Nature Art

Liv Niklasson created this piece of land art in early April and it was still intact in mid-May when she checked up on it! What art can you make with the natural materials around you? (Photo by Siobhan Niklasson)

This week on Take It Outside, learn how local artists have been inspired by the natural world around them, and spend some time making nature art yourself.

This week, we’re also celebrating Los Alamos ScienceFest virtually! See what PEEC has in store for this virtual festival.

Summer Nature Challenge:

Participate in our Summer Nature Challenge! Every week, participants who complete the challenge can earn a sticker. If you finish all nine weeks, you’ll earn a bonus sticker! Find our archive containing all of our past Take It Outside activities here.

Download the challenge sheet here to print out and complete at home. At the end of the challenge, you can either bring it to the nature center or mail it to us at 2600 Canyon Rd, Los Alamos, NM 87544.

If you don’t have a printer or prefer to work online, you can tell us about your experiences in the Google Form below or email your stories and pictures to takeitoutside@peecnature.org.

Blog Post:

Patricia Galagan reflects on photographing our forests with her husband Philip Metcalf in the aftermath of the Las Conchas fire. Their book, Fire Ghosts, was published in late 2019 and features their photography portfolios from this project. Learn more about what they learned from this process in this week’s blog post.

Outdoor Challenges:

We’re posting three outdoor challenges today that you can enjoy throughout the week!

Tell us about your experiences with one, two, or all three of them! You can do this in the Google Form below, by writing or drawing about them on our summer challenge sheet, or by sending an email to takeitoutside@peecnature.org.

 

Challenge #1 – Land Art:

Go outside and spend some time getting a feel for the area, then gather natural materials that speak to you. Use them to create land art, ideally using the materials in the area where you found them. If you like, take a picture of your artwork, and share it with us! Leave the art for others to discover, and to break down naturally over time.

See some additional tips here.

 

Challenge #2 – Wildlife Photography:

A male Calliope Hummingbird photographed at a hummingbird feeder. They are the smallest birds in the United States! (Photo by Aditya Viswanathan)

This challenge is from Aditya Viswanathan, a rising sixth-grader from Los Alamos and wildlife photographer.

July is a great time to learn wildlife photography as the hummingbirds are coming to Los Alamos in large quantities. Here are a few activities that you can try to get started or fine-tune your skills. If you have a hummingbird feeder, you can wait for a while and see which hummingbirds come and try to photograph them. Hummingbirds like to visit feeders and you’re more likely to see them at one rather than on a flower. If you don’t have a feeder, try making a simple one from recycled materials! Make sure to get the camera crosshairs on the hummingbird, or else the photo will be blurry. Phones work okay, but cameras (especially ones with zoom lenses) are better if you have one. It will take a bit of practice and patience, but if you stick with it, you should have some very good photos.

If you are ready for a bigger challenge, research which flowers different hummingbirds like. Hint: hummingbirds like red, tubular flowers. If you don’t have any of them, other flowers work too. Wait at a flower of your choice for about half an hour and see if any hummingbirds come. Photographing them at a flower will create a more natural-looking picture. Butterflies and bees may come too, which are also good photo targets.

Another advanced challenge that you can do is try to freeze a hummingbird’s wing while in flight. To do this, adjust the shutter speed in the menus. I recommend 1/1000 seconds for the shutter speed. Please note that some cameras don’t have this feature. I hope you find these activities fun and helpful. Send a picture you snap to takeitoutside@peecnature.org or post it on social media and tag @peecnature!

Challenge #3 – Nature Sketching:

Practice nature sketching this week by drawing the details of different leaves! (Photo by Terry Foxx)

This challenge comes from Teralene Foxx, co-author and illustrator of Plants of the Jemez Mountains, which can be ordered from PEEC’s online shop.

