Sunday, August 31, 2008

Appreciate Your Heat

That's right I'll say it again you city dwellers with electric or gas heat, you better appreciate that luxury and how easy life is with it. Out here in the boonies most people resort to two types of heat. The first is clean burning propane, as Hank from King of the Hill would say. Its a great fuel source for heating anything but its downsides are the price up here and the fact that you have to have a monster sized propane tank sitting somewhere relatively close to your house in order to get you through the winter.
The second option, and seemingly most popular in this neck of the woods is WOOD! Just about everyone I know has some sort of wood stove or even wood belly furnace to keep their houses warm in the winter. I tell you what, nothing keeps a house as warm or dry in the winter as wood heat. I certainly learned to appreciate that over the past two winters when I would come into the house after a day in the field snowshoeing, getting cold and wet. But of course wood does not get delivered by little elfin type fairies, no no, if you want it you either have to have the chainsaw and wood permit to go out and get some, or know someone that will do the work and sell it to you by the cord (for those of you that don't know, a cord is a volumetric unit that is a pile of stacked wood measuring 4x4x8 ft).

Now Frank, Polly, and Mace are all hard working, independent people, so I'm sure you can guess which option they go for every winter, that's right WOOD! That's not to say that they don't have propane on the side in case of a particularly hard winter, but their primary source of heat is a wood stove in each of their homes. Each spring and fall Frank and Mace buy a wood permit, lovingly provided by yours truly out at the ranger station, and head out Martin Creek or Huckleberry with two 3/4 ton pickups and a 17 ft flatbed trailer. In a days work the two men can load the trailer and two pickups with anywhere between 3 and 4 cord of wood. That may not sound like much but when you look at everything loaded it seems like a ton. Mace's house is smaller so he only goes through about 8-10 cord of wood in a winter, the other house is a lot bigger and has a fireplace which is less efficient than a stove, so I shudder to think how much would we go through there. All I know is that Frank fills a bard full of wood and by the time spring rolls around there are only a few hunks of red fir or larch rolling around.

So over the last couple years I've participated in getting wood with the boys. Yesterday was just one such occasion. You all know me, I'm not one to sit around and have things done for me. I'm living here so I think its only right of me to help. Besides I'm no fragile little gal that's afraid to break a nail. Nope, not me, I'm out there with a set of gloves, work boots on, and picking up 30- 50 lb pieces of wood with the best of them. We all take turns between running the chainsaws, moving the trucks, and loading the rounds in each one of the vehicles. Between the three of us it goes pretty fast. Mace and Frank pretty much have it down to a science so the first few times I felt like more of a hindrance than a help, but I've gotten the hang of it and will run the block and cables from the downed timber up to the road as fast as any guy, maybe even faster than some. Now I couldn't go work with the guys from that show Axeman or anything like that but I pull my own weight.

Once the trucks are loaded, the battle is only half over. This time of year with the rain fall and freezing and thawing between night and daylight, the roads off the mountains are pretty well beat up. Around every turn you either meet a washboard surface or some pothole that makes the truck dip precariously in one direction or another, which isn't too great when you have round pieces of wood stacked about 5 ft high in the bed. So we take our time and occasionally have to pop out of the cab and go adjust the load a little. Then we head home to offload and restack the wood. By the time everything is said and done we're all sore and tired and ready for a shower. All in a days work right? Oh wait... yesterday was my day off... *laughs*.

ps... I guess that means today we need to split it all and restack it again. It never ends.

