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.

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