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FWI 4 Days, 2 Rivers. May 2016.


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#1 Casper

Casper
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  • Chattanooga, TN alongside South Chickamauga Creek, just upstream of the mighty Tennessee River.

Posted 03 June 2016 - 11:24 AM

Day 1, Saturday May 21, 2016   Hiwassee River Return
 
Dave and i had planned on meeting at the Little River Saturday noon but a night of rain had driven the guage higher.  Studying our options and with the Hiwassee Dam controlling flow and rain events, and the river running unseasonably low and warm we decided to rendezvous at the Hiwassee Picnic Site about 11:00 am.
 
It was overcast but the water was reasonably clear, but at a chilly 65 degrees.  This time i was prepared putting both my wetsuits on yielding a total of 4 / 6 mils.  We drifted downstream in search of active Chub mounds, Hellbenders and Tangerines.  I found a large mound and held on just downstream pulling myself under repeatedly for an angled view.  Before long a well worn male appeared and began to add rocks.  There was no real activity otherwise, as no other species seemed interested on this overcast morning.
 
 
10-Mound.JPG
 
River Chub mound, piled high.
 
 
11-ChubStone.JPG
 
The architect adding another stone.  A bit battle worn late in the season with his missing tubercules.
 
 
12-Rain.JPG
 
Rain drops were falling on our heads.
 
 
Rain began to fall and Dave returned to the bank for a gear swap and reboot.  As i crawled upstream i caught sight of a Gilt Darter stiff and panting rapidly in the shallow flow.  Though alive he would only move a bit when i nudged him.  We spent time observing the Gilt using the opportunity for photography and careful detail.  I surmised that he had been caught up in a brawl as his left side was marred with an odd pattern and both left fins were damaged.  Gilt Darters can change their patterns rapidly and in great contrast but this non symmetrical blotch, as opposed to his other side, is odd.  I headed upstream in hopes of finding another sparring male but came across a Snail Darter and was easily distracted.  They are always a treat to see with their iridescent green sheen and distinct saddles.  I continued on upstream hoping another breeding Gilt male would be, but none to be found.
 
 
13-Gilt2.JPG
 
After the Brawl.  Note the odd blotch pattern and damaged fins.
 
 
14-Gilt3.JPG
 
Nosed in and panting rapidly, hoping for recovery?  Fought to exhaustion?
 
 
15-SnailDarter.JPG
 
Snail Darter running the shallow flows.
 
 
With Dave heading upstream i took my time pulling myself along the shallows and watching for various encounters.  The sun came out and the water seemed to flow clearer motivating me forward.
 
 
16-GapView.JPG
 
Pulling me forward, an enchanting view.
 
 
17-Sculpin.JPG
 
A Sculpin in ambush mode.
 
 
18-Cray.JPG
 
Nervous Crayfish, they rarely like being exposed with all the predators above.
 
 
19-Snail.JPG
 
River Snail grazing slow in the microscopic world.
 
 
20-Dave.JPG
 
Dave after the rain and ready to head upstream.
 
 
After a quick lunch break we waded to the island beyond the picnic tables, first checking if the Chub mound from a week ago was still active.  Not so, but another one was on the build but with no real Shiner activity above.  I crossed to the far side and worked a few pools and runs finding the usual river inhabitants.  Greensides, Warpaints, Bandeds, Redhorse, a school of Yellow Perch.
 
 
21-MoundView.JPG
 
The old Chub mound from above.
 
 
22-RiverView.JPG
 
My day's ending view.  Dave and i had agreed to meet back at our vehicles about 6 as i had to meet Lance and his lady friend at my brother's house in Knoxville.  Nearing 7 i left Dave in the river, somewhere beyond my view, and headed north.  I figured he was on to something good.
 
 
Hellbender
 
While i was in Knoxville catching up with family and friends, Dave was still in the river's dark flowing water waiting for the moon to rise.  He had found a Hellbender.  Motivated to recapture a similar image from year's before, this time he wanted to use his new camera equipment.  With patience and foresight he positioned himself facing eastward and downstream of the Hellbender just as the moon rose above the horizon, with the beast between lens and moon and the river split between water and air he waited.  Using 2 strobes, one above, one below, he froze the Bender's details and continued the exposure for 30 seconds capturing the moon and gnarly eel cloud.  That is what it takes to get stunning photographs!
 