Saturday, August 30, 2008


I am happy to report that, after measuring my pumpkin today and comparing the measurements to a very sophisticated table provided by that a lot of people with too much time on their hands compiled, my pumpkin has grown quite a bit. The last time I blogged on here about it an put that picture up the circumferences was 37 inches was only 15 days old (the number of days it has been set on the vine) and weighed approximately 23 lbs. As of today, only a week later, the circumference is 58 inches and weighs 59 lbs. Talk about growth! I know its nothing compared to those giant pumpkin growers on the East coast that are breaking records with pumpkins that weigh over 1600 lbs but its a start. The seed that we started from came from a guy living in Pennsylvania and was about 830 lbs when the season was over an done with. I had hopes that we would get at least a 2oo lber by the time our season ends so maybe it will still happen if we can keep it safe and warm into the first part of October. We started the seed way too late compared to what those East coasters do, but then again they have a longer season to start with and don't have the big temperature difference between daytime and night. Mace and I are even talking about running an electric blanket out from his house to the pumpkin so that when its covered by all the tarps the entire system will be water proof and warm. If it gets too much colder at night we might just have to. I want my chainsaw worthy jack'olatern! Polly's pumpkin is a behemoth weighing in at over 100lbs already though hers doesn't seem to be growing at nearly the speed ours is. Hers is a prettier pumpkin by far though; perfectly round, bright orange and not a scar on the sucker. Ours on the other hand... well its had some identity issues. Its trying to change to orange but taking its sweet time doing it. It has a few blemishes that I can't figure out how they even happened. And there is no such thing as round in its pumpkin vocabulary. One side seems to be growing faster than the other and the top of the sucker near the stem has a big indentation for no reason whatsoever. With all its little imperfections we still love it though and treat it like the king of the garden it has become. So all hail King Pumpkin... ruler of gardendom!

ps... I'll post a picture of it with this blog tomorrow. I forgot to take one today.

Wednesday, August 27, 2008

Woodland Elk Crossing Guard

I got an up close and personal view of a bunch of cow elk today. There I was minding my own business using my factor 10 prism to find what trees where in and what trees were out of my stand exam when suddenly I hear the snapping of twigs and the rustling sound of underbrush. Normally this wouldn’t be a big deal to me except for the fact that it was literally over my right shoulder and very near, which would give me very very little time to react if the critters coming my way were dangerous. I don’t know if these cow elk were particularly dumb or the breeze was just wafting my scent away from them but within a few seconds 4 cow elk and one very young bull broke from the underbrush into the clearing to my right.

Deciding to enjoy the experience and since they didn’t seem to be all that worried about me, I took my pack off and sat with my back up against a huge larch and watched them while I entered habitat type data into my stand exam mini handheld computer. Yes the days of recording data entry after data entry by hand are past. Now I have a computer the size of an old school game boy prompting me to answer stand questions. The cost of each one of these little buggers is $2800… seems outrageous compared to a piece of paper and a pencil. In some ways it’s great because it makes sure I don’t leave out information, but at the same time it doesn’t really give me the option of writing further notes to explain some of the entries since old growth stand exams run a little bit differently and require additional information. So I still lug around a big metal folder clipboard to write more things down. It is a bigger pain in the butt really. But my gripes about technology aren’t the point here.

As I was sitting and watching over the next few minutes I realized that I hadn’t checked the status of my cow tag online yet. Yep, I can be watching and animal this noble and majestic and still be thinking about how good it’s going to taste this fall. Creepier yet (for those of you non-hunters) and better yet (for those of you fellow hunters) I began thinking which one of these particular elk would make the best meal and of course began wishing it was about 2 months later, I wasn’t on the Forest Service clock, and had Mace’s 7mm with me. So what do you suppose the first thing I did when I got home was? That’s right, get on the state’s fish, wildlife and parks website, type in my ALS number, and check and see if I got a cow tag. Much to my major disappointment and chagrin I hadn’t been drawn. My hope of putting an elk of my very own in the freezer is not to be this year. I know… so sad isn’t it. At least I can still go deer hunting. This buck I saw last spring would do nicely. I actually wonder how big its antlers are now. Doesn't matter I guess. I'm just looking for a nice tender deer for roasts, jerky, and backstrap steaks. Robin (my vegitarian sister) is cringing right now reading that I'm sure.
Mace was bummed about my lack of elk tagage too and gave me the “well there is always next year speech” (little solace at this point and time). He had checked his status a few weeks ago. Luckily he got his cow tag and so did his dad. Hopefully the weather will cooperate this year and we’ll find a nice juicy cow since last year it wasn’t till the last day of the season that Mace found one and couldn’t get a shot on because of how warm hunting season had been. My countdown to opening day though has begun….. Tminus 56 days! Woo hoo!

