Posts Tagged With: Stirling

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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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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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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In The Field With Fishers

Our situation on the ground has been a little hectic over recent months and some of you avid followers may have been feeling a little neglected when it comes to field updates. Well, fear ye no more, I shall share a few details regarding the animals we are currently tracking on and around Stirling as of late February.

We are currently tracking 23 Fishers with active telemetry transmitters on and around the Stirling District. Of these, 16 are fitted with VHF transmitters that we must actively track. 15 of these animals are females wearing VHF collars, the other is a male born on Stirling in 2012 who was given an implanted transmitter due to his age and potential to outgrow a collar. The remaining 7 animals are males of greater than 1 year of age fitted with ARGOS collars, these collars collect locations via satellite and can be conveniently tracked from the comfort of our desks. A breakdown of these animals by year of birth/translocation can be seen in the table below.

Right now we are unable to account for 3 more animals (2 females, 1 male) with potentially active transmitters who we hope are still going about their business out there. They were all born on Stirling in 2012 and have been missing for over a month. Sometimes such animals turn up in unexpected places (see previous post “The Grass Is Always Greener”) or are recovered during our trapping efforts and sometimes we never learn their ultimate fates. Either way, they are young and wild and all we can do is to keep searching.

You can get an idea of the spread of our animals across the study area at the moment from the aerial photos below, to give a little perspective the lines on the image represent the county lines of Plumas to the East, Tehama to the west and Butte in the South.

Female locations:

Year 2 translocates in Yellow, Year 3 translocates in Blue, Juveniles from 2011 in Red, Juveniles from 2012 in Green

Year 2 translocates in Yellow, Year 3 translocates in Blue, Juveniles from 2011 in Red, Juveniles from 2012 in Green

Male locations:

Year 1 translocates in Purple, Year 2 translocates in Yellow, Year 3 translocates in Blue, Juveniles from 2011 in Red, Juveniles from 2012 in Green

Year 1 translocates in Purple, Year 2 translocates in Yellow, Year 3 translocates in Blue, Juveniles from 2011 in Red, Juveniles from 2012 in Green

As you can see we have a pretty wide spread of animals across our study area at the moment, and we are aware of uncollared individuals in many of the intervening areas. As denning season creeps up on us we will be kept busy trying to keep tabs on everyone, this year is shaping up to be an interesting one with more potential dens than any previous year, I will update you all with some of our denning predictions in the near future.

-CAB-

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Fisher Frenzy

Fall brings about a good time to try and trap fishers, and we have been very busy over the past month doing just that.  This intensive trapping effort of the Stirling district, dubbed “Fisher Frenzy”, finally concluded this past week.  The trapping that we conduct here serves many purposes (some of which will be discussed in future posts).  Importantly, it allows us to examine the condition of both juveniles and adults, and affix radio-collars on selected fishers so we can track them in the future.  This year, we split the trapping effort between two different sides of the study area, running the first 14 nights of trapping on the eastern portion of the study area, and the last 14 nights on the western side.  When we talk about different sides of the study area, we are using the north-south running Butte Creek as the divider.  This split has more to do with logistics than actual geography.  The sides are accessed from different highways (and getting across the creek is time consuming).

The beginning of this years’ event coincided with the first major storm of the fall, which soaked the lower elevations and left 1-2 feet of snow up in the higher areas of the study area.  This made for a challenging couple of days, and closed many of the traps temporarily.  Luckily, a dry spell followed which allowed us to get nearly everything re-opened, and over the two week period we were successful in capturing quite a number of animals.

On the east side, 16 individual fishers were trapped.  We captured a good mix of both adults and juveniles, males and females.  Total number of fisher captures on this side was 26, with a few animals being trapped more than once.  In addition to the fishers, we caught a variety of other mesocarnivores in the traps.

After the first two weeks we left our comfortable accommodations (the former SPI office in Stirling City) to camp out on western side of the study area.  Again we got a fair amount of rain and a bit of snow, but caught a good number of fishers on this side as well.  Over the final 14 days, we were able to capture 13 individual fishers (17 total).