 
 
 
 

Casper Cox
Chattanooga, near the TN Divide on BlueFishRidge overlooking South Chickamauga Creek.

#2 Casper

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Posted 05 June 2016 - 03:09 PM

I forgot to include the best photo of the day's adventures... Dave's Devil Dog by Moonlight...

 

 

DavesMoonBender.jpg

 

While i was in Knoxville catching up with family and friends, Dave was still in the river's dark flowing water waiting for the moon to rise.  He had found a Hellbender.  Motivated to recapture a similar image from year's before, this time he wanted to use his new camera equipment.  With patience and foresight he positioned himself facing eastward and downstream of the Hellbender just as the moon rose above the horizon, with the beast between lens and moon and the river split between water and air he waited.  Using 2 strobes, one above, one below, he froze the Bender's details and continued the exposure for 30 seconds capturing the moon and gnarly eel cloud.  That is what it takes to get stunning photographs!
 

Casper Cox
Chattanooga, near the TN Divide on BlueFishRidge overlooking South Chickamauga Creek.

#3 keepnatives

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Posted 05 June 2016 - 04:29 PM

Awesome.


Mike Lucas
Mohawk-Hudson Watershed
Schenectady NY

#4 Isaac Szabo

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Posted 05 June 2016 - 04:32 PM

Great photos Casper. I'm really looking forward to seeing what you got on the rest of the trip.



#5 dredcon

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Posted 06 June 2016 - 05:52 AM

Looks like a great trip and that hellbender pic is pretty damn cool.



#6 gerald

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Posted 06 June 2016 - 05:30 PM

So that's an eel-cloud, huh?  I thought it was a turtle-angel.  Gorgeous shot, whatever it is.


Gerald Pottern
-----------------------
Hangin' on the Neuse
"Taxonomy is the diaper used to organize the mess of evolution into discrete packages" - M.Sandel


#7 Casper

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Posted 07 June 2016 - 10:40 AM

Day 2, Sunday May 22, 2016   Little River
 
After a relaxing evening at my brother's home, with him and Vee hosting and smoking BBQ, with all the fixin's, for my family and fellow Fishheads; Ed and Lance along with his lady friend Sarah, we were ready for an early morning plunge into the chilly Little River.  I have a favorite spot there that i like to call "Star Bridge", so named for the imbossed stars in the structure's concrete.  I first discovered this place years ago when Chris Scharpf was visiting and we went looking for clear water snorkel sites.  The bridge has long been closed to vehicles but offers snorkelers convenient access to the river with a nice view from above.  While standing on the bridge and looking down over the next few days we could see Chub mounds, swirled over with Tennessee Orange, patterned Hogsuckers, cruising Redhorse, crawling turtles and even identify crisply marked Warpaints.  Next to the bridge are shaded picnic tables and a store that will fix you a Slaw Dog or Hillbilly Taco so just about everything one could need is on hand.  Usually the tables are filled with bikers enjoying the beautiful winding highway leading to Gatlinburg but sometimes they lean out and yell things like... "What the hell are ya doing?".
 
I layered up with 2 suits while Lance outfitted Sarah in his dry suit.  He had a thick wet suit but my brother only had a shorty and soon complained about body parts going numb.  I think i got a reading of about 58 so he had about 15 minutes before going blue, chattering incoherently.  I found a spot in the sun and called in the minners with my own chubby chub mound construction while Lance and Sarah headed upstream and my brother returned to warming dry land.  I began to slow crawl downstream alongside the water willow patches as the flow was still running a bit high and turbid.  I visually marked the depth on a vertical stone for later reference, much of the water willow had been bent over by the recnt higher water flow.  I proceeded down as Redlines and Bluebreasts were dislodged form their lairs, all sporting their spawning attire.  Blotchside Chubs, so nice to see and often rare in my wanders, were fairly common but too fast, shimmering green in the current, for my camera.  All the Warpaints, Whitetails, Striped Shiners, River Chubs and Stonies one could expect to see.  Even though it flows through a good bit of human activity all the way to the Smoky Mountains, this is a healthy river.
 
