Wednesday, May 2, 2012

Tracks, Scat and Wooly things- Got to love being a Biologist.

Wolf Track on Johnson Creek Road above Fenn Ranger Station
Possibly Gray Wolf Scat with hind leg scrape. Johnson Creek Road.
Cougar track.  Picture taken on an ATV trail above Lowell, Idaho
To answer that overly used rhetorical question - Yes, bears do shit in the woods.
Signs of spring.  A wooly bear caterpillar.
Moose or elk pellets. Location and size suggest elk rather than moose.

Sampling Sites and Beer.

Cloudy morning above the Selway on the East Boyd-Glover Trail.

For the first part of this study, 70 one square kilometer sampling sites have been designated within the 1,160 square kilometer (448 square mile) Moose Creek drainage. In each sampling site, four survey points have been identified where sampling for woodpeckers will be accomplished. We begin woodpecker surveys at sunrise (currently ~ 6:00 am here) and must begin the last survey by 10:30 am. Woodpeckers are surveyed by first silently listening for drumming and/or calls and by scanning the forest for the birds themselves. Playing recordings of woodpecker drums and calls interspersed with periods of silence follows the silent listening period. The recordings are quite effective – during our practice sessions we have called in several Pileated woodpeckers, northern flickers, a gray jay, and have pissed off several squirrels that have sounded their disapproval by persistently chattering at us for several minutes.

Beautiful morning on the trail
In addition, two of the survey points in each sampling site will be surveyed for gastropods (snails and slugs) by conducting 15-minute ground searches and using gastropod traps. The gastropod traps are one of the more amusing, and sensitive, aspects of the job – sponges soaked in beer are sandwiched between corrugated cardboard sheets and placed on the forest floor. Fortunately, gastropods are not picky about their beer allowing us to use cheap brews (freely donated expired beer in this case). However, since we are working for Idaho Fish and Game and driving agency vehicles, a certain amount of discretion is warranted. Just imagine the hiker who observes us emerging from the forest at 11:00 am reeking of beer (the sponge and cardboard are saturated with beer at the survey point) and jumping into a Fish and Game vehicle!

The surrounding area is simply astounding. The mountainsides that line both sides of the Selway River are heavily forested with Douglas fir, red cedar and ponderosa pine. Fenn Ranger Station sits in the Selway River valley at an elevation of 474 meters (1,555 feet). The ridges along the river top out around 1,000 meters (3,280 feet) above sea level. This results in very steep terrain and so far we have been on slopes as steep as 40 degrees (80% slope). On top of that, the brush can be quite dense and in some areas there is a large amount of down trees that makes progress slow. Needless to say, I am getting a serious workout on a daily basis as we scale up and down the hillsides. Further from the river, the mountains reach between 1,500 and 1,800 meters (~5,000 to 6,000 feet) and many of the sampling sites are located in the higher elevations. Currently, snow is blocking access to many of these sites but the weather has been pleasant with moderate temperatures for the past week. Hopefully, a lot of the snow is melting and access to these sites will open up soon.

An unfurled Trillium

Glacier Lily complete with butterfly

The Beginning.

Selway River

My second week as a field technician with Idaho Fish and Game has come to a close. So far it has been an inspiring yet humbling experience. We’ve spent the last couple of weeks learning not only about the woodpeckers and gastropods that inhabit the surrounding forests (bats will come later) but also about the challenging terrain that we are going to encounter. After a quick day of orientation and paperwork in Lewiston, Idaho (a day that began with a substantial snowstorm) we drove the 2 ½ hours east to our base of operations at Fenn Ranger Station. Fenn is the headquarters of the Moose Creek Ranger District and is located along the Selway River five miles southeast of Lowell, Idaho. The ranger station itself is quite picturesque.

Fenn Ranger Station
Vehicles all lined up in front of 'Girl's Dorm'

Executive Suite

Private Rooms

However, we are quartered a small distance down the road in the maintenance compound and are staying in what is known as the “Girl’s Dorm”. It’s a bit “rustic”, but livable, with hot water, showers, a full kitchen, and laundry facilities. Currently we are the only ones using the facility and have the place to ourselves. In a couple of weeks the Forest Service trail crews will begin to arrive and we may have additional people staying in the “Girl’s Dorm” with us.

The Crew

Our field crew consists of three people including myself. Daddy Longlegs is my fellow crew member and hails from South Dakota. His nickname stems from his 6’5” frame and his ability to seemingly glide over downed trees and up and down steep hillsides with ease. He always leaves the other two of us in the dust. It probably helps that he is also 25 years old and has been living, playing, and working in Telluride, Colorado for several years. K-Bird is our field supervisor and spends three days a week out at the field site. She is originally from Alaska and is currently finishing her first post-doc position at the University of Idaho. Idaho Fish and Game hired her to not only supervise Daddy Longlegs and myself but also to assist with the formulation of our sampling protocols and to conduct analyses of the resulting data.

White tail deer. The doe in the foreground is 'flagging'.

More to follow...

Hello from Idaho.

View from the office

This blog is my means to provide an update to anyone interested in the work I am doing as a field technician with Idaho Fish and Game. I have been hired to collect data on woodpeckers, gastropods, and bats in the Clearwater and Nez Perce National Forests of central Idaho. This project began at the beginning of April and will continue until the end of July. Enjoy, and please feel free to leave comments.