Week 3: Happy to Lend a Hand!

One caveat of surveying subalpine and alpine butterfly populations is that they reside in areas of high altitude, which can be tricky to get to. Because this year’s snow melt in Washington is behind schedule, four out of the five sites we are supposed to sample each week this summer are currently inaccessible due to snow presence on roads and hiking trails. This doesn’t mean I have been short of work though; I’ve been helping out with two other North Cascades National Park Service (NPS) projects, including sampling dragonfly naiads for a study of mercury levels and setting up camera traps to survey Canadian lynx populations.   For the dragonfly project, I am assisting Becca Evans, a graduate student at Washington State University, in collecting dragonflies from different lakes located throughout North Cascades National Park. Sampling dragonfly naiads (or larvae) is something that I have done previously in entomology classes, so I was happy to lend a hand and my expertise to the project. The reason for sampling dragonfly naiads is because they can live as an immature for up to five years, and can, over its lifetime, accumulate concentrations of heavy metals and other elements that may be found in the particular body of water it lives in, making it an important bio-indicator species. In this case, Becca is collecting the naiads in order to examine the mercury content in their systems, which she can then use to compare across different lakes. I have helped her sample two lakes so far, and we will sample some more next week!

NPS employees sorting dragonfly naiads at Thunder Lake

Me searching for dragonfly naiads in Pyramid Lake

A caddisfly larvae. Caddisflies make protective cases that are unique to each individual.

  Setting up camera traps for surveying Canadian lynx populations was a little more adventurous and labor intensive than collecting dragonfly naiads. Five NPS employees and I set out from western Washington to Fields Point Landing, Washington, to take a ferry up Lake Chelan to a little isolated village called Stehekin. Lake Chelan is massive and deep, the third deepest lake in the U.S. at 1500 feet, and it took us about three hours on the ferry to get across the lake to Stehekin. I had known from reading the trip itinerary that it would be a lot of work, but I can’t say that I was fully prepared for the conditions we would have to endure. We were scheduled to be in the back-country from Wednesday afternoon until Saturday afternoon, so we needed to pack quite a bit of supplies, including field gear (cameras, locks, GPS, radios, etc.), food, clothing, and other camping supplies. I ended up with 50+ pounds of gear to carry, which doesn’t seem like a ton until you have to carry it up a mountain for over 20 miles in 95 degree heat. Our hike was broken up into segments, but the first day was definitely the hardest. The home range of the Canadian lynx is around 3000 feet above sea level, so we needed to reach a minimum of that height to start placing the cameras. A continuous steep incline, heavy gear, and blistering temperatures made it the hardest hike of my life. After persevering through a second grueling hike the next day, we were rewarded with the breathtaking views at Rainbow Lake (pictures below). All in all, the trip was a challenge, but I got to see and experience so many things (including scaring off my first black bear!) that very few people will get to in their lives, and I am very fortunate and grateful for that. More adventures to come next week!

A dinghy on Lake Chelan

All packed, heading into the wilderness!

Setting up a lynx camera near Bowen Mountain

The view from above Rainbow Lake

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