Fisher Frenzy 2014

We recently wrapped up our month-long fall trapping event (aka Fisher Frenzy).  This is the 4th year we have conducted this large scale trapping event, and 2014 proved to be our most successful to date.  Over the course of the month, we were able to capture 32 individual fishers!

We conduct this trapping effort for a variety of reasons.  First and foremost, it allows us to affix radio-collars on fishers.  Most of our collar’s batteries tend to last a little over a year, and thus the collars we put out in 2013 do not have very much life left.  The new collars we put out should last us until next year at this time and allow us to track the fishers throughout the year.  We also learn a lot by examining the fishers we do catch.  We can get an idea of overall condition, age, past reproduction, parasite load, and old or new wounds.  Sometimes, we even get the shock of seeing something completely unexpected, like imbedded porcupine quills!

On a more personal note, trapping is the time of year that we actually get to see fishers (as well as some of the other forest mesocarnivores) up close and personal. This is immensely enjoyable to me, as most of the year it’s rare even to get a glimpse of the fishers we are tracking on a daily basis.

As in previous years, we spent the first two weeks trapping the east side of the district before moving to the west side for another two weeks.  On the east side, we totaled 36 fisher captures of 24 individuals (18Female:6Male).  11 of these were fishers that we had never captured before (6F:5M).  Our success slowed down on the west side of the district, but we did manage 17 total fisher captures of 8 individuals (5F:3M).  Of these, 4 were fishers who had not been caught before (3F:1M).

In total, we ran over 2,700 trap nights!  We recaptured 17 fishers from previous years (14F, 3M), as well as picked up 15 fishers (9F:6M) that we had never caught before.  Our overall trapping success rate for fishers was 1.9%.  Besides fishers, we also capture quite a number of other animals in our traps.  We managed to catch 45 spotted skunks, 32 ringtails, 15 grey foxes, 3 striped skunks, 2 raccoons, and even 1 bear cub (luckily mom didn’t seem to be around).

Every year, there are a few wise fishers that manage to evade our traps.  At the end of trapping, we had 4 known on-air fishers that we did not catch.  Adding those animals to the number of fishers we did catch gives us a “minimum known alive” population size of 36 individuals.  Of course, it’s likely we are not capturing all the fishers that are out on the landscape (we are also not able to trap every area we would like to because it’s not logistically feasible).

In order to run trapping at such a large scale (~100 traps open per night), we require a large amount of personnel, time, and effort.  This year, we had over 25 people come out to help us with our daily trap checks and examinations! All of the project cooperators (California Fish and Wildlife, North Carolina State University, Sierra Pacific Industries, US Fish and Wildlife Service, and Wildlife Conservation Society), made large contributions to help pull this event off.  A HUGE thank you to everyone who gave their time and effort to help make this year’s trapping a success!

Here are a few pictures from this year:

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Categories: Updates | Tags: , , ,

Getting the Point

Getting the Point            

October is long gone and the shortening days of November signal that fall trapping is coming to a close. Unfortunately, we have not been able to update all of you with the happenings as much as we’d like, but I suspect we’ll be putting out more posts in the coming weeks.

One of the parts of trapping, and handling fishers, that I most anticipate is in the moments after we’ve sedated a fisher and get to physically examine it for the first time. One of the first priorities is to  see if it has any major wounds or ailments that need immediate attention or that give us concern. Recently, while examining a female fisher (captured on Stirling in the fall of 2012) we noticed that there was something odd about the area around her right shoulder and neck. Not coincidentally Roger and Kevin both spotted the same thing when I did and all three of us were looking on at several very large, stiff, and prominent hairs jutting from the fisher. I found myself thinking ‘those don’t look like fisher hairs, and I wonder what they are?”. Kevin and Roger were apparently thinking the same thing and nearly in unison we shouted “PORCUPINE!”. A little further examination confirmed our suspicions. Three porcupine quills were embedded in the young female’s right shoulder suggesting she had an encounter with porcupine in the not too distant past.