In addition to only looking at fishers, this year some of the folks from the CDFG Wildlife Investigation Lab and the Integral Ecology Research Center came out to do examinations of some of the other animals that we catch.  Spotted skunks, ringtails, and grey foxes were processed, with the general purpose to look at disease exposure in fishers and these other forest mesocarnivores.

Overall, we are pretty pleased with the way things went.  Between both sides, we caught a total of 29 individual fishers during 28 days.  We know that we failed to capture a few animals (those with collars which are still working), but that is expected.  Some of the animals are in areas that were hard to get to (especially after the first snow), and some seem to just be very trap shy.  Now we have the task of keeping track of all these new animals, and it will be interesting to find out where some of these younger animals will end up living.

Over the entire month, we ran somewhere in the neighborhood of 2500 trap nights.  This was a massive effort that could not have been done without the help of many people.  Specifically, we got some much needed labor from Sierra Pacific Industries, as well as the use of the old Stirling City office so we didn’t have to completely rough it for a month.  US Fish and Wildlife provided many helping hands, as well as a life-saving wall tent and stove in the latter parts of trapping.  Among many other things, Fish and Game provided the mobile lab which made processing fishers less stressful than working them up out in the field. A huge thank you to everyone who came out to lend a hand!

Here are some pictures of the event.  Enjoy!

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Where There’s Smoke…

You just never know what will happen while you are out tracking fishers.

Yesterday while returning from tracking female 20058 (she lives in between Mill and Deer creeks) we noticed a black plume of smoke. Initially, I wanted to think it was just a large cloud hanging low on the horizon, but since I hadn’t seen a cloud all day I knew this was not true. Sure enough it was a small fire that was burning just north of Deer creek not far from HWY 32.

Well, it is seemed small, and relatively speaking it was, but it sure put out a lot of smoke. The wind picked up from time to time and really caused some large flare-ups. I’m unsure how much time passed from when the fire started until we saw it but it couldn’t have been more than 1o minutes. Within 20 minutes after seeing the smoke personnel from the Forest Service and Cal Fire were responding to the fire. Within an hour helicopters and airplanes were tending to the blaze. I was really amazed, and impressed,with the response times of the folks that were fighting the blaze.

Fortunately, this fire, which appears largely contained this morning, was not particularly close to any of the fishers were are currently tracking particularly those that have kits. Though there are very likely other fishers in this area that we are not tracking. Still, it serves as a reminder that fires are very real dangers to fishers in general, but also to the translocation. One particularly severe fire might have very dire consequences for this incipient population.

Plume of smoke

Large Flame

Dousing the flames

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18308

It is Monday as I check the website (seaturtle.org) that allows me access to our Argos data. I go through each tag number, which represents a different male fisher, to see where his travels have taken him and to check his general activities. Today as I get to male 18308 I immediately notice that his collar has been in the same place for 3 days, and the dreaded “0” is unambiguous in the activity data. Those two facts clearly indicate that the male is dead or at the very best has dropped his collar. Tomorrow someone has to go find out which one it is.

Tomorrow (Tuesday) I am scheduled to attend a meeting in Yreka where I will update folks about the translocations’ progress at the Interior Fisher Working Group (a collection of folks interested in fisher biology and management in California and Oregon). Since I’ve committed myself to attend the meeting Kevin volunteers to go find the collar or a dead fisher (or both). I tell him approximately where the collar’s signal is coming from and give him the best locations from our recently downloaded data. I convince myself, as I always do, that all we will find is a collar and no signs that the male is dead.

For most of Tuesday I don’t think much about what Kevin will find. At the meeting I tell everyone that we have documented only 7 fisher mortalities on the project but that this figure might change by the end of today. For most everyone this is a trivial fact and probably impacts the overall tone of my update very little. At about 1 pm I start looking at my phone every few minutes hoping to see a text message that says something about finding only a collar. By five I still haven’t heard anything, and at a quarter to 7 – just before we leave Yreka headed home – I call to see what has been found. The response I get needs no clarification. He is dead.