Sunday, August 24, 2008

Pumpkin Prowess

Fall has definately come around this neck of the woods. Its not just because the weather is cooling down a bit or the fact that the sun doesn't hang for quite as many hours in our big sky as it did during the long days of summer.There is a difference in the air that I just can't quite explain but can definately feel. It wont be long now before the western larch's needles start turning a bright yellow-orange. Thats actually pretty cool around here because of how many larch there are in our forest. You don't really think about how many there are until the needles turn and whole hillsides are a contrast of orange against the deep green of all the other trees. Those will make for some great pictures to post on here when the time comes.

With the creeping in of fall I find myself hoping my pumpkin will grow faster. I feel like a witch or mad scientist out in the garden waving my hands chanting "grow my little one grow". Don't worry I haven't gone off my rocker, I'm just excited about how big this little sucker might get. It set on so late that its having to play catch up to Polly's 100 lb one now. I'm very jealous of my future mom-in-laws gourd actually. Its a nice bright orange and a perfectly round 67 inches in circumference as you can see from the pic I took of hers yesterday. *sniffle sniffle* It puts mine to shame at the moment. I can't really complain though. My pumpkin is still in that light yellow baby pumplkin stage of development though it should start to get more orangy any day now. My little guy has put on about 20 lbs in the last week and is starting to so show some umph. I think its weights close to 35 lbs total now, though maybe even a bit more than that since its getting harder to lift. Its kind of a pain in the rear end though. Mace and I are so paranoid that it might freeze at night (already had frost Aug 1st) that we have a system of covering the entire pumpkin plant every single night. It starts with wrapping the pumpkin itself up in a giant towel, then putting a big box over that to keep the little guy as warm as we can. After the pumpkin itself is covered, we use the system of boards we set up running the entire length of the plant to support the 6 tarps we need to cover the plant. It looks pretty haphazard after all is said in done but it keeps the plant a good 20 degrees warmer than the rest of the garden, which is worth it after all the work we've put into pruning and burying the vine itself day after day. I know it sounds like a lot of extra work, and it is, but its been really fun seeing something grow so much so fast that it seems worth it. Again... there isn't much to do in Trout Creek Montana, I have to get my kicks in somehow.

I picked the last of my raspberries and made the very last batch of jam yesterday. Mace's chest freezer is pretty much filled to the brim so I'm not exactly sure where I'm going to put these last 8 jars. Between making raspberry and strawberry jam, freezing the peppers we've roasted from the garden, and the litany of other stuff we've made and canned over the past few weeks cupboards both at Mace's and Polly's house are getting stuffed. Its a nice feeling really seeing all the hard work paying off. Weird thing is is that both gardens still haven't be fully harvested. We've just been picking at it as thing have ripened but there is still a ton out there. All the onions, carrots, rest of the beets, more peppers and tomatoes, green beens, peas, etc etc I'm not sure where everything is going to go. Its been a great growing season and the produce has been yummier than ever for it.

Last night Mace and I cooked for the whole family using pretty much just stuff from our garden. We had a giant salad with carrots, lettuce, cucumbers, yellow peppers, and red onions all of which came from our garden except for the lettuce. Then we had elk steak cooked on the grill with roasted new red potatoes and carrots (again from our garden). It was one of the best meals we'd all had in a long time. Fresh veggies are just too yummy. To top the night off we all sat around a fire pit outside and roasted marshmellows with Lane and Gracie (Mace's nephew and niece) and watched the shooting stars til midnight. All in all it was a great evening.

Thursday, August 21, 2008

It Feels Like the Plague

I had been battling a cold for the past 3 or 4 days. Apparently yesterday's adventure in the rain was the last straw. My body gave up the ghost and I had to call in sick today. I barely slept last night because I kept tossing and turning in bed. I hate when you get a head cold and only one nostral is stuffed up so you flip over to your other side to try and get your sinuses to adjust only to make the original nostral clear and the other stuffy. So its a tetter-totter act all night trying to find some comfort. Hopefully today I'll recouperate and I'll be able to go in to work tomorrow so I don't use a sick day up since tomorrow is actually the start of my weekend for me. I'd like to save any time off I have in case I need to go back down to Denver if Dad has another surgery. Time to take some more Theraflu (the non-non drowsy kind... I want to sleep) and get back to bed and a book. Anyway, keep me in your prayers and waft some healing juju my way.

