River Surprises

How a posture of curiosity can lead to exciting discoveries.

By Graham Peters, A Rocha Manitoba Conservation Science Coordinator

September 28, 2022

In 2018, a survey of the Boggy River was conducted by Dr. Rachel Krause and a group of students from Canadian Mennonite University. The intent was to teach them data collection and analyses methods, and provide A Rocha the critical first data point for charting the health of the river. The plan was to continue this study semiannually to see how the channel, bank, and biodiversity changed, which would help us monitor the health of the river. So at the end of this summer we returned to do just that. This was not our first rodeo. We knew where we were going in the river, we knew the protocols, and we knew the equipment. We thought we knew what to expect. And yet, we still managed to be surprised.

This year, due to a large amount of rainfall, the water level was so high we were unable to cross the river in our waders in most places. Not being able to measure depth all the way across, or find old site markers meant we needed to adapt. So we measured the channel from opposite ends of the river, avoiding the middle where we risked filling our waders with water. By adapting to the situation we were able to record some effects the increased rainfall had on the water level in the Boggy.

We knew the river would have quite a bit of debris, but it sure surprised us whenever we found it. There were several trips, stumbles, and one full dive in the river! River complexities, such as in-stream vegetation and woody debris, are generally good for a river system, slowing flow, thereby limiting erosion and creating habitats for fish and invertebrates. It’s one of those signs of a healthy ecosystem that we just stumbled into (sorry, I couldn’t help myself).

At the end of our time in the river we gathered around the dining room table and analysed our invertebrate samples. We found mites, mayflies, snails, and dragonflies, but one irregularity continued to come up: beetles. We were intrigued to observe that these were not aquatic beetles; they were not nearly aqua-dynamic enough (and lousy swimmers too). One volunteer deduced these were leaf beetles of some kind.

But how would a beetle designed for living on trees and shrubs end up in the river? The running theory was these beetles fell with the leaves and branches from the trees and shrubs that surrounded the river. They were like the Pixar character who lives their whole life in the familiar, and by circumstances out of their control is thrust into a new and exciting world. Perhaps I’m romanticizing the misadventures of a few beetles more than I ought, but it was certainly a surprise that encouraged thought, exploration, and wonder at the world we sought to know more about.

So I circle back to my point. If you’re curious, you open yourself up to being surprised by something. We know that rivers are life-giving, and a posture of curiosity led us to discovering the life it supports. If you enter into a place curious, the inevitable surprises are not off-putting or disappointing, they’re exciting. Leaf beetles in the river leads to new questions, high water levels demands new adaptations, and tripping in the river leads to wet socks. Get out in the world wondering what is out there and the surprises that come will leave you potentially shocked, but definitely engaged with what is going on around you. You may even surprise yourself by discovering a love for a river.

Photos by: Walker Giesbrecht

Read the Reports

A Rocha's Conservation Science Reports

Did you know A Rocha regularly publishes reports on our conservation science work across Canada? Click the link to read reports on everything from Barn Swallows to Salish Suckers and our 2018 Boggy River Baseline Survey!

Read the Reports