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Close up of 3 porcupine quills in right shoulder of female fisher captured on Stirling in 2014

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Female fisher with porcupine quills in right shoulder

Perhaps you are wondering why such a fuss about a few porcupines quills? Well, there are a few reasons that this got us excited, but mainly it was because we have never found a fisher on Stirling with porcupine quills. The discovery is significant because fishers are one of the few consistent predators on the spike-laden rodents when they occur together. As  you probably know, or can deduce, porcupines have all those spikes as more than just a bold fashion statement – they offer pretty good protection from most predators (view a recent video of an African porcupine vs lions). Fishers are uniquely adapted to capture and kill porcupines and they may have an important role in regulating porcupine populations in some areas. Porcupines are large relative to other prey fishers catch and kill (e.g., squirrels and hares) and they provide a large source of energy to fishers (read this if you want to learn more). We have never documented porcupines on Stirling, since we’ve released fishers, and this suggests that porcupines are rare. Having porcupines and fishers on Stirling at the same time might alter the dynamics of how and where fishers forage, their home ranges size and structure, and even their population dynamics.

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Porcupine (Erethizon dorsatum)

We don’t know if our female fisher actually killed a porcupine, but she certainly ran across one and we have a pretty good idea of the places she likes to hang out in. For now, it is only a fun little anecdote about one of the fishers on Stirling. Nevertheless, it is an exciting story and perhaps the first in a series of important observations. Such information is one of the reasons we endure a long trapping season and why we subject animals to the burden and stress of capture. Ultimately, it is all important information about what fishers are doing and how their daily lives translate into their ability to persist.

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Depiction of a fisher capturing a porcupine (painted by Consie Powell)

-ANF

Categories: Uncategorized | Tags: , ,

The Most Wonderful Time of the Year

Yes, I know the saying is generally reserved for a little later in the year, but that only applies to people who haven’t had the pleasure of trapping fishers in the fall. For those of us that have, and are about to again, the fall trapping season really is a marvelous time to be alive and doing field work. October 13th marked the beginning of our annual large-scale trapping and population monitoring effort on the Stirling district. Some have called this hectic rush to capture fishers the ‘fisher-palooza’, the ‘trapping blitz’ and sometimes just ‘fall trapping’, but I’ve always been fond of the term “Fisher Frenzy”. For those of you that have experienced it you’ll understand why I prefer this term — it really is a month-long frenzy. It is extremely enjoyable to set traps, capture and process fishers but it is always a grueling period where everyone is constantly busy and slightly stressed about everything that is going on.

On a daily basis we are deploying, checking, baiting, and hauling over 100 traps scattered across much of the study site. This may not seem all that bad except that it is critical that we check each and every trap once a day, at a minimum, and it takes a lot of thought and planning to make sure that we get this done. Each trap is usually about 1 mile from another and it can take 1 person half a day to check just 20 traps. In addition to fishers we catch foxes, ringtails, opossums, raccoon, and the bears are always investigating, rolling, and sometimes damaging traps too. If it snows or rains then that adds to both our comfort levels (have you ever spent all day checking traps on an ATV in the rain?) as well as the possibility we will not be able to get into our trap sites easily. The field crew (led by the intrepid Kevin Smith) has spent weeks fixing traps, finding locations, getting bait, and organizing routes and people. So, you can imagine they are already a probably a little stressed and maybe even sleep deprived, but they are doing an outstanding job.

I suppose I have’t made the experience sound all that wonderful to this point, but the reality is all the preparation and the daily grind is a very small price to pay for the experience and information we get from the fall trapping effort. Trapping fishers allows us to see, and examine, fishers that have been out on the landscape for the last year (or longer) and evaluate how well they are doing. It also introduces us to new fishers that have been born on Stirling and to get information on their condition, age, reproductive status, parasites as well as genetically identifying them. From the trapping data we can evaluate how much the population has grown, or shrank, and we can collar new animals so we can continue to track them.  So, we learn a lot about the fishers, and the experience is a great time as well. Being out in the woods and setting and checking traps is, at least for me, one of my favorite things about field work and I enjoy the experience immensely. It is also a time when the different members of our team get to be around each other and work together for a common purpose. We learn a lot and generally have a great time. So, as you read this some member of the crew might be leaning over a closed trap and hearing the muffled chuckle that a trapped fishers makes and seeing those lovely green eyes staring back at them from the trap. We should all be so lucky! With luck we’ll be able to keep everyone up to date on our trapping success over the next few weeks.

I’m enjoying myself like a kid at Christmas with a bunch of presents that are sitting out in the woods just waiting to be unwrapped. Indeed, it is the most wonderful time of the year.

