NANFA-- Trips to Limestone Creek, AL

Bruce Stallsmith (
Wed, 08 Mar 2000 22:40:10 EST

I started my collecting season last week, since here in the Tennessee Valley
of AL daytime temps have been pushing 80 F. I started by going to an
intriguing creek west of Huntsville, Limestone Creek, in Limestone County,
north of the town (crossroads, really) of Belle Mina. I'd collected
_Fundulus olivaceus_ there last October and wanted a few more.

My first trip last Thursday (these are all 2-hour trips before I have to
teach) showed a very different creek; last October I could easily wade in
the middle of my original site, but after spring rains it was a case of
Surf's Up! I didn't even try at this site; the road north from there follows
the creek, and so did I. I found a point where part of the roadside was
flooded, and pulled over there. My first net sweep caught a dozen _Gambusia_
(they're native here, so don't hiss) and a darter I'd never seen before.
This darter turned out to be the only interesting fish that day, and it is
_Etheostoma tuscumbia_, the Tuscumbia Darter. This species is endemic to the
Tennessee Valley in Alabama, and only found in about a dozen limestone
spring creeks (just like the one I've been working). The two known
populations in Tennessee were extirpated when the Pickwick Reservoir flooded
their spring creeks. The Tuscumbia Darter is a protected species in AL,
which in truth means little; it has no federal protection. I have a
scientific collecting permit which entitles me to keep the darter, who is
living in my greenhouse now.

This morning I went back to this stretch of creek, and started at the
flooded shoulder area. All I caught were yet more _Gambusia_; I was able to
snag an _olivaceus_ out of the main channel but he got away... at this point
I moved downstream to another site I'd noticed, which almost looked like a
small boat ramp cut through the streamside vegetation. This turned out to be
a riffle area over coarse gravel, with fast flowing water no more than about
knee deep. Yes! First I netted another darter, which in trying to avoid me,
came right at me. This turns out to be _Etheostoma duryi_, the Black Darter,
also endemic to the Tennessee Valley but common within this range. Later
sweeps of the net resulted in one _Fundulus olivaceus_ (hooray!) and one
other fish also new to me today, the Bigeye Shiner _Notropis boops_. The
Bigeye is at the southeastern edge of its range in AL, and has a sporadic
distribution in AL. _The Fishes of Alabama_ reports the authors found the
Bigeye in the next creek to the west, Piney Creek, but not in Limestone
Creek; it's unclear to me if they looked in Limestone Creek. _N. boops_ is
also found further east in the Paint Rock River system in Jackston County
(like a bunch of other cool shiners and darters). These three are also
living in my greenhouse tanks now.

So these were successful trips, short in duration but rich in new fishes to
me. And a good thing about fast flowing spring streams is few snakes in the
water because it's fairly cold. In the swamps, meanwhile, it's almost snake
breeding time... (and this from someone who belongs to ASIH, which is, after
all, American Society of Ichthyologists AND Herpetologists).

--Bruce Stallsmith
Huntsville, AL
"Ain't afraid of no tomcat, put poison in my mind..." --Doctor John

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