Wednesday, August 20, 2008

Rainy Day Blues

The weather around here just seems to go from one extreme to another. Sunday we had 100 plus degree weather and now its down to the mid 50's and rainy. I just can't win. I was out in the field by 5 this morning and it rained every single minute of the day. Luckily I pack my rain gear no matter what everyday. It definately came in handy. I think I need to re-waterproof my old pair of Carhartts though. I did it a year ago but I think the waterproofing has finally given up the ghost in the wash because about 30 minutes into my hike to my first site my pants were absolutely soaked through from rubbing against scrub brush and bear grass. By the end of the day I was glad to get home to a hot shower and a warm pair of pj pants and a hoodie, not to mention some coffee as well. I must admit the rain did make for a pretty picture though. Hope everyone's week is going well.

Sunday, August 17, 2008

I'm Mellllting!!!

Why is it that anytime you want to spend the day outside that it turns out to be like a furnace outside. I woke up this morning, went to Thompson Falls to go to church by 7:30 and it was so nice out. Perfect 70 degrees, sunny, nice little breeze so I was hoping it would stay that way. Boy was I wrong. I stepped out of church an hour later and was welcomed by a blast of sweltering heat as soon as I opened the door. Ick! Have to say I made a quick dash from the church steps to the air conditioning that I knew awaited me in Mace's car. It had to be 90 degrees by then and even hotter by the time we rolled back into Trout Creek. After a quick change into shorts and a tank top I thought that maybe it would be tolerable to be outside but soon found out that I was mistaken. I was going to go down to Mace's and help him mow his yard today but he said he wasn't up to battling the heat either. Can't say as I blame him. Hopefully as the sun begins to set this evening it will cool off and we can tackle at least part of it. I almost feel like going outside and joining Gracie and Lane in their little kiddie pool out back. Every half hour or so Lane gets out and turns the water faucet on to cool the water down again.

This kind of weather makes me think of when I was working down in Denver and living with my sister Brenda. Over the 4th of July one summer we both had the day off and I invited my friend Kati to spend the day with us lounging around in Brenda's hot tub and drinking ice cold margaritas. Don't worry Mom, we were both over 21 at the time. Actually Brenda and I had several hot tub margarita parties. It was pretty cute when Mark brought out a round with fresh cut roses from Brenda's garden decorating the glasses. He's such a sweetie really, though he would rather die than ever admit to it. I have to admit that spending those few summers down in Denver really brought me and my sister closer together. You'd never know there was a 16 year age difference between us. We developed an adult relationship that is pretty special really. Thats not to say I don't have great relationships with Robin and Brian, my other sister and brother, but its not exactly the same either.

Well enough of this writing stuff. I think I'm going to go rent a movie at the local store and head over to Mace's to hang out in the coolness of his air conditioner until it cools off a bit and we can mow the yard. Hope no one else is melting like we are or like these clocks are for that matter. Kudos to Salvidor Dali... lol

Saturday, August 16, 2008

Critter Twitter (part two)

Ahhh, Saturday morning and I finally have time to continue with my critter/work related saga. Life is good! So where were we? I already talked about my wolverine, doing goshawk and harlequin duck surveys, my bats in an earlier post, and old growth stand exams in a previous post as well. I guess that means I'm up to flamulated owls and mountain pine beatle attacks.

From about May to the beginning of Aug, I work intermitently at night. Not just because of my work with various species of bats but also because I spend several weeks calling for flamulated owls. Because this owl is strictly nocturnal and you wont hear a peep out of him during the day, I use a multi use caller to try and get a response from the little bugger at night. If I get a call back from an owl I keep calling and taking azimuths until I can triangulate the position of that particular bird. Then in the day time I return to that area and see if I can find a nest site to monitor. This species looks like a minature version of a screech owl with eyes as black as coal and live in Ponderosa pine stands. Its actually pretty amazing we have any of flamulated owls on our forest since we have few true old grow ponderosa stands. They seem to have adapted to a mixed stand of ponderosa, doug. fir, and lodge pole pine. I think they are kind of cut really. And they have really long "whooo whoooooooooooo" kind of call. What every kids grows up thinking an owl should sound like.