ANF

Categories: Field Day

All Eyes On Me

Throughout my career in wildlife work, I have had a number of awe-inspiring experiences.  Often, these are times when I’ve managed to catch a rare glimpse into the life of a wild animal.  While tracking fishers, I have had a few awesome encounters (many of which have been written about in previous blog posts).  A couple of weeks ago, I was fortunate enough to have two experiences back-to-back which I know will stick with me for the rest of my life.

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A little blurry I know, but that’s 2 fishers!!

The first of these happened during a opportunistic walk in of fisher F8B8D.  This fisher was among the first group of fishers translocated to Stirling back in ’09-’10.  A few months after her release, her transmitter failed, and we were left wondering what happened to her.  To our delight last fall, we re-captured her!  Since that time we have been faithfully tracking her and learning what areas of the study area she has settled down in.

As the VHF signal grew stronger and I knew that I was getting close, I looked around at the nearby trees for any sign of her.  About 30ft up in a Douglas fir, I noticed a nest.  I’ve found fishers resting in nests many times before, so I moved upslope of the tree to get a better look.  Sure enough, I saw the tell-tale silhouette of a fisher head. I got my binoculars out, and to my surprise I found not one, but two fishers returning my stare from the nest!

The very next day I had a similar experience, only this time it was with a different fisher (36A8B, a two-year old).  This time as I got close, I looked up at a nest and again saw two fishers staring back at me.  As I was looking for a collar to try and identify who was who, 36A8B came into view from a higher branch, made her way down the tree, and briefly joined the two kits in the nest.  I was staring at three fishers!

It’s always very exciting to get a glimpse of a fisher.  Even though I often get fairly close to them while conducting radio telemetry, they are very hard to see, and are usually resting in the cavity of a tree or run away when I try to approach.  This is the first (and second) time in my many years of tracking to get to see a mother with her kit(s)!

Besides from just getting an awesome look at five fishers in two days, these two particular cases were also helpful for us. Both of these females were suspected to den this spring, but we were never able to confirm kits from them with remote cameras.  These visuals confirmed that they had reproduced this year, and have raised at least some of their offspring to this point!  By this time the kits are getting to be pretty large, with the juvenile males being about the same size as an adult female.  It won’t be too long now before the kits will disperse and be on their own.

Categories: Field Day | Tags: , , , , ,

A Transition

Rob Swiers has dedicated as significant portion of his academic and professional career to of Northern Sierra Fisher Reintroduction.  He began working on the project on the Eastern Klamath Study Area using non-invasive genetic sampling and mark-recapture analyses to evaluate the removal of fishers from the population for translocation to the northern Sierra Nevada.  He successfully transitioned the work into his master’s thesis at North Carolina State, completed in 2013. Beginning the same year, Rob assumed the Project Manager position on the Stirling study site as Aaron Facka transitioned back to course work and writing at North Carolina State.  Rob has done a tremendous job keeping track of project research objectives, field staff, budgets, accounting, cooperator communication; in short everything a successful field project requires, and then some.  Thus we are sad to report Rob is transitioning out of the Project Manager position to take on some other project-related responsibilities prior to moving on to other opportunities.

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Rob Swiers holding an immobilized female fisher, fall 2013

 

Rob will be focusing on noninvasive analyses for Stirling and the Eastern Klamath Study Site over the next several months.  A more complete understanding of the rich data set from the Eastern Klamath will further support our understanding of non-invasive protocols and their implementation in Stirling for long-term population monitoring.  He will also be supporting the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service in reviewing the current state-of-knowledge of fisher habitat selection that will assist the Service with developing conservation guidance for fisher habitat.

Rob, we sincerely appreciate all of your efforts on the project, look forward to your continued investment in our non-invasive analyses and review of fisher habitat selection, and wish you the very best in your next step.

Categories: News

Warm winter nights….and happy endings.

When you wake up in the morning, you never really know what the day is going to have in store for you.  We do, after all, carve out our niche in the world by following the daily habits of small furry critters in a predominantly wild landscape.  We often grow attached to our fuzzy wards (how could we not?).  So when something in our data collection portends trouble for one of them, we mobilize to see what we can do.

Males that we capture and deem healthy enough to carry the weight sport ARGOS collars.  These collars communicate with orbiting satellites to determine the collar’s location and the satellites then relay location information via email right to my laptop.

There’s me in the corner!