Sketching is a good way of learning and remembering the different shapes and sizes you observe in nature. Wander around your backyard or go on a hike and collect five leaves from five different plants (make sure to stay away from shiny, 3-leaved poison ivy!). Note what plant the leaf comes from: a flower, a shrub, or a tree. Are the leaves positioned opposite each other or do they alternate along the stem? Write down what you see. Look at the top of the leaf and the underside and see any differences.

With a paper and pencil, lay the leaf on the paper and trace around the outside of the leaf. Now you have the outside dimensions of the leaf. Observe the leaf carefully and draw anything you see about the leaf and put the detail into your drawing (e.g. the edge of the leaf, the veins, the color, hairs, texture). Ask yourself: Is the top of the leaf the same color as the bottom of the leaf? Record this information. If you have colored pencils or crayons, you might want to color the leaf. If you have a ruler, you might want to measure the different sizes of leaves and make a note. 

After you practice shapes and sizes of leaves, try drawing a leaf without tracing the outside of the leaf. You will be amazed at the different shapes and sizes of leaves!

 

Want to Learn More?

Share Your Experience:

Tell us about your outdoor experiences! We’d love to see your photos, too. Please send them to takeitoutside@peecnature.org or share them on Facebook or Instagram with the hashtag #peectakeitoutside. If you’d like this to count for the Summer Nature Challenge, be sure to include your name and email address.

Animals

Mule deer are a common large mammal here in Northern New Mexico. These deer are named for their large, donkey-like ears! (Photo by Mouser Williams)

This week on Take It Outside, explore the world of our local animals. In past Take It Outside posts, we’ve explored reptiles and amphibians, mammals, birds, and insects. Find information and activities about these topics and more on our archive page. This week, we’re exploring aquatic animals, animal signs, and animal behavior in our outdoor challenges. Plus, take a special look at New Mexico’s fish in this week’s blog post!

Summer Nature Challenge:

Participate in our Summer Nature Challenge! Every week, participants who complete the challenge can earn a sticker. If you finish all nine weeks, you’ll earn a bonus sticker! Find our archive containing all of our past Take It Outside activities here.

Download the challenge sheet here to print out and complete at home. At the end of the challenge, you can either bring it to the nature center or mail it to us at 2600 Canyon Rd, Los Alamos, NM 87544.

If you don’t have a printer or prefer to work online, you can tell us about your experiences in the Google Form below or email your stories and pictures to takeitoutside@peecnature.org.

Blog Post:

Do you like to fish? Have you ever wondered how native and introduced fish in our ecosystem differ? Casey Harthorn of the New Mexico Department of Game and Fish discusses fish in New Mexico, with a special look at our state’s native and introduced trout species. Read his blog post here.

Outdoor Challenges:

We’re posting three outdoor challenges today that you can enjoy throughout the week!

Tell us about your experiences with one, two, or all three of them! You can do this in the Google Form below, by writing or drawing about them on our summer challenge sheet, or by sending an email to takeitoutside@peecnature.org.

 

PEEC campers were able to find frog eggs, tadpoles, and adult frogs in this pool in Acid Canyon. (Photo by Siobhan Niklasson)

Challenge #1 – Aquatic Animals:

Northern New Mexico doesn’t have a lot of water, but aquatic animals are able to find and take advantage of even very small bodies of water to grow and reproduce.

Seek out water in your area, like rivers, lakes or reservoirs, stock ponds, springs, or pools in canyon bottoms, and look for signs of aquatic animals. Here are some things to look for:

  • Adults and larvae of aquatic invertebrates (insects and other small critters)
  • Frog or salamander eggs, tadpoles or nymphs, and adults
  • Fish
  • Birds, reptiles, and mammals visiting water sources

 

Challenge #2 – Animal Scat:

Scat can tell us who was in an area and also what they ate. Go on a hike and look for scat! How many of these can you find? Based on what you find, what types of food are animals eating in your area?

