I'm working as a Fish Culturist at Hidden Falls Salmon Hatchery in a remote spot near Sitka, Alaska! AM I CRAZY!? I'm starting to think so...

Saturday, October 27, 2007

Bear Paranoia

Today I’ve been walking around in a “There’s an attacker on the loose in my neighborhood” kinda mood. By “my neighborhood” I mean “Hidden Falls” and by “attacker” I mean an angry mama and her 3 little furry accomplices. Last night, Muttley, Dan and Deena’s dog… the tall black and white dog” got attacked by the Mama bear who has the three cubs. Muttley is ok but he got bit in the head and neck… Deena took him to town today on the plane so they could see the vet… he had a bandage around his head so I didn’t see the full extent of the damage but you could see that one side of his face was swollen and he had some bite marks on the top of his head. Poor dog… he just looked sad and very subdued... very un-Muttley-like. I don’t really know the full story but I know Deena was taking him out and the bear and cubs were up on the hill somewhere around her house. Well, Muttley is the “bear dog” on site and will whine/bark/howl and chase any bear he sees. I know Muttley slipped his rope… and the bear charged. I’m guessing in that order but I’m not sure. So I’m hoping the bear was just feeling very threatened and that’s why she attacked… I just hope she isn’t turning real ornery and ready to attack anything!

So yeah, today I was very paranoid! Usually when I have to feed in the back, I’m always a bit paranoid because the bears show up in the boneyard a lot or are walking around in the forest which is right against the back round ponds. Also, there aren’t many fish to catch anymore so they are hanging out at the fish ladder which is full of Coho trying to get up (spawning hasn’t happened for Coho yet.) Angie said that the mama and 3 cubs have been hanging out there a few times a day lately… even during the day when people are walking around. So add that plus Muttley getting attacked by her plus me having to walk to the back round ponds to feed and I was a bit… nervous! Thankfully, I didn’t really see them today… I guess I DID technically though. I was looking for Adam this morning to ask something about the back and thought maybe he went to the dock. Well I walked up by the front round ponds to see if I could see over there and couldn’t really but I spotted a bear walking around down there. Adam said it was her with the cubs so it’s good I didn’t go walking over there! This afternoon, though, I was walking out of the back shed and took my time looking around for anything at the door when a bear came walking down the hill from the hydro buildings. It was about 30 feet away… right in the path I would have been taking. I grabbed the door and pulled it sort of closed so he didn’t see me (not that I needed to… got scared!), he took a pit stop at the fish ladder and walked through the boneyard and disappeared into the weeds.

ANYHOW, enough about bears… I would like to thank the US Government for keeping their promise to me to get me my passport in 2 weeks (not that I need it NOW!) I received it today… YAY. Melissa, I also received the Halloween package you sent me! THANKS! :-) I got movies today too! It was a good mail day… though it could have been made better if my Cosmo magazine would have come! HA HA OH, Adam told me that Scott said I could work THROUGH the month of November if I wanted… since I’ll be staying until December. So that’s cool. That will add an extra two weeks onto my paycheck. YAY

This past Tuesday and Wednesday we did egg transfers. Along with all of our chum eggs, we take chum eggs for the Deep Inlet project at Medveije (it’s a similar project to Takatz). So there were 9 R48s full of eggs that needed to get moved to Medveije which is in Sitka… Not something you can just pop into the mail and fly them over to them. So Medveije’s manager, Lon, came over in a big boat to transfer them. He showed up around 6pm (so we only worked the morning that day and then took off until 6) We had pipes running from a big box in the incubation room all the way down to the dock… basically set up the same way as when we pipe fish into net pens. We siphoned the eggs from the R48s into this big box which was full of water and we caught them down at the dock. First we put them into small mesh baskets that had wet burlap in them (they were rectangle baskets but were probably about a bushel in size) The eggs can stay out of water for a while, as long as they are kept moist, hence the wet burlap. So we filled baskets full with eggs, covered them up with the sides of the burlap, put a wooden cover over them, and then stacked them on a pallet. Once we were out of baskets, we started filling up fish totes. The fish totes are plastic and insulated (I think) but are about the size of big bulk boxes like for apple picking. I think we filled like 8 totes… plus all the baskets… and a few coolers (yeah like beer coolers). That was Tuesday night and there were still like 3-1/2 incubators of eggs left, which they did on Wednesday night. Adam and I weren’t working Wednesday (“celebrating” Alaska Day). Anyhow, we were working in the dark down on the dock (and in incubation depending what you were doing) until about 9. On Wednesday, I think they started at like 10 or 11pm even! I asked Adam if there was really a reason to start so late, but he said no. I thought maybe it was because the eggs were supposed to be in darkness but he said it doesn’t matter… we just started late because the boat takes a while to get here. Then they have to go back to Medveije and immediately unload and deal with the eggs.