 
10-LanceSarah.JPG
 
Sarah and Lance chillin' in the Little.
 
 
11-Group.JPG
 
The gang after the first round, all but the outermost two braved the cold today.
 
 
Dave arrived and we had a warming lunch in the sun or shade and discussed options for our 2nd half of the day.  My brother and his friend decided to head off for a wandering drive while Dave wanted to scout way beyond upstream looking for active mounds while Lance hoped to do some fishing upriver for a River Chub.  I was content to stay here and make the most of what the water willowed riffle run offered.
 
 
12-Snub.JPG
 
Tennessee Snub flushed out with my downstream crawling disturbances.  I like how is 2nd dorsal is marked, as the sand particals fly by
 
 
13-Sculpin.JPG
 
Sculpin, Mottled i suspect as a red band can been seen in his dorsal.  Bandeds don't have bands, Mottleds do.  Please tell, can that be explained with logic?
 
 
14-BluebreastAbove.JPG
 
Looking down on a Bluebreast.  I took multiple shots, relying on the camera's super macro mode and auto focus.  The lack of a depth of field is beginning to trouble me, with only the pectorial fins being in focus.  Super macro is nice to leave in mode as it allows a field of focus from 1 to 24".  Oddly, when the LED light is activated it narrows to only 3 to 8".  Still though, the lack of a reasonable depth of field is an issue.
 
 
15-Bluebreast.JPG
 
A nice side pose, but again the lack of a crisp focus frustrates me.  And this is the best of several snaps.
 
 
16-RedlineAbove.JPG
 
Looking down upon the Redline.  They are so handsome... brightly colored, sharply defined with crisp marking.
 
 
17-RedlineSide.JPG
 
These were their neatest poses, fins flared out, holding tight for a moment in the swift current, illuminated by the sunlight.  You only have a brief opportunity before they would dart to another shadowed crevase.  The picture does not capture the intense flow that Redlines inhabit, and holding the camera steady is impossible unless you can get close enough and plant the camera tight to a stone.  It is best to stay downstream and work upstream flushing them into the light, minimizing all the grainular debris that one stirs up.  Turning around you will find the Shiners, Chubs and Minnows looking for the tiny critters you dislodge.
 
 
18-RedlineNose.JPG
 
I like this shot of another Redline peeking out at me, considering himself somewhat safe from predators.  Note his intricate detail and coloring, though again i am disappointed that this camera is not tightly focused and does not offer a reasonable depth of field.  I have tried many brands and models but these point and shot camers, though cheap and waterproof, do not seem to be sensative enough for these low light water world conditions.  I may be wrong but i keep trying.  I am tempted to spring for the latest model of Pentax's WG series.
 
 
I kept running across Blotchside Logperch, one of my favorite encounters, mostly downstream.  Sometimes they quickly flee, not allowing a near approach.  Other times you may get fortunate, especially with younger individuals as they flip stones and feed.  Dave and i had been talking about them earlier his observations of their spawning behaviors.  He said the female will find a nice spot, nudge, dig and push into the substrate with a shimmy wallow.  I suspect she would be trying out the substrate's conditions for potential success.  Sure enough i found a plainly marked, medium sized, Blotchside doing just that.  I backed off and in a bit a bull male, his red banded dorsal fin flared broad, swam in, saw me, and promptly fled away.  I held steady and continued watching the female's activity and again the male appeared, but seeing me he fled away, as before.  Well it was obvious that his interest was hormone driven and i settled in for a patient wait as Dave has illustrated to me on numerous occasions.  To my advantage the female was content working one small area, so i found a comfortable position to photograph from.  Again the male returned, ever wary, but this time would edge closer and then back out, but now staying within sight.  Repeating this behavior he would stay a bit longer each time, sometimes even mounting her briefly.  Then my camera flashed... "Battery depleted".
 