  • Scat containing berries or fruit
  • Scat containing grass or other plants
  • Scat containing fur or bones
  • Scat containing insect parts

Remember that all scat contains bacteria, so don’t touch it with your fingers (use a stick!) and wash your hands when you get home. Stay away from dog poop, which is often very uniform in texture and lacks recognizable food items, since most domestic dogs eat processed dog food. Remember to always clean up your own dog’s poop when out on the trail!

Test your knowledge of animal scat in this poop quiz, too!

Challenge #3 – Animal Behavior:

This squirrel was photographed with a mouth full of nesting materials! (Photo by Mouser Williams)

It’s fascinating to watch animals go about their daily lives. Go outside and find an animal: a bird, insect or other invertebrate, mammal, reptile, amphibian, or fish. Be as still as you can to let it get used to you, and watch what it does. Can you see how it does any of the following things?

  • Gathering food and eating
  • Moving around
  • Regulating its temperature
  • Feeding and caring for young
  • Nesting
  • Taking shelter
  • Interacting with others of the same or another species
  • Communicating with others
  • Defending itself or its young
  • Playing

If you have a nature journal, record some of your observations. Let us know what you notice!

 

Want to Learn More?

Share Your Experience:

Tell us about your outdoor experiences! We’d love to see your photos, too. Please send them to takeitoutside@peecnature.org or share them on Facebook or Instagram with the hashtag #peectakeitoutside. If you’d like this to count for the Summer Nature Challenge, be sure to include your name and email address.

Native and Introduced Fish Species in New Mexico

The aquarium at the Los Alamos Nature Center features four species of fish that are native to the Jemez River: Rio Grande Cutthroat Trout, Rio Grande Suckers, Rio Grande Chub, and Longnose Dace. (PEEC Archival Photo)

By Casey Harthorn, New Mexico Department of Game & Fish

In New Mexico, we have both native and introduced fish species. Today, we will see what some of the differences are between the two, we will investigate why we introduce different species, look at some examples of native and introduced species, and discuss some of the ecological consequences of introducing fish.

When talking about native species, we are referring to species that evolved through time to live in a specific environment. For instance, our state’s Gila trout evolved within the Gila watershed system. When we refer to an introduced species, we are referring to a species that evolved in one watershed and was introduced (normally) by humans, into another watershed. The rainbow trout, for example, evolved in the ocean and was introduced into the waters of New Mexico.

So why would anybody introduce a species of fish into an environment where it did not naturally evolve? Well, good question. New Mexico is an arid state — we just do not have a lot of water. While we do have a few rivers and streams, there are very few natural lakes. These rivers and streams are populated with native fish species, primarily suckers, dace, and chubs. As New Mexico entered the industrial age, the need to irrigate increased, as did the need to manage our limited water resources, so along came dams. Dams were constructed along New Mexico’s rivers to create reservoirs, thus changing the aquatic environment from rivers to lakes. There is a good chance that what you know as a lake here in New Mexico is really a reservoir, a manmade lake.

To fish, a river or stream is a completely different environment than that of a lake or reservoir. We cannot simply take a fish from a stream environment and expect it to thrive in a lake environment and vice versa. Imagine that you lived your entire life in the middle of New York City, and then you were relocated to the isolated tundra of Alaska. How long do you think you would survive? Fish are the same: some evolved to live in stream environments, while others do better in lake environments. When the aquatic environment changed, fish were stocked to match this new environment. Some fish are stocked to increase angling opportunities, some are stocked for management purposes, and some are stocked illegally.  

Just looking at the sportfish species within New Mexico waters, which sportfish species are native, and which are introduced? Let us look at the specific fish families within the sportfish community and identify native or introduced members.  

