Sunday, November 14, 2010

Spotted Owl Study 11/14/2010

The Fall Spotted Owl crew of four girls and two dogs have been in the Shasta-Trinity forest of Northern California for 3 weeks now. The dogs have been doing great doing what they love best - working for a chance to play ball. Sampson and Max have taken us up very steep rocky slopes, across drainage's, over downed logs, through good and bad habitat all to find a few spotted owl pellets.

Heather swabbing and collecting an owl pellet.  CK9 Max watches over.
The dogs are finding them and we are collecting them. I have seen 3 spotted owls so far and heard several more hoots from a far before sunrise when we hoot for them to get an idea of where to focus the search. Being up close and personal with the species you are studying while still remaining as noninvasive as possible is very cool. Makes it worth it to wake up at 4 in the morning. I even saw a black bear cub one day while hiking through the forest with Liz and Sampson down slope from me. I was on a wildlife trail with some huge indentations in the dirt, became suspicious, looked up, and saw the bear about 10 feet away. You never know what you're going to find out there! That's the beauty of having your office in the forest. :) 
There's a spotted owl in that tree!
In the field, we swab the pellets on both sides and send both the pellet and the swabs with the DNA on it to the lab for species I.D. While our focus is the Northern Spotted Owl, we are collecting any and all pellets. The dogs are still in training to "speak" at spotted owl pellets while just sitting at all others. It's crazy the small little pieces of old pellets that they find. The tiniest bit of hair and bone and they find it.... That's why we have dogs to do this work for us. These small owl pellets blend in so well. 
Hooting for owls at sunrise on a foggy morning.

This is the first project I've been on where the dogs are trained to find something other than scat. I suppose with their noses they can be trained to search anything. I still find it really incredible to watch. Weather has been cool and wet (it snowed on us the other day) which makes for slippery hiking, but somehow we all end up in one piece once we make it back to the car. Don't ask me how. Everyone seems to be doing well and we will be planning our Thanksgiving here with the pups pretty soon.

Till next time,

Sunday, November 7, 2010

Spotted Owl Study 11/6/10

Ginny Sednek is currently an orienteer on our Spotted Owl project in the Shasta-Trinity National Forest in California.  Her job as an orienteer is to help navigate while out hiking with handlers, Jennifer and Liz with CK9s, Max and Sampson.  She is also responsible for collecting any owl pellets Sampson or Max locates.  Ginny has worked at our kennels in Washington in the past, and we are happy to welcome her back to the Pack as a member of the CK9 Spotted Owl team.  Below is her first impression of being on a project with our fun loving and hard working dogs:

Week 1:

This is the first week I have been working with the Conservation Canines on a Northern Spotted Owl study in the Shasta-Trinity National Forest in Northern California. I have experienced a wide range of emotions thus far: excitement, apprehension, self doubt, happiness, exhaustion, pain, exhilaration, and determination (just to name a few!). The terrain can be terrifying at times and peaceful in others. It is hard work, but at the end of the day I am always proud of what I have accomplished. I am learning many new skills, such as working with an I-Paq and using ArcPad as well as brushing up on my orienteering (map, compass, and GPS) and hiking abilities. One of the best parts about the job is watching Max and Sampson work. They are ‘the’ Conservation Canines, expertly trained to seek out owl pellets for a reward to play ball! They have so much energy and heart, it just reminds me to keep going and stay positive. Another thing that keeps me going is my imagination. I’m a Lord of the Rings fan and I feel like a hobbit most of the time, or Gollum when I am scrambling over rocks on my hands and knees. I just think of the hobbits when they are following Aragorn (in the movie) and Sam says: ‘Where is he taking us?’ Aragorn replies: ‘Into the wild.’ If only I had remembered to pack my Hobbit costume..... (seriously, I wore it 3 years in a row).