Another project that I'm involved on with the Siviculturist on our district is a genetic improvement project for Western White Pine and Whitebark Pine. This is a pretty big deal. For those of you who were in my forestry/wildlife classes you'll know what I'm talking about but since this blog is for everyone here is a little history and breakdown of the problem. Mountain pine beetles inhabit pines, particularly the ponderosa pine, lodgepole pine, and the white pines. During early stages of an outbreak, attacks are limited largely to trees under stress from injury, poor site conditions, fire damage, overcrowding, root disease or old age. As beetle populations increase, the beetles attack most large trees in the outbreak area. The beetles kill the trees by boring through the bark into the phloem layer on which they feed and in which eggs are laid. Pioneer female beetles initiate attacks, and produce pheromones which attract other beetles and results in mass attack. The trees respond to attack by increasing their resin output in order to discourage or kill the beetles, but the beetles carry blue stain fungi which, if established, will block the tree resin response. Over time (usually within 2 weeks of attack), the trees are overwhelmed as the phloem layer is damaged enough to cut off the flow of water and nutrients. In the end, the trees starve to death, and the damage can be easily seen even from the air in the form of reddened needles. Entire groves of trees after an outbreak will appear reddish for this reason. Usually older trees die faster. After particularly long and hot summers mountain pine beetle population can increase dramatically which can lead to the deforestation of large areas. The attacked areas are hard to miss as you can see here to the left. *sigh... whew didn't know if I could make it through all that* Everybody still with me or was that too much??? If I bored you I'm sorry, I think this stuff is pretty interesting. So what does that have to do with me? Well those trees that resist the attack are super important. They are the trees we use for genetic improvement of the whole stand. Each year I go out and find white bark and western white pine trees that have indicators that they have survived and beat out pine attacks, such as the streams of hardened resin. I code and mark each individual tree then come back and cage as many of thier cones as I can to protect them from clarks nutcrackers (like the one here to the right) and all the squirley species that will eat the cones. A month or two later I go back and de-cage the cones and collect them to send off to the Forest Service Genetics Lab. There they look at the resistance factors and create genetically improved seed from which to grow new sapling to plant in areas that have been devistated by the pine beetle attacks. This kind of work is important for many reasons. Whitebark pine and western white pine forests are habitats used by many different species of critters, including grizzly bears and being as I'm a U of M grad and our mascot is the griz, I think we ought to keep them thriving don't you?

So what else do I do? Well last year we had a miserably hot and dry summer and so I spent a good 3 weeks to a month up in a guard tower watching for fire starts. Thats the tower I was in up on Star peak last year. It not much to look at but it served its purpose. I give a lot of credit to those guys in the old days that did that all summer long. It doesn't sound like a tricky job but it really is. Its amazing how tired your eyes get when looking out accross the forest through a pair of binoculars day after day. Its also kind of a lonely job. Sure you have radio check-ins with the dispatcher and call-ins for supplies and what not but thats not the same as having a nice conversation or even chit chatting with someone. Another problem is that at certain time of the day the clouds swirl in a way that look like it could be smoke. So you have to sit there and check and recheck until you are positive its just a cloud. It wasn't all bad though. I got to rough it for a while and eat out of a mess kit. Yes, thats right... I call that fun. Makes me think of camping. Plus the night sky up that high is amazing. Shooting stars all over the place, I started to learn my constellations since I brought one of my field guides with me that had those kind of charts in it. It was a peaceful and someone reflective time when I had the chance to let my eyes go back to normal.
Well I think that concludes my critter saga for a while. I'm sure I'll remember more and experience more things that I'll have to post on here. But for now this will do. Hope everyone is having a fabulous weekend. I'm going to go out and garden up a storm now. Hasta luego mis amigos.

