I am trying to stay modest as I await my debut as a “macroinvertebrate movie star” later this year, when the League will release training videos for Virginia Save Our Streams volunteer water quality monitors. I had the great pleasure of spending several lovely fall days – and one rainy one – shooting footage in the coastal and the piedmont regions of Virginia. We captured additional footage to produce a video training series for the national Save Our Streams program and expect to release those in early 2015.
I have long wanted to update our Save Our Streams training video, which was last updated in the early 1990s (fashion and hair styles now give us a chuckle), and to produce a similar video for Virginia Save Our Streams. The opportunity presented itself this year when several Virginia partners – including the York River Roundtable, the Roanoke River Roundtable, and the Virginia Department of Environmental Quality – offered funds, volunteers, and technical assistance to develop a video series. The timing was a bit ironic, however, because it meant that I would be in hip waders, knee deep in fast-moving water, at seven and eight months pregnant. (Although that baby bump picture garners a lot of attention on Facebook!)
We started filming in the Zoar State Forest in Virginia’s King William County, where a group of York River Roundtable volunteers gathered to learn how to collect aquatic macroinvertebrates in slow-moving, muddy-bottom streams. We were joined by former Virginia Save Our Streams coordinator Stacey Brown and by James Beckley, quality assurance coordinator for Virginia’s Department of Environmental Quality, who contributed his considerable talents as a videographer for the project.
Next, we collected footage of rocky bottom stream monitoring at Green Hill Park near Roanoke, Virginia. Sharon Stinnette, Virginia Save Our Streams statewide trainer, and another volunteer helped demonstrate how to collect bugs by rubbing rocks in front of the net in fast-moving water. I narrated the collection, provided a show-and-tell of all of the monitoring equipment, and shared tips for identifying the bugs as we captured footage of them (the bugs, not the volunteers!) swimming in the water. We had to be careful to keep the dragonfly larva and other predators separate from the caddisfly and other potential prey. We also had fun with a nearly 6-inch dobsonfly larva that kept backing away from my tweezers as I tried to demonstrate the best way to pick one up – behind the head and away from those pinching jaws.
Our final shoot took place at Pocahontas State Park in Chesterfield, Virginia. It was raining steadily, but we bravely captured the last shots needed for the film, with James sporting an umbrella to protect his video camera from the rain. Unfortunately, we didn’t do as good a job protecting our data forms, which ended up in wet tatters as I demonstrated how to determine water quality based on the bugs in the sample. The rain eventually let up, though, and gave us the opportunity to go hunting for submerged aquatic vegetation – an elusive habitat type that can host myriad macroinvertebrates. This is one of four habitat types that we use to collect bugs for the muddy-bottom method, and we wanted to be sure to demonstrate the collection protocol in the video.
Lorne Field, our host in Chesterfield County, led us on a brief drive to a site he thought might have submerged aquatic vegetation. When Lorne pulled into the parking lot of a shopping center off a busy divided highway, I thought he had missed a turn and wanted to confer with us on directions. But no – this was the stream site. And there it was: a tiny, slow-moving stream that could easily be mistaken for a ditch – right along the side of the road, flanked by pavement on both sides. But looking at the stream itself, you could almost imagine it was in the middle of a vast field of native plants. The stream was positively crowded with submerged aquatic vegetation of several types. It was too deep for even tall boots – we tested it with the 4-foot handle of our D-frame net. But it was easy to run the net through the thick mats of vegetation while standing on one bank of the narrow stream. We were very pleased to find some excellent specimens of freshwater shrimp – one of the few macroinvertebrate types we hadn’t yet found during our filming excursions.
It’s too bad we weren’t able to capture certain moments on film, because they would have made for a great blooper reel – including me jumping a mile high when a horsefly took a chunk out of my arm. Or me wrenching my drenching shoe out of the muddy water after stepping right through a mat of plants that looked like solid ground but was just floating above the water’s surface. In an effort not to lose my shoe in the muck, I over-compensated by jerking violently backwards and landed square on my backside in the thankfully springy mud and vegetation. Note to self: it is always worth taking the extra few minutes to put those waders back on after a brief drive to the next stream site.
Even without a blooper reel, the films should be very helpful to every stream monitor, whether you are learning about it for the first time or looking for a quick refresher before the next monitoring session. We are all very excited to see the final results and to share them with you in the next few months.