Field Journal: Sunfish at Magnuson Park

I recently received a new GoPro which I’d been hoping for to acquire and use for nature purposes. Over the last couple of weeks I’ve made use of the waterproof feature by putting it underwater. Last week and again this week I visited Magnuson Park and found a fish in one of the ponds which I recorded with my GoPro. The fish was identified as likely a Northern Sunfish (Lepomis peltastes) with the possibility it’s a Pumpkinseed (L.gibbosus) by Dr. Solomon David, an aquatic biologist. The Northern Sunfish is not native to the Pacific Northwest, but found in the Great Lakes and the upper Mississippi River basin. I asked Dr. Solomon David how it may have ended up in Seattle and he speculated it could have been mixed in with fish bait or hatchery fish. 

Last year at this time I saw the same type of fish in the exact same place in the pond and I assumed it had a nest of sorts there. It stayed in the same location and had cleared it of algae and other vegetation. The surrounding area was full of green algae, but the circular patch where the fish was was very clean and I could easily see the gravel bottom. This week the fish was there again and like last year, the circular area was cleared. I watched it pick things up in its mouth and spit them out again. The algae was growing tall around the clearing and I watched it wiggle its way in to the cloud of algae and then back out again. Once in a while it would take off and swim in a large circle outside the clearing before returning.

When I put the GoPro in the water it became very curious. It would swim near the camera before returning to its duties, but always return to investigate the camera. I was surprised by how it reacted to the small camera in its territory. It wasn’t scared of it at all, but definitely interested.

In the other large pond I noticed dozens of tiny fish swimming in the shallows and I tried to film them as well. As soon as I put the camera near the water they scattered, but once the camera was in they returned. I was amazed by their curiosity as they would swim in a swarm closer and closer to the camera before jetting away. I repeated this process a few times and each time they returned to look at the camera. The video is amusing seeing the ghostly fish approach, circular white eyes getting closer and closer. These small fish were mixed in with others which looked like the sunfish and I can only guess they are the fry of the sunfish.

Kelly Brenner
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Kelly Brenner

Kelly Brenner is a naturalist and writer based in Seattle. She founded and writes The Metropolitan Field Guide, a blog for ideas, thoughts and resources for the design of urban wildlife habitat and has contributed articles to a variety of other websites and publications.

Kelly has a certificate from the University of Washington in non-fiction writing. She continually takes classes and attends talks on various natural history topics. In 2009 she earned a bachelors degree in landscape architecture from the University of Oregon.

She's also an avid photographer focusing on the natural world.
Kelly Brenner
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