Sometimes The Missouri River Is A Lonely Place

In late February and March the Missouri River is a lonely place.  Comprehensive Sturgeon Research Project boats from the USGS and the Nebraska Game and Parks Commission search the cold, still waters for the telltale chirp of a telemetry transmitter indicating that they have located the wintertime haunt of an adult pallid sturgeon.  Few people visit the boats ramps or stop to ask the biologists what they are doing out on the Missouri River in the cold.  Other boats are rarely sighted on the river during the coldest months of the year; however, it does not mean that our activities go unnoticed.  Winter is a great time to observe wildlife along the river and concurrently provides an opportunity for wildlife to watch us.  Whitetail deer and beaver move along the banks while bald eagles soar above, occasionally dipping down to the water surface to snatch a fish.  On one Tuesday in March, a flock of ring-billed gulls rested along the river bank, jostling for the best position to view our biologists as they drifted a net with the icy current to capture a tagged sturgeon.  Alerted to the spectacle, a turkey perched himself high on a rock dike above the river to assess the cause of the commotion.  It is hard not to feel a little sense of added pressure when there are at least another 50 pair of eyes watching.

At the end of the day the biologists netted their fish.  PLS11-010 was weighed and measured, and the tags she had carried for the last two years were replaced with new ones supplied with fresh batteries.  The oocytes (developing eggs) inside her smooth abdomen are small and white, meaning she will not be ready to spawn this spring.  Maybe next year will be her year.

Ring-billed gulls line a sand bar along the Missouri River to watch USGS boats fish for sturgeon.

A wild turkey perches on a rock dike in the Missouri River to get a closer look at USGS boats fishing for sturgeon.

By Aaron DeLonay

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