Posts Tagged With: california

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.

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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:

2013-12-12 09.17.58

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:

2013-12-12 12.49.18

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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In Search of a Den

The other day I found myself standing on a fallen log, trying to decide which way to go next.  The occasion?  I was attempting to walk-in on female 21FB6 in hopes of finding another one of her maternal dens.  I knew that I was close.  I had just passed the “sigh of relief” point; that grand moment in a walk-in when you know that you are close enough that the fisher isn’t likely to run away, making the trudge through a few hundred yards of thick understory vegetation (and in this case, millions of spider webs at face level) worthwhile.  Especially at this time of year, dens become harder and harder to locate.  It seems that females only spend a short time there before heading off again to forage.  As such, I was excited to get close and find her resting.

There were a couple of likely den tree candidates next to where I was standing.  To one side of me stood a good sized maple, which looked like it might contain a few cavities.  On the other there was a very large Douglas fir, which was tall enough that I couldn’t see a large portion of it due to the understory vegetation.  When you get very close to a fisher, it is often difficult to determine exactly where it is.  The signal tends to change dramatically with every step you take, leading you off in various directions for a few meters before abruptly changing again.  The solution I usually use to find the animal is to back a little ways away from the suspect trees, and circle them from a distance.  More than not with using this strategy, one of the trees eventually stands out as the more likely candidate.

21FB6 down in a log.

21FB6 down in a log.

Standing between the two trees, I was getting my strongest signal yet, but the signal kept changing.  One second, I would think she was in the maple.  The next, the signal from the Douglas fir was stronger.  I took a few steps away from the log and listened again.  To my surprise, this time the strongest signal didn’t seem to be emitting from either of the suspect trees, but from the log I had just been standing on!  I moved to one end which was hollow, and shone my flashlight in.  Two bright green orbs were reflecting back.  I had literally been standing directly on top of her!

This was only the second time that I have found a fisher resting in a fallen log, although I suspect it’s more common than we document.  I don’t believe she had any kits with her, but it was difficult to get a good look because she was far back in the log.  It is fairly rare (for me at least) to walk-in on a denning female who isn’t in her den, so I was a bit surprised to find her where I did.  Although I wasn’t able to find a den in this case, it was certainly nice to get a look at her!

Log 21FB6 was resting in

Log 21FB6 was resting in.

View of another female resting in a log from few months ago.

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To Den Or Not To Den?

That is the question. That time of year is rapidly approaching once again, expectant mothers on and around Stirling will soon have to pick their spot and settle down to the task of raising kits. The den season, particularly the early rush to pinpoint natal dens (those in which a female gives birth as opposed to the maternal dens she will use later in the season) is one of our busiest periods on the ground and from a personal perspective, one of the more rewarding.

This will be the fourth season in which Fishers have denned on Stirling since the reintroduction began and again it offers some potential milestones for the project. We have already seen the birth of the first kits sired on the district, the one to watch out for this season is the potential to confirm the first litters born to females native to the district. Although it is very possible that this happened last year we were not actively tracking any females born on Stirling who were potentially reproductive during the 2012 den season. Currently we are tracking 4 such animals and barring any mishaps we expect to locate natal dens for each of them should they give birth this season.

From the table below you can see that this year we are tracking 11 females which we believe could reproduce. Besides the 4 animals mentioned previously we have 5 year 2 translocates, all of which have produced kits previously and 2 year 3 translocates, only one of which has reproduced before.

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Females with the potential to reproduce in 2013

As a point of comparison, ahead of the 2012 season we were tracking 10 potentially reproductive females, consisting of a spread of year 2 and year 3 translocates. Ultimately we confirmed natal dens for each one of these animals.

There is also a slight possibility that some of the 4 females we caught in the fall of 2012 and deemed to have been born that spring were actually born in 2011 and would therefore be able to reproduce this year. So, although we think this unlikely we will have to keep a close eye on what these animals are doing to be sure we don’t miss anything.

Doubtless you will see more from us as we start confirming dens and setting remote cameras. Over the first 3 years we have seen the den season really start to kickoff in late March with our median date of den confirmation (this date can sometimes be a day or 2 later than the kits actual date of birth) being March 30th. The majority of dens are generally found within a week or so around this date although our data shows a spread of about a month for the population as a whole. Our earliest record thus far is March 17th, only 1 week away!

Here is something you’ve seen before to whet your appetites.

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Hopefully new pictures will follow in the next month!

-CAB-

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We Report

Some of you out there may remember when we did blog style posts on the California  Department of Fish and Game (now Fish and Wildlife) website. During that period we called the section “Notes from the Field”. In late 2011 we decided that that an actual blog would be a better way of approaching updating folks about what we were doing, and in general I think that has worked out pretty well. Unfortunately, we then stopped posting regular updates to the departmental website and it quickly became dated. Recently, we decided to just get rid of the “Notes from the Field” (some of you have recently gone looking for it and found out  it doesn’t exist) section and use the departmental website  for holding and sharing documents, presentation, and other more formal information about the project.

We recently posted our 2011 annual report to the site and it can be found in the “Project  Updates” section or simply along the left hand side of the page under “Project Documents”.  You may ask yourself why we are just getting around to posting a 2011 report given that it’s already 2013. Well, the truth is we fell a little behind on this document and we only just finalized it a few weeks ago. In any case it is there now and hopefully it has some interesting and useful information about the project up until the end of 2011. We are currently hard at work on the 2012 annual report and we are committed to getting that finalized within the next month. At which time we’ll post it as well.