Tuesday, August 12, 2008

What should be isn't

I was going to continue with my critter saga today but found I just didn't have it in me. So sorry to those who were waiting on the edges of your seat for it. You'll have to bear with me and give me another day. My headache is going full swing and I actually spent most of the day sleeping. But now I have to go off to work and hope that my throbbing head abates a bit through the night. I'm sure its due to lack of decent sleep but hopefully I'll be back on days within the week and can get back to a normal sleep schedule. But until then be patient and the critter twitter post (part 2) will soon follow. Peace

Saturday, August 9, 2008

Heck with Stranger Danger... Try Critter Twitter!!! (part 1)

Since I don't talk to my friends and family every day, or with some even every month, when I finally to talk to them and they ask what I've been up to my mind seems to go blank. Its not that I've been doing nothing. No quite the contrary. Its that I've done so much that I don't even know where to begin. I work in a field that you switch from project to project and have about 20 things going at the same time that my focus from day to day switches. That also means that I need to be able to access the knowledge needed for a specific project just as fast. During the winter its a bit easier since I'm not out in the field nearly as much and I spend a lot of my days in the office going over all the data I collected in the summer. But while spring and summer field season are in full swing I feel like I'm going a mile a minute. So here is a little break down of some of the things I do. Yay... its Story Time with Tracy again!!!

One thing that I have going on, and one of the most exciting in my little book, it my monitoring project on a wolverine that we caught and collared last winter. Some of you already know the story but for those of you that don't... here ya go. Sometime before this past Christmas, I'm not exactly sure when anymore, we had a local come into the office and say that he was pretty sure he saw a wolverine cross the road up over Steven's Peak in front of his snow mobil. Now for those of you that don't know, wolverines dont usually just pop up out of no where, especially in the middle of the day. They are night time critters. But not only that, wolverines had never been known to exist in this part of the country. The closest one we knew about was up in the Yaak, just south of the Canadian boarder up in Troy District. And at that, that was a fairly recent occurance. Wolverines just didn't come down this far south in Montana. My boss was a bit skeptical about the whole story and thought that maybe it was a fisher or martin that crossed the road and the local was mistaken. But just to be sure Doug (the the big chief) and Steve (the second big cheif) told me to take the big diesal 4x4 powerstroke (thats the big guns in the winter) and check it out... and oh try not to get stuck in the 4 feet of snow on the way up. So after making sure the big boy green rig had chains in the box and a snow shovel in the back I made my way up to the peak. A couple hours later, and a glorious few dig outs to put the chains on those huge tires I got into the area. Low and behold the local was right. There were wolverine tracks crossing the road a couple times up there. So after straping on my trusty snow shoes, donning my gloves and hat, I took after the set of tracks that looked the freshest. The further I got from the road the more tracks showed up, and not only one set, but two. It was a mother wolverine and a kit that she, for some reason, didn't throw off for the winter. Finally it got too late and I headed back home to tell the office the news... it was a big deal. So after relaying the event so the big chiefs they decided that I was going to get ahold of a few of the biologists in the Fish and Wildlife service and see what they wanted to do about our little find. Thats when I met Ray Pederson, one of the carnivore kings with Montana FWS. Great guy I might add. After about a month of planning and everyone sending me back and forth up the peak to find where exactly the wolverine and her kit were denning (thank god for remote sensor night cameras), we set a day to capture and radio collar the adult wolverine. Now this truly was an experience for me. I got to be up close and personal with a critter most folks will never see in their lifetime. Ray darted her and I got to collar, record, and program all the gps settings because I was going to be the one monitoring her for the next few years and relaying the information to FWS. I'm happy to report she is healthy and still in the area, though I'm not exactly sure what happened to the kit. I think she finally threw it off this spring to make room for possible new kits. Big thanks goes out to Ray for forwarding the pics he took of the collaring since I didn't have any of my own.