 
19-BlotchPair.JPG
 
This was the best shot, you can see the female below him.  Even though my battery was exhausted i stayed with them, edging my camera ever closer, just seeing how close i could get.  Eventually the both of them were doing their shimmy shake spawn.  And that is how days sometimes end.
 
Lance and Sarah, and later Dave returned, waving the double arm signal from the distant bridge.  After stripping my wetsuits, warming in the day's last rays and catching up on our activities we headed back to my Brother's where Vee had prepared a Greek meal special for us, all laid out to make our own Gyros.  We sat outside, enjoyed the sky, and shared the day's highlights.  Later inside we viewed some of our images on the twin TVs and Dave showed us some of his video work with Freshwaters Illustrated.  Wonderful, dream inducing images we closed the day by.
 
 
 
 
 

Casper Cox
Chattanooga, near the TN Divide on BlueFishRidge overlooking South Chickamauga Creek.

#8 Isaac Szabo

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Posted 08 June 2016 - 11:06 AM

Nice darter shots!



#9 littlen

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Posted 08 June 2016 - 01:02 PM

Did you notice anyone still courting/breeding this late into the year, Casper?


Nick L.

#10 Casper

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  • Chattanooga, TN alongside South Chickamauga Creek, just upstream of the mighty Tennessee River.

Posted 21 June 2016 - 03:00 PM

I don't think Nick reads, only looks at the multi colored pictures!

 

Both days have been noted with lots of breeding behaviors of several species.  It is a fine time, and the time is now to be in the water.  Reborn some say and others feel.


Casper Cox
Chattanooga, near the TN Divide on BlueFishRidge overlooking South Chickamauga Creek.

#11 gerald

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Posted 21 June 2016 - 05:23 PM

That's your fault Casper.  The photos are too captivating, so it's impossible to focus on the words.


Gerald Pottern
-----------------------
Hangin' on the Neuse
"Taxonomy is the diaper used to organize the mess of evolution into discrete packages" - M.Sandel


#12 littlen

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Posted 21 June 2016 - 08:19 PM

^ what he said!
Nick L.

#13 Casper

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Posted 22 June 2016 - 02:52 PM

The pictures are only so you know i tell no lies.


Casper Cox
Chattanooga, near the TN Divide on BlueFishRidge overlooking South Chickamauga Creek.

#14 Casper

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  • Chattanooga, TN alongside South Chickamauga Creek, just upstream of the mighty Tennessee River.

Posted 22 June 2016 - 03:18 PM

Day 3, Monday May 23, 2016  Still in the Little River
 
We awoke, gathered our thoughts and gear.  Dave, Lance, Sarah and i headed to get some Hillbilly Donuts.  For better or perhaps worse the restaurant was boarded up.  We found a nice place up the road and had a fine breakfast while the waitress filled us in on the demise of our original yearned for eatery which had changed hands and been renamed the Beef Barn.  Several YouTube videos had finally done them in along with a run on the local supplies of Pepto Bismol.  So probably for the better we did not catch a quick breakfast at the Beef Barn.  Does not that establisment name sounds yummy?
 
I was content to return to the Star Bridge but Dave wanted to find pulsing balls of Tennessee Shiners and Lance and Sarah wanted to wander and hope to catch a River Chub via hook and line somewhere upstream for a photo op.
 
So back to the bridge with my 2 suits zipped tight i settled into the chilly 60 and was determined to photograph the Blotchside King with a complete set of batteries smuggled down and concealed at the river's edge.  Within moments he reappeared and allowed a few quick shots as he eyed me warily.  But where was his lady friend?
 
10-Blotchside.JPG
 
 
I decided to focus on the many Darters in the vegetated run.
 
 
11-Banded.JPG
 
Banded Male.
 
 
12-Bluebreast.JPG
 
Nervous Bluebreast.
 
 
13-Greenside.JPG
 
Perching Greenside.
 
 
14-Mystery.JPG
 
I am not quite sure... i got an idea or two.
 
 
15-Snub.JPG
 
Tennessee Snubnose.
 
 
16-RedlineSide.JPG
 
Mighty Redline.
 
 
17-RedlineHead.JPG
 
Inquiring mind.
 
 
18-BlotchsideFlee.JPG
 
The wary Blotchside reappears.  And did so multiple times, but always alone.
 