In the meantime keep coming to the blog for updates about the daily happenings in fisher land (our portion of it anyway).

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Curiosity killed the cat (sometimes)

Now that we can see the other side of summer we begin preparing for the fall. Last fall we had an extensive trapping session on Stirling where we recaptured a number of our reintroduced fishers as well as several kits. To effectively use our traps we need to have as much information as we can get about where fishers are or where they might be. A big part of getting that information is using our cameras to detect fishers in areas that we might not trap otherwise.

In the last few weeks we have begun deploying our cameras to different parts of Stirling. We will sample an areas for about 4 weeks and them move on to a new area. Cameras are checked once a week and the station is re-baited with chicken (held in a bait sock) and gusto. While going through some of these photos I noticed a black  bear visiting one of the stations. No surprise there since bears come to bait stations quite often, and in fact we find them something of  a burden when they destroy cameras. In this sequence, however, I noticed something else. A black shadow off in the background of the picture -with eyes. Closer inspection shows it to be just an ordinary black cat, but what it was doing at a bait station while a bear was there is a real mystery. It almost appears that the cat is just watching the bear almost contemplating pouncing upon it? Eventually, the bear notices the cat and it kind of wanders away, but never very far.

In this case curiosity didn’t kill the cat (that we can tell), but it demonstrates the interesting, and sometimes weird, things that go on out in the woods. No, its not the find of the century, but its puzzling and a for me kind of amusing. I’d be interested to know what the cat was thinking. Maybe the whole incident was just coincidence.

A cat (red circle in background) watches a bear at a baited camera station

 

Bear sees a cat a bait station

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“Fire Ferocious”

“Fire! Fire! Ferocious fire! 
You restless wall of flame. 
Fire! Fire! Roaring higher! 
Your fury to never tame.”

                                     – Mark R. Slaughter

 

Fire is an omnipresent threat to both individuals and populations of fishers. Fires that burn very hot can devastate the over story trees and with them the places where fishers forage, rest, and den. So, we are always aware of the potential effect that a large fire might have on our relatively small population of reintroduced fishers.

In the last week a fire just to the east of our study site (the Chips fire) has been putting up a lot of smoke and growing ever larger. Presently, the fire doesn’t directly threaten any of the fishers we are tracking, but its western boundary is within 5 miles of at least 2 females. Since the fire began on July 29th it has grown to nearly 16,000 acres and is not predicted to be contained for at least another 2 weeks (see the link already provided).

If you examine the included map you can compare the current area of the fire to the area where the majority of our female fishers have been found (blue dots; these data are incomplete and unedited) and where they have denned (black crosses). Though I have not delineated individual females in this figure you can see that a fire of similar area positioned in the middle of the study site would encompass a large number of dens and female home ranges.  Additionally, when you consider the fire shown here is relatively small (the largest wildfire can be over 100,000 acres) you can begin to appreciate how easily a single fire event could have dire ramifications for any fisher population in the west (in particular reintroductions).

Hopefully, the Chips fire will have little (preferably no) effect on our reintroduced fishers, but as with most things, we just don’t know what will happen. Fishers are obviously not the only species that are threatened by fires (marten are found in or near this fire), but they are our primary focus in this forum. Eventually, fire will likely have some impact on this incipient population. Those impacts will be related to the population size and spatial distribution of the animals. With luck, the population will grow and expand so that it can withstand perturbations such as wild fires.

Map comparing the area of the Chips Fire to female fisher locations

 

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Life and Death

One of the main things that drew me to fishers was their reputation as a predator. As I mentioned in my last post, fishers are flexible in what they eat and they are extremely skilled at capturing a wide variety of food types. When a fisher kills a squirrel or a woodrat I find it exciting because I know that fisher has helped itself survive for just a little while longer. Yet, fishers are not the only predator out in the woods, and in fact they themselves become the victims of predation (as many of you know).

Research on fishers throughout the western U.S. (including ours) is demonstrating that predators have a significant impact on fishers.  In conjunction with our collaborators (IERC and WILwe can suggest that as much as 60% of our documented mortalities are caused by predation. Interestingly, most of the mortalities we observe occur during the period when animals are actively seeking mates (March – May) or subsequent to the birth of kits when females are actively lactating (April – August).

Distribution of deaths across months for all fishers found dead

It makes sense that animals are susceptible to predation during this period because of the frequency with which they forage as well the energetic demands they may be under. In fact, many studies demonstrate animals foraging in risker ways, or places, under a variety of circumstances (one example).Predators may kill fishers simply to remove potential competition and then simply leave the fisher remains uneaten. Other times they may actually consume the  fisher leaving only a few remains.

1F111 found dead

Females and kits are also vulnerable at the den sites as predators such as bobcat (Lynx rufus) often find and climb the den tree.  Thus, females are exposed to danger at the den site and while foraging.

Fishers apparently straddle a very fine line between being the hunter and becoming hunted. At present we are still trying to understand the relationships between fisher biology, habitat, and predators that explain the why fishers are more prone do becoming prey for another animal during different times and places.

Bobcat at 20058 den tree

The few remains of females 182F4

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