A Rio Grande cutthroat trout at the Los Alamos Nature Center. Did you know that this fish is the state fish of New Mexico? (Photo by Bob Walker)

Salmonidae – Trout Family

Gila TroutNative
Rio Grande Cutthroat TroutNative
Brook TroutIntroduced
Rainbow TroutIntroduced
Brown TroutIntroduced
Lake TroutIntroduced

Centrarchidae – Sunfish Family

BluegillNative
Green SunfishNative
Longear SunfishNative
Largemouth BassNative and Introduced
CrappieIntroduced
Smallmouth BassIntroduced
Spotted BassIntroduced

Percidae – Perch Family

Lake PerchIntroduced
WalleyeIntroduced

Esocide – Pike Family

Northern PikeIntroduced
Tiger MuskieIntroduced

Cyprinidae – Minnow Family

Common CarpIntroduced

Moronidae – Temperate Basses

Striped BassIntroduced
White BassIntroduced

Ictaluridae – Catfish Family

Black BullheadNative
Channel CatfishNative
Flathead CatfishNative
Blue CatfishNative

As you can see, there are a lot of introduced species of fish swimming within New Mexico’s watersheds. However, there are also very many native species still swimming in New Mexico. While we normally hear about the sportfish species, it is important to note that the native species are also extensively managed and monitored by the New Mexico Department of Game and Fish. Great care is taken to ensure that all introduced species do not interfere with the native fish community.

Casey Harthorn, the blog’s author, holds up two walleye. Walleye are an introduced species in New Mexico. (Photo courtesy of Casey Harthorn)

To enhance angling opportunities, the Department of Game and Fish stocked rainbow and brown trout throughout the state for years. It was later discovered that this stocking was having a negative effect on the native trout populations. Rainbow trout were breeding with the Rio Grande cutthroat trout, affecting the genetic pool, and brown trout were much more aggressive and out-competing the native species for resources.

Once the Department realized the impact these stockings were having on the native population, it acted. Populations of pure native trout were identified and isolated, and all stocking of introduced species was stopped in these areas. Historical ranges of native trout were identified, isolated with fish barriers, cleaned out of nonnative species, and restocked with genetically pure native trout. Rio Grande cutthroat and Gila trout are reared in local hatcheries and released into their native ranges, thus increasing their populations. These are just two examples of ongoing work that the Department is taking to protect native species.

You might be wondering, if native trout are being reared in hatcheries, why doesn’t the Department of Game and Fish simply stop producing and stocking rainbow trout and stock the native trout instead? Well, for a few reasons. Rainbow trout have been cultured for so many years that they have evolved into an amazingly easy species to raise, transport, release, and catch by anglers. The rainbow trout is probably as domesticated as a fish can be, whereas the native species are wild and extremely hard to rear in a hatchery environment. Kind of like the difference between a dog and a wolf! The rainbow trout is an ideal species for our urban and small lake fisheries programs. They are easy to raise and stock, and anglers enjoy catching and eating them. The native trout, on the other hand, are wild, provide a much greater challenge to anglers, and survive much better in the wild.

Despite our efforts to keep native and introduced species separated, rainbow trout sometimes escape or are illegally introduced into native trout waters. So, to mitigate the effects these trout may have on the native population, the Department now only raises and releases sterile fish. All the rainbow trout in the state’s hatcheries are triploid rainbow trout. A triploid trout is a sterile trout formed from a manipulated egg. The eggs are not genetically altered, but temperature-shocked to form triploid instead of diploid individuals, which means they have three sets of chromosomes instead of the normal two, and are infertile.

Will the State ever be free of introduced fish species? Probably not. Many of these introductions are important to the anglers of New Mexico as well as to the local communities. The native species are managed and maintained within their natural environment, while the introduced species are managed within the manmade environment.

Here are some of the things we encourage you to think about when considering our state’s fish species. If you have thoughts you’d like to share, please leave a comment below!

Can an introduced species ever be considered a native species? As an example, largemouth bass have been stocked into some of New Mexico’s waters for over 100 years. Are they still considered an introduced species?

Should the watersheds of New Mexico be returned to their natural state?

The Gila River is the state’s last remaining free flowing river. Should it be dammed up?