Well, that’s that folks. I think that about covers everything for this installment. Even though this was long, there isn’t that much going on here right now. We spent a while cleaning out the PVC room this week… which means it’s a slow time! :-) Still no snow on the ground. But here’s a picture of the snow up on the mountain… I took it the other day. Hopefully you can differentiate the snow covered mountains from the sky.

Photo Sharing and Video Hosting at Photobucket

OH YEAH and the best part of the week… I made Grandma Czuba’s special fruit salad… mmmmm! It’s fabulous! Comfort food from home! :-) Adam likes it too.

SHOUT OUT OF THE DAY - To Melissa, thanks for the mail!

Friday, October 19, 2007

Mexico, here I come!

Hey everyone!

It's been sort of a crazy odd week so sorry for the lack of posting. I went into town last Wednesday to Friday... ended up going back on Monday and stayed until Wednesday. As most of you know, I was trying to get a passport, but my birth certificate arrived too late so I had to go back. Anyhow, that's done... WHEW! (More on the trip later...) That took about 20 minutes on Monday and then I was left to wonder what the heck I was going to do for the next two days in town! Tim was in town (he worked at HF this summer... left to work at Salmon Lake) Well he asked me if I wanted to go out there to Salmon Lake for a bit and check it out... help them out a bit. So I decided "ehh what the heck!"

The Salmon Lake project is another thing run by NSRAA.... something about the efficiency of their weir. Anyhow, they drive a boat from Medveije Hatchery (which is on the very edge of Sitka) to some land near Salmon Lake. Then they have to hike about a mile to get to their camp. That doesn’t sound TOO bad until you realized… OHH that means they hike in their groceries or whatever they need at camp. They have been building a new camp out their meaning… they have had to hike in LUMBER TOO! Crazy… So I helped Tim hike in their groceries and whew… my back hurt a little afterward. It’s a pretty primitive site… the Takatz house is nicer than their camp. (By the way, we are getting a new Takatz house/barge and WOW, it’s gonna be HUGE and super nice! I’m excited!) Tim and Glenn showed me around a bit… the site is on a stream but you have to drive a little bit to get to Salmon Lake. We checked out the Forestry Service cabin that is out there and hung out a bit. They did some “recapture” studies… aka they fished a bit. If they caught a fish that wasn’t tagged, they tagged it and measured its length. If it was tagged, they recorded the tag number. Well I spent the night there and tried not to freeze (I didn’t exactly have the right clothing for staying out there… since I wasn’t expecting to go.) Glenn had to work at Medveije the next morning so I headed back there with him in the morning and just hung out in town for the rest of the day. So that was interesting.

Wednesday I headed back to the hatchery, helped unload all the groceries, and then jumped into work again (I got back about 1.) They were “seeding” the eggs in the incubation room. Last week, I think it was, we seeded the “Late Large” eggs. That was 12 incubators… Wednesday they did 18 incubators of the normal Hidden Falls eggs. The “Late Large” eggs are Hidden Falls eggs too but when we raise them, we are just going to keep them a bit longer and release them when they are a bit larger than the rest of the chum. These eggs are seeded into those metal stacked incubators… the “No-Pads” which are the ones that have 5 boxes stacked on each other. In each box (a while back), we put biorings, the substrate, and then we put this screen on top. The screen covers the whole box and we pour the eggs onto that screen. Then, when the fish hatch, the fish can fit thru the holes in the screen and settle down into the substrate, but the bad eggs that didn’t hatch are still left on top. None of the eggs that go into the No-Pads need to be sorted. The only eggs that do need to be sorted are the eggs that will be put into the R48 incubators. Apparently we are going to be getting another row of No-Pads in the incubation room, which will accommodate about half of the Takatz Bay eggs. So technically, we will only have to sort half of the Takatz eggs. You might be sort of confused about the R48 thing. Right now all of the un-seeded eggs are IN R48s. Those are the blue incubators… half of the Takatz eggs will go BACK into R48s BUT when they go back in there, the eggs will be separated into layers. Right now, the R48s are completely full of eggs… top to bottom. When they go back in, we’ll put down a layer of substrate and pour some eggs in, then but a really small meshed screen to separate the layer and repeat. I think there will be 5 layers. WHEW… sorry if that was confusing!? Lemme know if that even made sense and if you understand or if I’m just writing JIBBERISH!? :-)

Alright, so that is some of what is going on at the hatchery. We are still feeding Coho, which are in freshwater and will be all winter long. Tuesday, I think, they transferred the Chinook from freshwater out to the saltwater pens, where they will stay until we release them next season. Those are the fish that will be like 6 inches long by the time they are released. They are cool. We have some new faces here now too. Steve, who is the guy who arrived in Sitka the same day as me way back in February and was working for Medveije, is now in charge of the Chinook. Lora, his wife, is here too, but she is only working some because she is pregnant. Soon we will have a NEW LITTLE face too… But speaking of NEW LITTLE faces… we DO have one! Brandy, who is Josh’s wife, had her baby at the beginning of the month and arrived back on Saturday. He’s a cute little guy!