 
19-Blueside.JPG
 
A bit downstream, in a sandy backflow resides the camouflaged Speckled / Blueside Darter.
 
 
20-Sculpin.JPG
 
Glutton Sculpin.  Later i found another bigun thrashing wildly to my side.  Before i could ready my camera out spit a silvery shiner swimming away with its life.  The hungry Sculpin settled to the bottom and i thought, hum...  Seeing a nearby Darter i slowly herded it toward the Sculpin who lunged forward wide mouthed.  I like Darters too much to feed Sculpins this way.
 
 
21-TripleStack.JPG
 
Triple Stack.  From the top a Tangerine, a mighty fine Striped Shiner and shadowed low, a Hogsucker.
 
 
22-Warpaint.JPG
 
Rapid Warpaint.
 
 
23-ShinerSpawn.JPG
 
Seeing Lance wave from the bridge with the two arm signal i pulled myself upstream and settled alongside a Chub mound just at the bridge's shadow line.  The Tennessee Shiners were mild colored but active while a couple Warpaints raced above.  The attending River Chub worked a wide field gathering stones, sometimes fending off an approaching male.
 
Lance cast a lure from high above and dang if the River Chub snatched it quick and Lance commenced the long reel skyward with the horny headed Chub dangling!
 
 
24-LanceGear.JPG
 
Quickly getting the Chub into a cool bucket Lance and Sarah set to work retrieving and setting up the photo gear.
 
 
25-lanceChub.JPG
 
After Lance obtaining his wishful desire for the day he released the mound builder and added a few stones in appreciation.  Unbeknownst to us, while the King was away on his photo shoot the lesser Chub had moved in and taken over the mound and was attending to the lady Chubs.  A fight commensed shortly after his return with the lesser Chub taking a beating and returning to a 2nd tier ranking.  I'm sure the King had stories to tell his ladies about the sky creatures above.
 
We broke for lunch enjoying a Hillbilly Taco from the picnic table and then the warming sunshine on the bridge.  Lance suited up for a plunge and i immersed for another look about but my bones were well chilled and the fire inside burning low.  I got back to the mound and was scouting about and turning a stone disturbed a resting crayfish.  The King raced in and snatched the cray before i could react, grabbing his lunch tail first.  I caught a few images as the Chub swam round seemingly trying to decide whether to swallow it now or wait a bit for those double pincers to relax.
 
 
27-ChubCraw.JPG
 
 
At the end of the afternoon Dave returned road weary from his fruitless wanders in search of a swirling mound of Tennessee orange.  Gearing down and drying in the last rays of the day we drove into Maryville proper and had a nice cool breeze picnic table dinner at Full Service BBQ, an old self service gas station modified with a smokehouse stacked alongside with Hickory.  Back to my brother's home for another relaxing evening of photos, videos and stories shared.
 

Casper Cox
Chattanooga, near the TN Divide on BlueFishRidge overlooking South Chickamauga Creek.

#15 Casper

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Posted 23 June 2016 - 01:15 PM

Banded... Color Corrected... so much personal preference.  Color correction is an art and very time consuming.

Cyan noted the 2nd Darter peeking

 

11-Banded-CC.JPG


Casper Cox
Chattanooga, near the TN Divide on BlueFishRidge overlooking South Chickamauga Creek.

#16 natureman187

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Posted 23 June 2016 - 02:21 PM

A fine time it was with you and the gang Mr Casper. Your write ups always make my day. I'm glad you were able to photo our chub friend with dual claws hanging. I tossed my housing out onto the bank in frustration over this one event. Him fiddling with that clawed creature was a sight to see.

Thank you for posted all this and having us down your way.


Sangamon River Valley


#17 Isaac Szabo

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Posted 26 June 2016 - 04:26 PM

Great photos. The triple stack and chub with claws hanging out are very cool, and that is a very nice logperch. 



#18 Casper

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Posted 28 June 2016 - 06:18 PM

Day 4, Tuesday May 24, 2016  ...still in the Little River
 
Lance and Sarah had left for the northlands and Dave and i were still on for more clear water, he in his quest for active mounds and myself content with the increasing visibility at Star Bridge.  I was determined to get the best Darter photos possible by working the run with patience and stealth.
 
