what trees they tend to return. No one can be sure if the same owl returns to the same tree each year or if it is something special about the tree that attracts the species in general. The most saw-whets Jerry has seen on the park in a season is nine. Wouldn't it be great if this year was a record-breaker!

I took this photo last spring along Fry's Landing

Below is my first attempt with uploading video. Next time I'll use a tripod!

Tuesday, March 24, 2009

Fish Tales

I was starting to get cabin fever the week before Spring's arrival and really needed a break from the dinning room makeover. So when Michele asked if I wanted to join her at Presque Isle I raised my hand and said "yes"! We decided to hook up at the entrance by Sara's campground. The campground is nestled along the wooded area at the base of the bluff as you enter the peninsula. In front of the camp ground is a coffee shop and the summertime favorite, Sarah's Diner. I have never ventured back to the campground till that day while waiting for Michele to arrive. As I got closer to the fence and the camp sites I heard water splashing. I was surprised to find a small creek that runs through the grounds which feeds into the bay. Now, some Erieites are probably giggling by now knowing that the creek was there. Well, you will laugh even more to learn that what was making the splashing sound were fish swimming up stream.
I thought "oh wow, how cool is that". I had no idea what kind of fish they were. So when Michele arrived I told her about the creek and what I thought were Salmon. After all, didn't everybody relate to fish swimming up stream being Salmon? Besides they had this beautiful pink rainbow stripe on their sides.

We photographed them as best we could since neither of us had a polarizing filter with us. A gentleman drove by and stopped to chat with us. He was telling us how great it was to see the fish back in the stream after years of absence. I think he assumed I knew what kind of fish they were since he was familiar with the campground and that particular area.

After arriving home later in the day I was all excited to tell my husband of our find since he is an avid fly fisherman. You would think that after all these years with him fishing I would know more, but I didn't. He catches and releases his fish, so I never get to see them, and I don't have any interest in fishing. Although he didn't know about the stream he did know what kind of fish they were and he kind of laughed at me thinking they were Salmon. So when he told me they were Steelhead I pursued him with more questions and this is what I learned.

Steelhead are a sea trout introduced to the Great Lakes back in the 60's and early 70's as a game fish. They were introduced after the Coho Salmon because the Salmon were not reproducing as well as expected. Although they are a sea dwelling trout they did adapt to our fresh water lake. Today there is a small hatchery along the Bayfront to keep the Steelhead stocked. The fingerlings are released in the streams so their "little brains", as my husband says, will think this is home and return as adults. In the spring they swim out into the lake and after maturation will return in the fall to mate and lay eggs. While in the lake they are silver in color, but after several weeks in the streams they revert back to their rainbow coloration.

My husband doesn't fish for Steelhead because he would rather fish in streams like Oil Creek or small mountain streams for brook trout which are the only trout native to the Eastern US. Rainbow Trout and Brown Trout were also introduced to this area for game fishing.

Hopefully I have my facts straight and if you have any info you wish to share on Steelhead or stories please share them in the comments section.

For more information on fishing Presque Isle try the links below.
Identification and trout families
PA Fish and Boat Commission: Steelhead
PA Steelhead Association
Fish Erie
Come Fish Lake Erie and Presque Isle Bay


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