Volume 25 Issue 1, Winter 2020
by Emma Lloyd with Amy Ulland
I have always enjoyed exploring around my grandparents’ wooded stream outside of Hillsboro and finding crawfish and minnows. Until recently I didn’t know the diversity of life that existed in that watery ecosystem. Last year, during a homeschool biology lesson, I gently turned over some rocks in a small stream bed and used a net to catch whatever might be hiding beneath. I sifted through the debris with tweezers and discovered a dark-colored creepy creature about two inches long with large pincers on its head, which we identified as a hellgrammite. I had found my first benthic macroinvertebrate, or bottom-dwelling aquatic animal without a backbone that can be seen with the naked eye. I was hooked!
This past fall I went to a “Catch and Count Creek Creatures” program with the Loudoun Wildlife Conservancy at the Chapman DeMary Trail in Purcellville. I learned that collecting, identifying, and counting these “macros” can provide us with an indicator of a stream’s health. I also found out that I could sign up to volunteer to help monitor the health of different streams around the county with the Conservancy. However, the most exciting part was realizing that I could participate in an upcoming Virginia Save Our Streams (VA SOS) Stream Monitor program and become certified to monitor my grandparents’ stream!
My mom and I helped Loudoun Wildlife monitor a part of Tuscarora Creek, which allowed me to experience all parts of the stream-monitoring process, from collecting critters to using a cool phone app to submit our data to VA SOS (and eventually the Virginia Department of Environmental Quality). That’s when I understood that not only was stream monitoring fun, it was useful and important. I was a citizen scientist!
Next we attended a VA Save Our Streams all-day training session at the Izaak Walton League outside of Leesburg. During this session, we learned that the quality of the data that certified stream monitors collect is of equal value to that of professional scientists. We became
skilled in identifying the different benthic macroinvertebrates that we would likely encounter and learned the appropriate procedures to follow when monitoring a stream. Then we went out to a stream site in Leesburg and put our knowledge to use. After passing two exams from VA SOS, I received an email telling me that I was now a certified stream monitor!
Before I started monitoring my own site on my grandparents’ property, I wanted a little more experience working with another certified stream monitor. So my mom and I helped monitor two segments of Goose Creek with Christian Bongard of the Goose Creek Association. After that, I felt a lot more confident and ready to begin working at a site of my own. My grandparents gave us permission to monitor their stream twice a year, once in the fall and once in the spring. We packed up our supplies and headed over to find a suitable place to begin our research. We found an easily accessible spot that contained a riffle, or shallow, rocky-bottomed area where the water moves quickly. Riffles are important because the movement of the water adds oxygen to the water, allowing the macroinvertebrates to thrive, and the rocks provide shelter for the macros and areas for them to gather food.
My grandfather and I worked together to collect the minimum of 200 creatures we needed for an accurate sample. We scoured the collection net, looking for any sign of movement, and carefully inspected any leaves and twigs where critters like water pennies and stoneflies like to hide. Then we sorted our findings into sections of an ice cube tray I had previously filled with stream water, which allowed us to more easily identify and tally our collection. We then submitted our findings through the app on my mom’s phone. I was happy to discover that my grandparents’ stream was in relatively good health!
We’ll be back to monitor the stream again in the spring, and we’ll be inviting a few volunteers to help us. In the meantime, we’re participating in the Izaak Walton League’s Winter Salt Watch project for my site. I’m also working on creating a PowerPoint presentation about stream monitoring for a 4-H competition. I think it’s important to let others know how rewarding and important this kind of citizen science can be!
Join a Loudoun Wildlife Stream Monitoring Team: https://loudounwildlife.org/citizen-science/stream-monitoring/
Virginia Save Our Streams: https://vasos.org/
Izaak Walton League’s Save Our Streams: https://www.iwla.org/water/save-our-streams