Well, I guess that’s about it for the hatchery happenings. Weather happenings… yesterday Adam looked out the window and was like “WHOA! Lots of snow!” Well he meant up on the mountain! The snow has officially reached the tree level. It’s still high up there but doom is coming. :-) Though I think Adam prayed for snow last night because he’s a hunter and snow means the deer will come down the mountain. Well thankfully, he DIDN’T get his wish. Still no snow on the ground BUT… I walked outside and there was frost. There is still frost on the ground at noon. It’s quite chilly out too so yeah… boo snow!

Well, I talked about the passport thing and most of you know what that’s all about. A trip… I decided I wanted to go on a trip and yesterday it became final! YAY… Adam and I booked a trip to Puerto Vallarta, Mexico for December. We found this hotel and it looked cool but when we got back from town the first time (me without a passport), it ended up being all booked up for the dates we wanted. Well, we ended up deciding that we still wanted to go there so we had to push the dates back. So we’re going from December 10th – 17th. I know it’s late…but I’ll be home for Christmas and then probably until early February but I’m still not positive yet. Anyhow, here’s the hotel… we got an all-inclusive package so food and crap is included. Should be fun! :-)


I think that’s all for now… yesterday was Alaska Day and everyone got the day off. Since Adam and I were already off, we get Monday off to “celebrate.” Anyhow, guess that’s it. BYE!

SHOUT OUT OF THE DAY – uhh… yeah I got nothing! Sorry.

Friday, October 5, 2007

The end is in sight.. and winter.

Alright this is going to be short but I felt the need to share something... it feels like a small milestone in my life. Yesterday I payed off one of my two student loans. Granted, it was a very small loan in comparison to the big ol loan I still have left. But it feels good. :-) I'll still be paying that other loan for the next oh... 12 years of my life, but now I only have to pay ONE loan. The end is in sight... sort of!?

Oh yeah, winter is in sight too. BOO! Adam set a long line yesterday and when we went to pull it, he pointed out that there is fresh snow up on one of the mountain peaks. It's like 4000 feet up there but still... eventually that will come down here. Thought I'd share that too. By the way, he did get his halibut he wanted on the long line. It was about a 50-60 pounder.

Wednesday, October 3, 2007

OH RIGHT... I DO live in a rainforest!

Can you all believe it’s October already!? That’s crazy… well it sure FEELS like October here. It’s begun to cool off ALOT… BOO! The temperatures are in the low 50s… and OH YEAH, that’s right, I DO live in a temperate rainforest. I was starting to wonder why it has been raining so darn much! We get rain almost every day… except last Thursday when it was really nice on my day off. This morning, as I was feeding fish, I was wishing that I put on my hat because it felt pretty cool. Oh well… comes with the territory I guess.

Well, let me really start out with a bear story. Last night I was making dinner when Adam looked out the window and said there was a bear right out there... like RIGHT under his porch. It was a higher tide too so it was up higher on the rocks. Usually we see them across the lagoon, but this guy just seemed a lot closer. Well we thought it was this bear that had been lurking around during the day so we went out on the porch to look closer. It had moved over to the side and was partially covered by branches so we stood there until it moved back over. It ended up being the momma bear with 3 cubs. Usually she is very skiddish and runs off as soon as she sees anyone no matter the distance. Initially, she must not have seen us as she started to walk closer because she didn’t run… but then she saw us and she started to run off a little... Something in her must have suddenly felt threatened because right as I was running off (I just felt like she was going to run up the hill and eat us!) I heard her growl. Adam said she sorta false charged and stood up on the pipe that is right down there. She was probably 10 feet away, but below us. It was kinda crazy... a little cool... a little freaky! :-D I was shaking a bit afterward... but not so much because of fear. Just because the whole thing was crazy. WE GOT GROWLED AT BY A BEAR! :-D

Anyhow, I told mom that story in an email right after it happened and she wrote me back with some questions about bears, so I’ll answer them here. Ok actually, after looking back at the questions, I’m not even sure the answers, so I’ll talk about the bears that I see here. Maybe that will answer the questions for you Mom.