Thursday, October 7, 2010

Cougar Project 10/7/2010

Conservation Canine teams work in a variety of different landscapes, collecting scat from many different species: from giant anteater in Brazil, orca whale in the San Juan Islands, to tiger and leopard in Cambodia. This requires knowledge and understanding about both the habits and lifestyle of many different species. When beginning a new survey we like to update and fine tune our knowledge by seeking out the biologists who are experts on the species we are about to survey for. Here on the W. T. Wildlife Area in the Blue Mountains of southeastern Washington we recently began a study working with the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife (WDFW) surveying for cougar (puma concolor). WDFW cougar ecology experts, Gary Koehler, research Scientist for WDFW, Rich Beausoleil, Bear and Cougar Specialist with WDFW, and Kari Dingman, Assistant Wildlife Area Manager, have been so wonderful in aiding and adding to our store of knowledge about all things cougar!

Some things you may not have known about the elegant and elusive large cat, courtesy of WDFW cougar experts:

These cats are neat and tidy. At a kill they often like to bury not only their kill, but also their scat, to ward off potential scavengers. This makes finding their scat a bit like a scavenger hunt extra exciting. Here is Scooby standing next to a site where he found a buried cougar scat!! Digging a little further, handler Jennifer (Team ECHO) discovered other scats in the same latrine. Thanks little kitty.

"Hey, Jennifer-- buried cougar scat under here!"

Cougars also often like to leave scrapes in the duff. This tells other cougar roaming nearby that this hunting ground is taken. Many cat species leave scrapes but cougars are special because their’s are large.

Large cougar scrape.

Below is a female cougar print Gary Koehler found, and another that Kari Dingman found. Cougar prints usually do not show claw marks, as do coyote or wolf prints.

Gary Koehler, a WDFW cougar expert and also an apparent wildilfe tracker.  How did he see this?

Courtesy of Kari Dingman.

Cougars usually drag their kills into drainages, in order to provide more cover. Thus, not only are we searching ridges, which are easy for cougars to move and stalk prey from, but we are also checking draws and canyons for kill sites. Below is an old kill site, followed by a picture of more fresh kill site.

Old kill site.

New kill site.

Large bones or hair are usually present in the scat of cougar. Bear can sometimes eat the same thing as cougar and this can be tricky to determine in the field. Would you collect the below scat as cougar or bear? Luckily the dogs know what is what!

Answer: Scat is from a bear, not a cougar.

Thanks very much to the experts at Washington Department for Fish and Wildlife! You’re knowledge and help has been invaluable to the success of this awesome project!

WDFW have been wonderful to work with. 

Deer Lake, scenic view from one of our surveys in the Blue Mountains.

Friday, October 1, 2010

Orca Study 2010 - Last Round - Knockout

It's that time of year again. When the study is wrapping up, people are packing up and saying goodbye.  This summer was fantastic! Our team did a great job on the boat all summer and we couldn't have done it without all of those fabulous volunteers.  Thank you everyone, you helped make this summer incredibly memorable for each on of us on Moja.

We toughed out the long hours, foggy days, rain and rough waters all for those elusive poops. was worth it! We reached our goal of 100 poops just in the nick of time. Go Moja!!

Some of the best memories of the summer:
Our first sample and our last sample
Tucker playing with his ball on King 5 news
J1 (aka Ruffles) breaching in the wake of a freighter
40 - 50 whales porpoising (swimming really fast) at Turn point
Transients completing a full body lunge in front of us and then finding the remains
Resting whales - too breath-taking for words
Any and all of our incredible visitors on Moja
Walking to Turn Pt with the amazing Soundwatch ladies
San Juan County Fair
Wonderful island friendships and beers at Haley's or Herb's
One fabulous crew

Thank you again to all of you fabulous people.  This was a summer for the record books and Tucker and I truly appreciated all of your help and the new friendships we formed.

Friday, August 27, 2010

Orca Study - 8/27/2010

"Everybody loves a pooping whale!" (Jessica, our PI.)

Hours upon hours have been spent looking for whale poop this summer.  Whale poop comes in many different colors, textures and sizes.  Most of the time each sample that we collect on a daily basis is completely different from the previous one.  Samples range from light brown to dark brown, to flesh colored to a white snotty color.  Sometimes we are looking for fecal matter that is the size of a pea!  While we love the samples that are pancake size or silver dollar size, most of the time we find quarter
Pea size pieces of whale poop with cereal
or dime-sized splatters of whale poop. You see, the main thing we've come to realize is that whale poop is extremely delicate.  Rough waters, boats motoring by, strong currents, or a slap of a whale tail, all have the ability to disperse and sink the poop before we can reach it.

