Posts Tagged With: Walk-in

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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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.

714C2

Hopefully new pictures will follow in the next month!

-CAB-

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The Grass Is Always Greener

One of the pleasant surprises during the fall trapping was recapturing an adult female, 1E003.  She wasn’t captured the previous fall, so it was the first chance we had to examine her since her release nearly two years ago.  Over the course of her time here, she has been a particularly challenging fisher to follow.  A brief history of this fishers’ time on the Stirling district:

During the spring of 2011, three months after being translocated, she denned and had kits over in the far eastern portion of our study area (at the time further east than any other females we were tracking).  This is a remote area of the district, and where she settled had fewer access roads than other areas.  We failed to capture her during the fall of 2011, but were able to catch a juvenile in her home range.  Through this past spring, we were still tracking her near her usual haunts on the eastern side of the district.  We found her in trees within 100m of each other on several days and believed she was about to den.  Then in mid-April, she vanished.  Her collars’ batteries were due to expire at any time, so we figured that was what had happened.  Thinking she had established a stable home range and would stay there, we weren’t expecting her to make any large movements.

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Area covered during 1E003’s move from the east to the west.

Much to our surprise, during a June 2012 flight, we heard her signal again!  This time however, she was on the complete other side of the district. Given the distance from where we normally heard this signal, we were skeptical that this was indeed our fisher.  Instead, we thought it might be the transmitter of some other species associated with a project unknown to us.  For much of June and July we continued to track and estimate the locations of the animal, but we could never confirm that it was a fisher by visually identifying it. Shortly thereafter, the collar disappeared from the airwaves again and we were left wondering if this was actually her or not.  As mentioned above, we captured her during the trapping effort in November, indicating that she had probably been living in this new area, on the west side, since June.  Sometime between April and June she made a 25km trek (as the crow flies) across the district and set up shop in a new area.

IE003 denning area near burn

IE003 denning area near burn

Naturally, we were left wondering why an animal would make a huge move such as this.  Immediately after being released, translocated fishers often roam around for a couple of months before they settle in an area. Often, juveniles and adult males make large movements as well, but this is more uncommon for an adult female.

This eastern side of the district is much rockier than other areas of the study area, and was hit by a large fire a few years ago.  I remember being surprised the first time I went out there to look for her den that a fisher would settle in this area (you can see in the map the differences in the sides of the district).  It is possible that the pressure of denning and giving birth made her pick and stick to a place that wasn’t ideal.  Since she was released in January, she only had a couple of months to find a good place to den. She may have not had ample time to find the best possible place, and simply chose the best in the area she happened to be in.

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1E003’s tracks from a few days ago.

The fact that she was able to survive, and likely raise kits, meant that she was getting enough food and other resources in the area.  However, it could be that with kits reaching adulthood there wasn’t enough to go around.  Possibly there was sufficient food, but maybe there was a paucity of mate choices (few males were known to frequent this area).  Fact is, we will probably never know exactly why she decided to pick up and leave an area she had occupied for over a year, or why she made such a long move instead of finding an area much closer.

Today, I was able to find her in a rest tree, about a mile from where she was re-trapped.  Since we captured her, we have been tracking her faithfully, and are starting to get a feel for the new areas she is using.  We know there are a few other female fishers right around her, so it will be interesting to see how she fits in.

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Hide and Seek

Fisher 1FE60, a 1 ½ year old male who was first captured last October, has been notoriously hard to walk-in on.  It isn’t that the area he is generally in is especially remote, but has more to do with the fact that he seems to always run away when you start to get close to him.  So I was pleasantly surprised today when I was able to get right on top of his signal without him bolting from the area.  There were, however, a couple of things about this walk-in that were a little strange.

First, I had heard this animal a few hours earlier from a point about three miles south of where I currently was, and the bearing did not point in the direction of where I was now.   Next, the signal I was getting while doing a triangulation (before walking in) was much weaker than I expected, and was going in-and-out like the animal was moving even though it seemed like he was stable.  Finally when I got close, I found myself standing in a rocky area where none of the trees in the immediate area were over 15 feet tall, and I felt the signal was emitting from around one of the rocks.