As I said in the last blog probably, there are more bears coming on site. Not just across the lagoon… but ON SITE. Usually it is just at night and we don’t run into any. On Sunday, I think, I went to the back to feed the fish in the green round ponds. Well right next to the ponds is the raceway that we put all of the adult Coho in for spawning, which I talked about last blog, but there is a fence keeping the fish from jumping out. Unfortunately, it doesn’t keep the bears from going IN! The fence was constructed in piece so it can be taken out easily, but when it got put in, the panels weren’t connected. So when I get there in the morning, one of the panels was swung out into the raceway… another panel was completely in the water (it was a long panel too!), and the crowder (it’s a fence in the water to crowd fish toward the front) is all off kilter. It was interesting! Now they have installed an electric wire around that whole area hoping to keep the bears away. According to Adam, the fence works… on humans atleast! :-)

That same day, Adam and I were out doing the last feeding and I saw a bear across the lagoon, but right at the weir. A few minutes later, I saw Adam walking in that direction laughing. It was a higher tide and I guess the bear walked across the weir, which was under water, and was real close to the round ponds (the round ponds I was feeding, by the way!) Well, we have these things called “Bird Bangers” which are used to scare birds away. It’s kinda like a firework shooting out of it. Well Adam’s aim was great because it exploded about 2 inches from the bear’s butt, because it had turned to run at the first little bang! It was really funny!

The next day, I was walking to the back round ponds and I saw a bear on the little road that goes to the boneyard (he area behind the round ponds… basically where I saw that bear that first time when I was feeding in the back, when I almost had a heart attack!). Made me stop and watch but he was just walking around… about the same size as the other one but I don’t know if it was the same. A few minutes later, I walked into the spawning shed and said to Deena there was a bear back there, when I saw it’s head pop up again back there. You could tell it was thinking about walking up to the round ponds. Adam went to get a bird banger and shot at it. The bear freaked out and had to jump over some big PVC to get up into the trees, but after it jumped over, it didn’t even run away. That was probably the same bear that got into the raceway… and will probably be the bear to cause the problems. We’ll see…….

The time has come to start dealing with some of the eggs. Last week Adam was setting up all the egg pickers. EGG PICKERS? Yes… some of the eggs will get sorted by these egg picking machines. I’ll get into which eggs get sorted at a later date. Yesterday and today we worked with what we call the Zero-Check Chinook eggs. “Zero-check” has something to do when they are released as fish… don’t really know. Anyhow, yesterday we “shocked” them. Not really “shocked” with electricity… We siphoned the eggs out of the incubator and bounced them off this little wall. The impact should cause the bad eggs to turn a creamy color. Today, we “picked” them. Once you get the machine dialed in right, the machines pick almost perfect. You just have to stand there and watch… fill the hopper with more eggs… pick out random bad eggs. The machine we used today has a wheel with holes. Water pushes an egg into each hole. As it goes around, a laser reads if it’s a bad egg (cream colored). If it is, a puff of air pushes it out and into the bad basket. If it’s good, it continues around and gets pushed out by air into the good basket. It’s kinda cool.

The first time I saw the eggs up close (which was last week) I was almost… mesmerized! That sounds weird… you are probably thinking “Ok. I don’t get mesmerized when I see chicken eggs!?” Well, you see these eggs in the incubator… they look just like they did when you put them in. But when you get them out and look at them up close… THERE’S A LITTLE FISH IN THERE! You see black dots inside which are the eyes. You can see a vein… I couldn’t stop looking at them. And they are super tough! You would think you have to be real gentle with them… but I squeezed one of the bad eggs between my fingers with all my might and it didn’t pop! It did on the second try, but they are tough little buggers! When we were cleaning up today, there were some eggs on the table so I was playing with them. This is going to sound morbid, but I cut one opened and literally… a little fish! It kinda just looks like a little worm with big black eyes, but it moves and everything! I was kind of amazed… didn’t realized it would be like that.

**NOTE** I wrote all that last night… now it’s Wednesday…

So the eggs were all “picked.” Then we had to “seed” them. That just means to put them into the incubators. We had like 4 full baskets of eggs and I just took a colander (yeah… I really mean a kitchen strainer… like for noodles!), scooped out some eggs and put them into a different metal basket which was on a scale. We weighted out a certain amount and then they go into the incubators. Remember, a while back I talked about Bio-rings? The fake substrate… well the eggs are poured into the tray and there are bio-rings in it too. So when the fish hatch, they can basically feel like they are in their natural environment.

Well……. I think that’s about it? I wrote most of this last night but didn’t finish it. So when I said “last night” or “yesterday” I really mean Monday… “today” means Tuesday. It probably doesn’t matter that much really… sorry if it’s all confusing! It’s lunchtime here so I’ll go do that. Sorry, I don’t really have any pictures for you.

SHOUT OUT OF THE DAY – I have a few for a change!

** To Mom, Congratulations on being named the Ambassador of the Year for the Miss Southwest Program! That’s great!

** To Dad and Lee, Happy Anniversary!!

** To Tommy, I hear the band is doing great this year! Keep it up!