Melissa Lenker
Back in the lab, Melissa continues her adventures across Canada as she pursues her degree in Marine Biology.

It has been more than two months since my last blog and Montreal’s once lush trees are mostly bare; a few orange leaves still cling to the otherwise naked branches. The overly abundant squirrel population of McGill’s Macdonald Campus also seems particularly rotund and well-fed, a sure sign of the coming winter. It is mid-November, and there is roughly another month left of the Fall 2014 semester.

Setting minnow traps in the Saint Lawrence River for McGill’s Fisheries and Wildlife Management class

The last I wrote, I was heading on a grand road trip across New York State to several fish hatcheries, a United States Geological Survey (USGS) station on Lake Ontario, and my alma mater Cornell University. The trip was a success, and I was able to procure historical lake trout spawning records from around the state for the second chapter of my thesis. I am attempting to analyze historical lake trout datasets to determine the impact of climatic variation on the timing of lake trout spawning and the quality of eggs produced. Unfortunately my data collection has resulted in hundreds of scanned PDF files which need to be checked for accuracy and converted to Excel tables, by hand. Lucky me.

I also finished working up the lake trout otoliths (used in fish aging) with more than a little help from one of the project advisers at the USGS station on Lake Ontario (thanks Brian!). We used the otoliths to finalize the Follensby von Bertalanffy growth curve, which we use to convert length to age in the population model. Lake trout are very slow growing species; some of the fish we caught are older than me. Shorter-lived fish lower on the food chain are generally considered more sustainable to harvest.

View of Lake Ontario from the USGS field station

I admit that walking the paths of the Cornell campus for the first time since graduation a year and a half ago felt strange. I know the campus so well that I could walk it blindfolded, and yet, all the passing faces are now unfamiliar. It is a place exactly the same and yet completely different from my well-cherished time there, which I find very unsettling.

This semester has been mostly work. In fact, I actually have not taken a full day off in over a month since field-work related activities (including preparation and clean-up) have occupied up every weekend in the last five weeks. I need a break, but such is the life of a graduate student. However, before field work and report writing invaded my life, I escaped Sainte-Anne-de-Bellevue to have a little fun. 

To celebrate the fall, I went apple picking on nearby Île Perrot. Unlike my boyfriend, I did not grow up in the Northeast and I find apple picking a very exotic and exciting pastime. (On par with pouring maple syrup in coffee). I imagine that East coast Canadians find the of idea year-round sandal weather equally exotic.

Apple picking: who doesn’t love a couple in matching flannels?

I also played hooky on a Wednesday to go kayaking at the famous ski resort Mont Tremblant. The fall colors were at their peak and the hillsides were a beautiful collage of red, yellow, green, and orange. As an experienced ocean kayaker, I was amazing at the ease of lake kayaking; freshwater kayaks are smaller and more agile than their ocean-savvy counterparts. And there is also no need to worry about large waves or sneaky California sea lions following you. Although I sorely miss the ocean (and sunshine, and warmth, and everything wonderful about California), freshwater kayakers might be onto something good.

Lead peeping (kayaking) in Mont Tremblant; too bad that fetching sandal tan won’t last the winter

At the beginning of October, I packed up our Ford F-150 lab pickup truck (affectionately and forever named Princess) and drove to back to my field site in the Adirondacks. As you may recall from the October 2013 blog post, last year’s field work trying to catch spawning lake trout did not go as planned. In fact, I may or may not have gotten mild frostbite on my fingers last year (still a matter of discussion), the month ended with my entire body bruised and sore, and most importantly, we only caught four spawning lake trout. A disaster, I know.

This year was better. Perhaps not a wild success but not disaster material either. We caught roughly 50 spawning lake trout, which improved our population size estimate and let us estimate age at maturity. It only snowed a few times and morning temperatures never dropped below 20ºF. I am frostbite free, and ended the field work relatively devoid of of bruises and pulled muscles. Now I am back in the lab, and it’s report writing time.

A little snowy field work with my fellow graduate student Jake; all of our nets and ropes froze this night

My current report synthesizes everything we know about the lake trout population so far and details management scenario results from the population model. I have been so busy working on the report and cleaning up from the field that everything else I should be working on has fallen behind.

I would be nice if this blog was filled with witty anecdotes, hilarious stories, or tales of exciting adventures from the field (we caught a few big pike… does that count?). Unfortunately the last few months, while busy and travel-filled, has consisted almost solely of work. And eating more Timbits – Canadian donut holes from Tim Hortons – than I ever recommend eating in one sitting. Perhaps Sarah can spice up my life by sending me some of those “absurdly adorable baby seals ” (her words, not mine) from Ecomare in Texel?

The skies overhead have been filled with thousands of Canada geese traveling south for the winter. I do not blame them. It’s almost time for me to join my feathered brethren and fly south as well. Next Friday I am traveling to Boston to spend time with Tory. We will then travel back to upstate New York for Thanksgiving. Just a few days after that, I am flying home to California to enjoy a little winter sunshine. Unfortunately that sunshine will also include long periods of time spent at the computer working each day.

C’est la vie étudiante de troisième cycle.


Recommended Posts