Armchair biology.  Technology!  While this sounds like a road to obsolescence for field biologists, we still need to track the collar (and fisher) down when the data tells us something is amiss.  The collars are only on during certain times each day, and during this window the collar transmits once a minute to the satellites.  We’ve got a nifty receiver that lets us track it down via strength of the signal and distance from the collar as it transmits.

Male 190 was released in December 2011, and has been with us a little while.  He’s often seen at female den trees during mating season, and all in all, he’s just a sturdy, well built fellow.  It was distressing, therefore, to see some of the data from his collar suggest that he might no longer be with us.  To figure out if 190 was ok Julie and I looked into when the collar transmits and, lucky for us (sarcasm), it transmits from 5PM – 9PM and again from 1AM-5AM.  With the weather being wet as it has been for a time, we knew it was going to be an interesting hunt.  Just what we enjoy, if you can believe it.  We hoped for a dropped collar, and tried not to think about finding a carcass.  It was wet, getting dark, and we were heading into uncertain terrain.

Andria volunteered to go out hunting with me.  With the rain and the wet muddy roads, going in by truck was out of the question. Not to mention our only access was a long and partially closed road that would have required chainsaws, and more time (and daylight) than we could afford.  So ATVs were on the menu.  We knew the area we were headed to, and had a rough route planned (no one had visited this area since the rain, so all routes are tentative).  After dropping the trucks and heading out on the ATVs we began hearing the signal we had hoped for.  We continued on our pre-planned route, as a time or two doing this has taught me that signals broadcast up from a creek bottom can give misleading readings from a ridge top.  Along the way we had to move downed trees and rocks.

After getting all the way down to where our most recent data suggested 190 may be, we could hear no signals from the collar.  This had me daring to think that maybe, just maybe, he’s still alive – but somewhere other than where the recent points told us he might be.  We rushed as best we could back to the top of the ridge and posted up for a few minutes.  Lo and Behold, the signal boomed in to our receiver and continued to change in direction and intensity, quite quickly.  He was not far from where we randomly stopped, doing his thing and probably oblivious to our racket!  

Relief.   Elation.  High fives.  Back to the truck.  We were able to get out there, nose about, and determine that this guy is still hanging around, though probably weathering the worst of the rain in a tree hole somewhere, shielding the collar from reaching the satellites.  A good nights work, and home before 10PM.

 

UPDATE 2/15/2014:  Activity data from collar came through tonight and shows good readings across the board.  Sweet.

Categories: Updates | Tags: , , , , , , , , ,

A Single Hair

It might not look like much. In fact, you might not notice it at all. But a single hair is all Jesse Hogg needs to help tell an important story. Jesse is working with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and other project collaborators as a Klamath Basin Tribal Intern. Jesse began his work with us on the Eastern Klamath Study Area (EKSA) which straddles the California/Oregon border. The EKSA is one of several locations where project biologists captured and relocated fishers to the Stirling District of Sierra Pacific Industries. We are using non-invasive methods to monitor the fisher population of the EKSA to evaluate if the removal of the fishers we relocated was detrimental to the population. Jesse set, checked, and collected hair samples he found in devices designed to snag hair from local fishers. The genetic material stored in the root of hair can reveal an animal’s species and sex and characteristics used to identify unique individuals. After wrapping up a successful season, Jesse is now working in Stirling to help monitor radio-marked fishers.

The Klamath Basin Tribal Internship Program seeks to inspire young native community members to develop the technical skills required to monitor and manage species and habitats, to pursue college-level educational opportunities, and to succeed in conservation-focused careers. The program provides employment and professional development opportunities for members of six native communities of the Klamath Basin of northwestern California and southwestern Oregon.

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Miscellaneous Field Fun

The past few months have been diverse on the project for several reasons. Firstly, radio-tracking takes up a majority of the time spent in the field every week–checking in on up to 8 or 9 fishers a day in their respective territories means a lot of driving! However, before trapping started, finding radio-collared females was no problem, since we knew where each girl’s home ranges were. After the trapping frenzy this fall, it got a bit more hectic as all the females who were re-collared or new females who were fitted with collars began roving around the district like crazy, traveling several miles between days to different locations, and then moving again! However, it has since “settled down” quite a bit as all the females are beginning to settle nicely into their own ranges and are almost always found at any given time.

One of the other aspects of the project after the trapping frenzy of October/November was…yet more trapping! There are a few female fishers whose collars are dying, or who didn’t get captured during the first effort, that we are trying to catch before denning begins so we can check up on them (and give shiny new collars to!). So far, we have not had any luck catching “target” females but we did manage to catch a few incidental critters-as during the first bout of trapping!