Because of these factors, I was starting to wonder what I was going to find here.  I have heard of fishers using rocky areas for resting, but I had not encountered it in our study area before.  I looked into the most obvious areas around/under the rock and didn’t see anything.  After about 20 minutes of searching in vain for any sign, I was starting to think that there were a couple of other likely possibilities instead of me finding a resting fisher:

  1. There was a test collar (radio-collar not on an animal put out to test our accuracy for triangulations) in the area that I wasn’t aware of which was close to the frequency of 1FE60.
  2. 1FE60 was dead and I was looking for remains and an implant.

Both of these things were not what I was hoping to find.  As I searched around the rock some more, I found a small hole that I had overlooked which went down under the rock.  It was definitely big enough for a fisher to fit in, but it was too dark to get a good look into, even with a headlamp.   This left me with a bit of a dilemma.  I didn’t want to leave the area without finding out what was going on, but I sure wasn’t going to stick my arm into a dark hole where there was possibly a fisher dwelling (probably good advice to live by).  I thought about poking a stick into the hole, but I couldn’t help but picture a pissed off male fisher lunging out and attacking me.  With ideas running out, I decided that I would lower my camera down and try to take a picture to see if anything was in there.  With a bit of apprehension I reached down and snapped a picture.

1FE60 under rock.

Hole he was in.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

I guess I made the right decision!  He was probably less than 3 feet away from my camera (and fingers) as I took this picture.  From what you can see of him, it looks like he’s doing all right for himself.

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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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Scent-Marked

Today I found myself attempting a walk-in on one of our females.  When I estimated I was getting close (<50m) to where she was, I got out my binoculars and scanned the surrounding trees.  I have a bad habit of trying to guess what tree the fisher is going to be in before actually seeing the animal (and I am rarely correct).  I saw a tree about 30m ahead that looked good, so I headed that way.  After 10m, I stopped again to scan the tree with the binoculars to see if I could see her or any possible cavities/nests she might be in.  No such luck.

18871 at one of her dens in May 2011

Just then it suddenly began to rain.  I looked up to see a fine mist coming down.  The weather reports hadn’t mentioned a very high chance of precipitation today, but I’ve learned not to put much faith in any weather predictions of the study area.  At the same time I also noticed the distinct smell of fisher.  I figured I must be getting close…wait a minute…it’s not raining anywhere else…then it hit me…literally!  I looked up again to see a fisher tail straight above, and round two raining down on me.  I’d been scent marked!

The culprit of the sudden downpour was 18871, a three year old female.  This fisher was released in December 2010, had two kits in the spring, and has basically occupied the same area since shortly after release.  She was resting up in a nest at the top of a 40ft white pine.  Her behavior indicated she obviously wasn’t happy that I was close to her, but I wasn’t very thankful for the present either!  She was very vocal and moved through the canopy over to a tree further away before climbing down and making her escape. Since she seemed to be agitated by my presence, we will avoid any walk-ins on her for a while.

Anyway, thought you might get a kick out of today’s misfortunes.  I better go take a shower.

 

Kevin

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Return to the field

We seem to be having a spell of good weather over the district currently which is allowing a little more freedom in the field since our return from the West Coast Fisher Symposium in Sacramento. There is still a little snow on the roads at higher elevations and the peaks of Lassen to the North are finally showing white but skies are clear and most of our access points are open.

Yesterday saw an overdue visit to some of our more Northerly females on the edge of the Ishi Wilderness, we currently know of two females in this area, both of whom were located yesterday.

Today I managed the first walk-in on our most recently collared female (see post January 25th 2012). I found her in a draw high above Big Chico Creek keeping an eye on me from the canopy of a large Douglas Fir. The photo fails to do her justice but you can make her out peering down from a mass of branches some 100 feet from the ground.

This being the first time we’ve had contact with her since she was collared I was pleased to note that she didn’t appear agitated, neither vocalizing nor attempting to move off while I was observing her.

-CAB-

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