 
10-Bridge1.JPG
 
Star Bridge upon entry.
 
 
11-Bridge2.JPG
 
From beneath looking upstream to the morning sky.
 
 
12-Bridge3.JPG
 
The view from downstream looking upstream to the bridge with the embossed stars.
 
 
13-Mound.JPG
 
The mound before the plunge.
 
 
14-RiverChub.JPG
 
The Architect at work.
 
 
15-TNShine.JPG
 
Thems Tennessee minners were beginning to shine.  They are not always fiery orange or just plain silver.  They seem to evolve to an intense pulsing orange when conditions and associate activities provide the desired stimuli.
 
 
16-Warpaint.JPG
 
Frosty Warpaint patrols above the mound.
 
 
17-Turtle.JPG
 
The Musk Turtle needs a barber shop, like a living stone the moss grows long.
 
 
18-Sculpin.JPG
 
Sculpin in wait, pectoral fins planted wide.
 
 
19-Redhorse.JPG
 
Redhorse grazing.  Without a lip print can you tell the species?
 
 
20-Hogsucker.JPG
 
Hogsucker workhorse... "will vacuum for food".
 
 
21-StructureChub.JPG
 
River Chub cruising along the cobbled structured horizon.
 
 
22-Greenside.JPG
 
Greenside, kinda plain today.  Best when you can talk a fancy male into raising his dorsal fin.
 
 
23-Banded.JPG
 
Banded, emerald green.  Zonale.
 
 
24-BandedHabitat.JPG
 
Etheostoma zonale in their prefered habitat.  Water Willow.  Vertical green stems masking vertical green bands. 
 
 
25-Tangerine.JPG
 
Tangerine overview, admiring the way the orange banded fins lay.
 
 
26-Loggie.JPG
 
The Blotchside returned, offering more fleeting photography opportunities, but his lady friend was elsewhere.
 
 
27-Trio.JPG
 
Gathered together.  I worked hard at getting better images of each but they were on the move and the current strong.
 
 
By the late afternoon i had enough.  4 days immersed in cold mountain water works on the body not only in extended core temperature reduction but also in working against the river current while crawling along the rough cobbled substrate and over and around boulders.  I was tired and well worn.
 
Headed home Dave called for more BBQ but i was well on my way back to Chattanooga.
 
I will split this post into two elements, the first being these images and the second concentrating on a particular species i was admiring.
 
Again this camera, Olympus Tough, TG 810, lacks in being able to take fast exposures in the typical shadowed light while snorkeling.  Generally one has to be in high light, clear, shallow water and the fish at rest for the best possible detail.  I took several hundred images and have gleaned them to these few.  The video option is unacceptable as there is no way to turn the autofocus off.  Being this model is 5 years old i may need to look to advanced technology for 2017.  But for this year i will continue to work within its limitations, and my own.
 
 
 
 
 

Casper Cox
Chattanooga, near the TN Divide on BlueFishRidge overlooking South Chickamauga Creek.

#19 Casper

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Posted 30 June 2016 - 11:02 AM

Redline Darters   Little River
 
These are some of the better or more interesting poses of breeding male Redline Darters, Etheostoma rufilineatus.
 
01-Redline-M-6.JPG
 
02-Redline-M-6.JPG
 
03-Redline-M-1.JPG
 
04-Redline-M.JPG
 
05-Redline-M-7.JPG
 
 
Here are some of the females.  Same body shape, same cream colored caudal spot but vastly different coloration.
 
06-Redline-F-4.JPG
 
07-Redline-F-2.JPG
 
08-Redline-F-3.JPG
 
09-Redline-F-1.JPG
 
 
 
I am headed back this July 4 long weekend.  I am curious how things will appear since this visit May 24 visit.
 
 
 

Casper Cox
Chattanooga, near the TN Divide on BlueFishRidge overlooking South Chickamauga Creek.

#20 littlen

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Posted 30 June 2016 - 12:14 PM

Austin.jpg


Nick L.



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