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Here is a frisky spotted skunk…

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And a gray fox-

Ok, I can’t resist throwing in a female fisher captured from trapping in October! She is just too darn cute.

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As many of you may know, this is the driest California winter since records have started being kept. Despite this, about a month ago we did get a big dumping of snow, which halted field work for a few days while we waited for roads to be safe to drive again. This was an great change of pace as we were able to see tracks in the snow that we don’t often get to see.

Here is a monster of a black bear’s prints–and my size 8 boot to compare:

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Not far from this was a set of bobcat prints:

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After a while, the fun dissipates as the snow melts and all the prints meld together into an indistinguishable muddy mess. In some colder drainages, like this one on Big Chico Creek, the snow made the scenery quite enjoyable:

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But usually, there is always a “view of the day” no matter what the weather is like.

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In a few months, mother fishers will be denning and we will be able to see exactly where they will choose to rest with telemetry and motion-activated cameras-so stay tuned!

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Tracks, Hairs, and Bears, Oh My!

Tracking fishers using VHF telemetry is an extremely useful method for obtaining lots of different information about the animals, it’s also pretty fun! However, in order to implement this method, fishers must be trapped, handled, and fitted with a collar. As biologists, we love having the opportunity to work so closely with a species, but we also love the idea of gathering quality data without ever having to touch an animal. We call this type of data collection “non-invasive”, and it is the eventual goal of this project to use only non-invasive methods to monitor the fishers here on Stirling. In order to reach that goal, we recently ran a pilot study to test how well non-invasive techniques would work in collecting the information we need.

In mid-September, I ran this six week pilot study using track plate boxes fitted with hair snares (see “Field Methods” tab), as well as remote cameras. I placed 45 boxes and 15 cameras in the woods, spread throughout the western half of our district. I checked each box once every 6 to 8 days, collecting tracks, hair and photos that were left behind during that time. The baited boxes attracted lots of different visitors! Bears were especially fond of them; I commonly found the boxes ripped open and dragged away from where I placed them. Gray fox, squirrel, wood rat, ringtail, spotted skunk and even mountain lion are some of the other species I detected.

The most important visitors were the fishers, of course. Adult and juvenile animals, both male and female, investigated my boxes regularly. It appears the non-invasive methods will be a very useful tool for monitoring the fisher population here, and we plan on continuing the pilot study later this year. We are very excited to see what the data will tell us!

Below is a slideshow of images I captured using remote cameras during the study.

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Categories: Field Day, Updates | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

Comings and goings.

Hi Folks, 

We’ve been without an update for awhile, and I apologize for that.  There is always a lot going on, and on top of that we’ve had some changes to our crew.  Some of the crew has moved on to other things, and we’ve gotten some new faces to carry on the work we do out here.

Kevin Smith, the man responsible for a majority of the posts you’re read on this blog (and some of the more interesting stories), has moved on to another project after being with us for 2.5 years.  Kevin is an amazing worker, and was a pleasure to have on the crew.  He helped us all out continuously, and his insight into where our animals were and what they were up to helped the project run its smoothest.  Kevin will continue to do great things working with Pete Figura at the California Department of Fish & Wildlife on their Sierra Nevada Red Fox Project:

The primary study objective is to “investigate and document Sierra Nevada red fox habitat use, reproduction, health, survival, and diet in order to identify factors limiting the its recovery in the Lassen Peak region of northern California.”

Through the use of radio collars that transmit daily location information to satellites, we should be able to track captured red foxes year-round with a high degree of accuracy.  As a result, we hope to identify den locations, monitor reproduction and kit survival, improve knowledge of habitat use and diet throughout all seasons, identify migration routes, and determine causes of mortality.  By taking blood and other samples from each animal captured, we will be able to determine whether they are infected with or have been previously exposed to several ecologically important diseases (e.g., canine distemper, parvoviruses, canine herpesvirus, Toxoplasma gondii) known to affect mesocarnivores in northern California.

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We’d also like to welcome Andria Townsend, Julie Shaw, and Jesse Hogg to the crew.  They’ve been with us for several months now, and they’re doing a great job of keeping us in data!  Stop over to the Field Crew page and learn a little about them.  You’ll be hearing from them regularly this year, and we’ve got some cool things coming!

Thanks for stopping in,

-Rob

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