Curious Nature: Bustling life around our creeks and rivers |

Curious Nature: Bustling life around our creeks and rivers

Dina Patsiavos
Vail, CO Colorado

Since living in the High Rockies, I am constantly amazed by river flow and how important a big snow year is to life in and around our creeks and rivers. Our riparian (river edge) forests are greatly affected by changes in snowpack, spring melt and hot summers. The summer of 2010 proved to be quite the summer for activity on the river with water levels reaching 20-year highs. Although we experienced a lack of snow this winter, life around our several bodies of water is bustling right now, so take a minute to notice it. It is often these simple, unexpected moments and small discoveries that connect us more deeply to our amazing natural world.

A recent adventure rafting down friendly Glenwood Canyon is what sparked my interest in writing about activity in and around our waters. During small pauses between paddle strokes, it was hard not to notice a great deal of movement taking place along the surface of the water. Bank and cliff swallows were dipping and diving all around the banks of the river, feeding on newly hatched insects like the stonefly, the caddis fly and the Western green drake. Swallows will chase after their prey for hours, easily traveling for hundreds of miles each day. They zigzag through the air until they catch the insect by its wings and gobble it up, or maybe take it home to a nest of hungry fledglings.

In addition to swallows, you may witness swifts, nighthawks, flycatchers and warblers snapping up insects as they fly through the air. Kingfishers fly above the water and suddenly snap their beaks to grab tiny fish and larger insects near the surface. Not only are the birds enjoying this wonderful feast, but the fish that inhabit our waters, like the high mountain brook trout, rainbow trout and brown trout, are biting, too.

Closer to home, while biking along Gore Creek, I have witnessed fishermen casting and retrieving. What flies are these anglers using? Caddis and stone flies began hatching in Gypsum two months ago and are just now emerging in the Eagle River and surrounding creeks. Minturn Anglers owner Alex Rachowicz reports the caddis fly is big on the Eagle right now, and the yellow sally and pale morning dun have begun hatching. Before planning to eat your catch, be sure that you are fishing in waters where the fish are OK to eat. Higher elevation waters contain the best fish for human consumption, although Minturn Angler Alex encourages catch and release, especially when fishing waters anywhere close to busy roads. Greenback cutthroat trout are the only Colorado native trout but are rare to catch here. Rainbow trout were introduced to our waters from the northwest and the brown trout from Germany. Catch and release allows one to safely enjoy the sport and to appreciate nature without depleting the resource.

In recent weeks, I have witnessed a swarm of insect and bird activity around Minturn, where I live, and in Avon, where I teach. On a weekly basis, my students and I visited Nottingham Lake and the Eagle River. We noticed butterflies and moths emerging everywhere and marveled at the many types of bees drenched in pollen as they flew from one dandelion to the next. The more I explore different bodies of water in the high country, the more I notice the miraculous interdependence of our native plants, insects, birds, fish and mammals. As an educator, I work with children who ask a plethora of questions, encouraging me to delve deeper, researching, identifying and learning along with them. I hope that you all take time to soak in the beauty of the natural world and to indulge your curiosities.

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Dina Patsiavos works as the Avon in-school educator with Walking Mountains Science Center. She has thoroughly enjoyed watching the river’s ups and downs over the past several seasons and looks forward to more aquatic adventures.

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