On the ride home I think about male 18308. I captured him on the EKSA in early 2010 in the first year of the translocation. While he was in the captive facility that year I took to calling him “Big John” primarily just because he was one of the bigger males we had. He was the second male that was released on Stirling and he stayed relatively close to his release location. We tracked him successfully in each year of the study. He was the first fisher we recaptured in late 2010, and he always seemed to be amenable to recapture after that. It’s always exiting to capture our fishers and see how they have done since we last handled them. 18308 was the most exciting to me because he was always the biggest fisher we had (he weighed in at 5.8 kg in February of 2011) and I always wondered how big he would be the next time. We found him at the den trees of females in each year of the study  and sometimes at multiple trees in the same year. Though we cannot yet be definitive I suspect he fathered kits in all three breeding seasons he was on Stirling. He was 6 years old at the time of his death which is pretty good for a wild male fisher. Currently, we don’t know what caused his death and it may take several weeks to learn this – we may never know.  I tracked 18308 for longer than any on the project.

As biologists we probably feel, or at least I do, as though there is some connection to the animals we study. Let’s face it, if I didn’t enjoy working with, and learning about animals, I wouldn’t be doing what I’m doing. At best, the animals are indifferent and at worst they have a deep resentment towards me as I trap and follow them around in their daily lives. Strangely, it is the thousands of hours of effort spent in trapping, handling, and following these animals that causes their deaths to affect me. I enjoy working with and learning about fishers, and each one has taught me something important about what they do and how they live. When they die we lose the opportunity to learn something new about that individual and the species. Maybe just as importantly, we lose the experiences and enjoyment that comes from that learning. I learned a lot from 18308.

18308 at 1st den tree 2010

18308 at best of den tree

18308 after sedation in 2011

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Red-tailed Peril

To add to my previous post I thought I’d share one of the more impressive series of images from a den thus far;

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We believe the Red-tailed Hawk you can see entering and exiting the upper left of frame in this series was attempting to steal the prey item being carried by female 199B9 (center frame) to her natal den in April 2011. Whatever the reason, she survived unscathed and went on to occupy 2 maternal dens through the 2011 season before her VHF transmitter finally failed.

-CAB-

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The Great Kit Debate

In a somewhat desperate bid to up my posting rate I’m going to revisit old ground in this post and return to a brief email debate from last April.

And so a brief background is in order…

As we build up to this years denning season we have begun the task of collating and analyzing our camera data from the first two denning seasons on Stirling. As many of you may know the season really begins to heat up in early April as we confirm natal dens (a natal den is the den in which a female gives birth to her kits) by performing walk-ins on stationary females. It is usually on the second walk-in to a given tree that we consider the female has indeed denned. At this point we set a series of remote cameras around the den structure in order to passively monitor the females activities. Through the denning season a female Fisher will usually progress from her natal den through a number of maternal dens (a maternal den being any den occupied after the natal den). Thus one of the most exciting things we see on our cameras is the female carrying her kits out of the den, this gives us a great opportunity to count the number of kits.

So here the debate arises. While going through our pictures of female 17582’s natal den from the 2011 season I came across some familiar images, the first image is of 17582 moving her first kit from the natal den to her first maternal den roughly 100 yards away. Nothing too contentious there.

The picture below was taken 20 minutes later and appears to show her moving a second kit, or potentially a second and third kit at the same time, as the wily Roger Powell contended.

And here is the same image expanded;

So I ask your opinion,

-CAB-

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Snow Tracking

Last night a small storm dropped a few inches of snow in parts of the study area, and this morning I came across a fresh set of fisher tracks.  This winter’s mild weather hasn’t provided many good snow-tracking opportunities, so I decided to spend some time back-tracking this animal.

I really enjoy snow-tracking, as it allows you to see exactly what habitat an animal is using, how they are moving through the forest, and sometimes affords the opportunity to witness behaviors that are otherwise difficult to see (such as kill sites).  These tracks were in the area occupied by fisher 21392, a female born on Stirling and captured last October.  Though I am not able to confirm that the tracks belonged to her, they appeared to be heading down a drainage towards where I located her (via telemetry) today.

I thought I would share my GPS track-log from today.  In it I listed a few points along the way that were interesting to me.  The overall distance tracked was a little shy of two miles.  Not a huge distance by any means, but still very tiring because of the constant going in and out of drainages and the dense understory vegetation.

Kevin

Track Pattern

Track Close-up

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