The first project I usually start off the field season with is monitoring Northern Goshawks nests. If you are every interested in doing this yourself you need to invest in a good hard hat. Why? Well because when you happen to be in a nest area, the Norther Goshawk, particularly the male, is pretty damn protective. They dive bomb you with beak and claws at the ready. In our area the Goshawks are a species of special concern, so we are trying to monitor how many returning pairs we have return every year to nest and hopefully find some new pairs in the process since they seem to be moving into the area more and more. We go to each known nest site at least 4 times in a field season. The first time is to find a pair in last years next area and pin piont if they've moved and for what possible reason. The second and third times is to check on hachling success and the forth time is to check on fledgling success like the one over here on the left. Well he's more of a juvenile but you get the point. Its the last three times you really have to worry about being attacked. These birds are a pretty neat critter and have a really neat call if you like that shrill cross between and eagle scream and a crow caw. Once you hear it you'd never forget it. Well and the fact I have a caller that we use over and over to find the suckers. One of the neat things about the Goshawks is that they are an indicator species for the overall health of the forest they put their nests in, guess that means we are doing something right in those particular areas. Woo hoo, thats a switch.
Another bird project I get to do over the summer is one I absolutely love since it really beats the heat in June. Harlequin Ducks! Yeppers I said I get to work with some pretty niffty duck. Not only are the really pretty to look at they are fun to get near. This project entails me walking up and down some of the creeks that feed into the Clark Fork River in a set of hip wadders. Harlequin ducks are fast water ducks so you'll often find them in the rocky breaks on the creeks where whitewater starts to form. They nest next to the calm water pools though so you really have walk the whole creek to find them. This is usually best when done with too people walk the creek though. Usually you have one person start at the head of the creek just about where its wider than 3 feet, and the other person walks up from the bay side or the mouth. The only real dangers in this project is slipping on the river rock and getting a little wet, but then again thats how you beat the heat. Again we're monitoring hatchling sucess with this species because they are another indicator species of water habitat health. Its fun when you finally find a family of them and they are piddling around trying to teach the bambinos how to swim behind mama. Usually it involved a lot of baby quacking and flopping around near the shore until they finally get the courage to take the plunge.

In the interest of time, I'm going to have to make this a multi-part post. So I hope you enjoyed this segment and others will soon follow. Plenty of critters to go.

Thursday, August 7, 2008

Gorgeous Scenery

So what you might be asking, since there isn't much to do in the god forsaken middle of nowhere town, is why do I live here in Trout Creek. Trust me it isn't because of the two bottom of the line bars (boy do I miss the Rhino and Arriba) , post office, and country store that sells everything at about 200% mark up. No its definately not any of those. I does have to do with the job and the country though.
Most people probably wouldn't appreciate it as much as I do, especially those folks that have lived here their entire lives *cough MACE cough cough*. Its always been around them so they don't think about the beauty and wonder of it all the time. See coming from Cheyenne the surrounding area looks like this picture over here on the left. Now don't get me wrong. I love where I grew up. I loved feeling the wind (and there is plenty of it) blow against my ears when I would walk my dog in the praire above my house. I loved the sunsets and the rolling hills. I loved that you could see for miles over the waving long grasses. But my love for the forrest developed fairly young. My mom and dad tell stories of going camping with before I'd even turned 1. They plopped a box on the floor of the camper and made me a bed. As I got older, 4-5 yrs old, I couldn't wait till the spring and summer rolled around because it meant going up to the Snowies and camping for the weekends. It meant being in the woods. It meant hiking, chopping firewood, getting to shoot dad's .22, and cooking on the coleman stove. I still love the smell of white gas in the stove and lanturns. It meant playing cards with mom and dad when it was pooring rain out. It meant taking my dog and dumping her in the lake up at Lake Owen and Rob Roy. The woods held this special place in my heart and I wanted to be there as much as I possibly could get away with. The older I got the more I loved it too, since I was able to do more.

