Posts Tagged With: reintroduction

Growing Up Fisher

Over the last few months, many of the female fishers on Stirling have been busy raising their litters, and as such, we have been busy trying to keep track of them.  We see females start to den from mid-March to early-April, and try to document how many kits they end up having, along with what kind of structures they are using.  When we find a den, we put a few motion sensor cameras around it with the hope of capturing photos of kits when they move to a different den.  In addition to seeing kits, we sometimes get photos of other cool things like males visiting to breed, different prey being brought back to the dens, and visitation by predators.

Documenting kits is often a lesson in frustration and patience.  Fishers usually have multiple ways to get in/out of their dens, and many do a very good job of evading our cameras.  However, over the course of the summer, our persistence eventually paid off and we were able to document quite a number of kits from most of the known denning females!

From March 18th – July 15th, we documented 57 dens from 17 females.  We were able to confirm kits from 15 of 17 fishers.  Remote cameras placed around the dens picked up a minimum of 30 kits, for an average of 2 kits per female.  Like in previous years, the number of kits ranged from 1-3 per female.  The known rate of denning this year was 89%.

The length of stay in any one den varied greatly between individuals and dens.  We saw the first female move from a natal den on March 27th.  The last holdout stayed in her natal den until May 30th.  In contrast, one female had used 6 different dens before May 30th.

We often see mating behavior from late-March to early-April around dens, and this year was no exception.  Males visited the majority of early den sites, and cameras picked up breeding on multiple occasions.  In once instance, mating occurred over a 2 1/2 hour period!

Raising kits increases the energetic demand of fishers, who now have multiple mouths to feed.  Not surprisingly, we often see an increase in mortalities during the summer months from females raising young.  This summer we have had 3 females die who we knew were denning.  It is always sad when a fisher dies, and knowing that their kits will not make it is especially hard.  I usually reconcile this with the knowledge that we document a far greater number of kits than the number of fishers that die, and assuming many of these youngsters make it to adulthood, they should replace those we lost.

By this point in the summer, the juveniles are getting pretty big.  It won’t be too much longer before they disperse and try and make a living on their own.  Included are some pictures from this years’ denning.  I have tried to put them chronologically, so you can see the changes in kit size as the summer progresses.

 

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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:

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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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Fisher Motion Pictures

Over the last few months, our cameras placed around fisher dens have captured loads and loads of pictures (over 18,000).  We often post some of the better photos to the blog, but there are many that don’t make the cut.  The main purpose of these cameras is to document kits, but in addition they collect all sorts of other information.  We often see various predator and prey species around the dens, males visiting during breeding season, mom bringing back food items, as well as many photos of females simply entering and leaving the den on their daily travels.

We sift through all of these photos, recording what is in each one.  Doing this gives us a little insight into life around the den.  When all the photos from a specific camera are strung together and played like a movie, they are pretty cool to see.  I’ve put together 3 short “motion pictures” from a few of the dens that we collected photos from (the links will take you to a Youtube video):

21392 – Over a month and a half of pictures from the natal den of this two-year-old fisher.  She is a native Stirling born fisher, believed to have had one kit this year.

21FB6 – Pictures from a maternal den of one of the year-2 translocated females.  This spring was her third time denning on Stirling.  This den was one of her maternal dens she first used back in 2011.

23955 – These photos are from a maternal den / rest tree found in mid-July, when the kits were pretty mobile.  23955 is also a native born fisher and this was her first time denning.

Enjoy!

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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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The Class of 2013

Over the last few weeks we have been observing many of the females moving from their natal dens to maternal ones, and just as we had hoped, some have had kits in tow!

The first fisher kind enough to show her kits this year was 714C2, a year-3 translocate.  This wasn’t too surprising to us on the ground, as this female seemed to constantly move dens last spring.  We recorded photos of her bringing two kits down the natal den tree.

The next three animals to move were all year-2 translocates.  Two of these, 21FB6 and 18871, have denned all three years since their release and we have documented kits from them each year!  93B5A, the oldest of the females we are currently tracking, just turned 8 years old!  This is also the third year she has denned on the Stirling district, and the second we have captured her kits on camera.  All three of these fishers have had a minimum of 2 kits each.

The last fisher that we found had moved from her natal den was 209DD, one of the females who was born on Stirling!  Her kits are the first we’ve confirmed from a fisher native to this district!  It appears she has also had a minimum of 2 kits, however the second picture isn’t as clear as we would like.

We have a couple of females that are still using their natal dens.  The amount of time a fisher will remain in the natal den seems to vary wildly from individual to individual and year to year, so its hard to tell when they will make a move to another den.  As is to be expected, a couple of the females managed to move their kits into maternal dens without being detected by the remote cameras.  Hopefully during their next move we will get some pics of them.  Until then, enjoy some photos of the kits we’ve seen so far!

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Love is in the Air

Okay, so maybe love isn’t the best choice of words.

The other day I was searching for the natal den of one of our trans-located females.  Having narrowed the signal down, I thought I knew where I needed to go in order to find her.  As I was riding on the ATV past an old road, I caught a “fisher log” out of the corner of my eye.  Now I often see fisher shaped rocks and logs, and 99 times out of 100 they are just that.  This time however, as I backed up to get another look, this particular log turned around and loped off!

I quickly grabbed my gear and started walking after the fisher, thinking it was probably the female I was looking for.  As I walked a ways down the road I realized that although I was extremely close to the female, her signal indicated that she was not moving.  Just then, one of the Argos collared males appeared and started to approach me!  He got about 15 feet away, then moved up-slope towards a large tanoak.  After sniffing around the base of the tree for a few seconds he slowly walked off.  Not surprisingly, this turned out to be the tree the female was in!  This was the first time I have personally spotted a male at a den (although it isn’t too uncommon among the field crew, and our cameras detect it frequently).  It was certainly nice of him to lead me to the tree she was in.

The spring denning time coincides with the breeding season for fishers.  For us on the ground, it is probably one of the best opportunities to spot the males out in the woods.  Males are busy seeking out the females, and just like in this case, often end up at their dens.  I put up a camera pointing at the tree, and it caught a cool series of pictures.

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The male in the picture is not the male that led me to the den.  He is un-collared, and appears to be quite a bit smaller than the one I saw there.  It wouldn’t surprise me to catch some larger males visiting the den in the next few days.  This particular female has been in the same tree for a few days now, indicating this this is probably her den.  We are starting to see many of the females we are tracking settling into denning behavior, but more on this in a few days!

 

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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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