Aside from sinking poops, one of the obstacles that we deal with on a daily basis is that there is a lot of algae, sea grass, sea weed, etc in the waters up here. Not all places have the same amounts or the same varieties however it can make looking for whale poop quite challenging sometimes.  Tucker (our scat detection dog), is perfect for locating the poop and getting us to the initial sample. However, that's where his job ends and ours begins. We use poop float markers with float-able landscape flags to mark the sample's location upon initial detection.  As we turn the boat around and head back to the poop float, everyone on-board watches the water.  If anyone spots more whale poop, they throw
 Puffins; a cereal that is able to float along with the poop and mark individual pancake, silver dollar, lentil bean or pea size pieces (see above photo). Once we are able to start scooping poop, one really sees how many other things there are that look similar to whale poop. 

(Poop float marker created by Kelsey, our awesome intern. Photo taken by Jennifer Hartman.)

To really give you all an idea of what I'm talking about, I have a little quiz. Below are some photos of Rockweed and whale poop. Can you tell which is which?

This is whale poop! About the size of a quarter. The two pictures above it are Rockweed.
Whale poop pancake! The look-a-likes below are Rockweed.

Saturday, July 31, 2010

Orca Study - Round 3

Hi Everyone!

A lot has happened in the past few weeks up here on the Island.  Giles, our boat driver took off for Oregon for a wedding so we enlisted the help of some AWESOME volunteer drivers.

Sam, the Endowed Chair for the Department for Conservation Biology drove for us in some crazy weather with huge waves. We did see porpoising whales though which was incredible!  Jeff, a Soundwatch driver took the wheel one afternoon when the weather was too good to pass up. He did a fantastic job and we found a great sample! And our final volunteer was Doug.  He was a superstar reading the wind and scooping poop! He was even scooping as he drove! Raise a paw to the volunteers! Thank you!!

This last week we had a couple cameras around us which made things exciting.  We had a perfect day on the water on Monday. 7 pancake size samples, whales everywhere (85 to be exact), calm water, great wind, and the whole team was back together. We couldn't have asked for a better day to start our week.  Of course though, the next few days were a little more trying as the water was never quite ideal and the weather provided us with pea soup fog.

The cameras hung around though and were able to capture Tucker celebrating after a training sample.  The video shows the Tucker dance and Tucker playing around with his Westpaw Design Huck (a floating ball that I attached a rope to).  If you all see us celebrating on the water, feel free to join in on the Tucker dance, Tucker loves the attention!

Tucker celebrating with his Huck

Friday, July 2, 2010

Orca Study 2010 - Round 2


So I think our crew is finally out of the training season and into the big leagues!!  We have had an awesome week working out on the water.  Tucker is constantly showing us what an incredible nose he has and he is such a trooper! The weather and the whales have been perfect. We could not ask for better conditions especially since we are out on the water early now. The water has been smooth as glass. You can see jellyfish like 10-15feet below the surface. It's unbelievable.

We have been working with Orca whales from all three pods (J, K and L) this past week and it seems like our hard work is paying off. We have added 6 samples to our freezer!  One was so incredible! We were transecting behind the whales at a 90 degree angle close to a bunch of whale watching vessels.  Tucker had this fantastic change of behavior and before we knew it we were heading into the boats, right in front of the Clipper! (It is this huge boat, with 3 stories of windows and two balconies.)  Anyway, Tucker hit the sample and we realized as we were slowly driving past the Clipper that the poop was everywhere!! There was so much. So Tucker is on the bow of the boat, whipping his ball around and playing tug, I'm bouncing up and down and doing the Tucker dance and the ladies are runnning around like mad trying to scoop the sample before it gets run over. All within meters of this gigantic Clipper boat!! Everyone on board was cheering for Tucker. It was amazing. ( By the way, the Tucker dance is waving your hands in the air while saying "Yea!!!!" Followed by a quick shake of your backside while saying, " Tucker found it!!") As you can imagine, a little embarrassing but tons of fun.  Right before that we had found a sample and right after that we found a sample. It was a great day.

We'll keep you posted.  Have a great 4th of July!!

Liz, Tucker and Sadie May