So once I had the career of my dreams working in the woods and working with criters how could I really complain. Well I still complain about Trout Creek itself but thats just a minor detail. The country is truly spectacular. One place that I've spent quite a bit of time in this past year has been the Cabinet Moutain Wilderness Area. This pic here on the right is the view from the other side of Freezout Creek up over Vermillion Pass. Actually Vermillion in general is where I've spent a great deal of time since thats the latest area for Old Growth Stand Exams. Basically that just entales going into specified stands and making sure they meet old growth criteria for protection. The forest in my district pretty much all burned out in the 1910 fire so we really don't have much for old growth and the Forest Service Forest Management Plan says that we should have at least 11% old growth forest for species habitat. HA HA HA... thats a joke. When you are dealing with a single story stand as the remainder of the forest I'd be shocked if we actually had 2% old growth. So what do we do about this? Well thats where I come in again and perform Common Stand Exams on "potential old growth" stands. Meaning I look for indicators in a stand that within the next 50 or so years that the stand would make suitable old growth habitat. If we have "potential old growth" that goes toward that 11% I was talking about earlier. I know I know... it seems kind of like a cheat but its the best we can do in a single story stand that evironmentalists wont let us thin and make at least multi-story. But I digress again here. The point was that the scenery actually is quite lovely even if it isn't the healthiest forest in the world. I see that as one of my goals. Making the forest healthier for the critters that live in it. Dad would be proud of that bit of forestry intellect I have in me.

The picture you see right above is another view of the Cabinet Mountains but from on top of Chicago Peak. I took this in the middle of May so you can tell we had a lot of snow over the winter and a late spring at that. In a lot of ways it made for a great year. I got to do a lot of winter work and hiked my buns off (unfortunately not literally... still have more buns that I'd like) with a set of well loved aluminum snow shoes. 

Anywho, thats enough from me for now. I'm going to go enjoy the weekend. Its Huckleberry Festival Y'all! Tootleloo.

Wednesday, August 6, 2008

I Vant to Suc Yur Bloood!!!

Have you ever gotten scratched up by a Hoary Bat? No? Well you are truely missing out. Not really. During the summer field season I periodically have to go out and do bat monitoring for threatened bat species in the area. Its a way of making sure that the species are thriving throughout the season and making sure the youngins are getting enough food to eat. I know it doesn't sound glamorous but it actually is quite fun. To the left here is the Hoary Bat (Lasiurus cinerus)... by God I did learn something in college... LATIN!

A grad student I went to college with and one of my old professors developed a protocol for bat capture and recapture that I adopted and brought in my repetour when I came to work with for the Forest Service. I'm glad I did since some of the old school surveying they were doing was leading to bat injuries. Not good for threatened species right? So fixing that is great, but the only problem is it requires me to go out alone at o-dark-thrity with a pack full of ultra-light weight pvc type pipe that I build a harp trap out of and set up at the mouths of caves, mine shafts, and other creepy places that go bump in the night. The picture below is basically what the trap looks like. What you cant see very well is the vertical "harp" strings running from the top of the bar down to the bottom bar where the collection bag is.
Once the set up is complete the night is usually pretty calm until I hear a "sprong... flap flap flap.. scratch scratch... then silence" when a bat hits the harp section of the trap and rolls down into a canvas colleting bag at the bottom of the system. Then with head lamp on and heavy leather gloves donned I go about weighing, aging, marking for recapture, and sexing (get your mind out of the gutter) the critter and then letting it go. Sounds pretty straight forward right? Well most nights it is but last night one of the Hoary bats I caught was ticked off about something, struggled like a mad dog, and attacked me after I let it go. No biting but it landed back on my arm and scratched me up pretty good. Good thing my tetinus shots are up to date and I carry around a jug of rubbing alcohol swipes, antibiotic ointment, and of course bandaids. All in a nights work. Tell you what though, if I ever recatch that little sucker we're going to have some words.
So other than that, the night was pretty uneventful. Caught and marked over 250 bats in one sitting. Makes for a long night though. I leave the office to go out in the field at 7pm then dont usually get back til about 10 the next morning. I should be exhausted right? So why am I sitting here at 11:30 in the morning bloggin? Thats a very good question. Just can't seem to sleep during the day time. Its a good thing that I only go on this schedule for about a week at a time. Otherwise I'd probably be a zombie and cranky with everyone I knew. But I suppose that means I should wrap this up and give it the old college try anyway. Tootleloo

Tuesday, August 5, 2008

Time for a new blog

Its been several years since I've had anything to do with blogging. I used to have a livejournal account but decided to forgo writting in it weekly to actually try to pull off decent grades in college and spend that time studying. Who would have thunk it. So when my friend Kati decided to up and travel the world and start and new blog for her new chapter in her life I figured what the hell... I might as well too. So big props to you K-bug for getting me started again.