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

Monday, June 21, 2010

Orca Study 2010

Field site: Friday Harbor, San Juan Islands, Washington State
Research: Locate and collect fecal samples from the Southern Resident Community Killer Whales for the Center for Conservation Biology, University of Washington.
Length of study: June through the end of September

First string = Tucker, Male, 6 years old, 3rd summer working in the San Juan Islands
Second string = Sadie May, Female, 8 years old, 1st summer in the San Juan Islands, back-up and possible    whale dog 


Week One:
Training, training and more training. It's my first study on the water handling Tuck-man. Needless to say it is very very different from working a dog on land. Basically he has no way of moving to the sample to find it for you. We have to read his behaviors and move to boat to where he wants us to go. Means there has to be two lines of communication; Tuck and myself and then myself and the boat driver.  I read Tucker's body movements and then communicate via hand signals to the driver.  She then maneuvers the boat.  The end result is a small floating sample! We have to be quick however since rough seas, boats and sometimes the whales themselves can sink a fecal sample.

It's been a great week.  The team has done really well being patient with me while I learn how to work on a boat and Jessica (the new graduate student in charge of the study) is doing awesome learning the quirks of the study.  We have even found 4 samples! Yea, team!!

Tucker and Sadie are loving the house we're in. There is a small yard where they play all the time and plenty of roads around for jogs.  All in all, we're looking forward to a fantastic summer!

We'll keep you posted!!

Liz, Sadie and Tucker!!

Friday, June 18, 2010

NSO 6/18/10 - We're like Sherlock Holmes and Dr. Watson out here

As a dog handler working with a scent detection dog I feel we are like detectives. Many people ask "So, what do you do with the dog? Do you just hike and play ball with them?" The simple answer is yes, but it's a bit more complicated than that. There are many other elements that go into dog handling, and a lot of it has to do with bringing the dog into an area where he/she is most likely to sniff out a scat of the target species.

To find these areas requires knowledge of the target species: in this case knowledge of the Northern Spotted owl and it's ecology, it's habits and habitat.  What does a Spotted owl eat? Where does it's prey live?  As a dog handler I feel I am Dr. Watson to my dog, Sherlock Holmes. I help him solve the mystery of where the pellets are, but really, as Sherlock, he's doing all the work!

Clear cuts are NOT Spotted owl habitat! 

Spotteds need old growth forest.

For example, as a handler I am most concerned with getting to play with my dog, Max. If he gets his ball then he is motivated and happy to go that extra kilometer in the heat and up steep slopes. And if Max is happy, I am too. To get him his reward though, he needs to find a pellet. When I am out in the field I am scoping the layout of the terrain and looking at the trees and finding the drainage where an owl may sleep in the cool shade of an oak tree, avoiding the clear cuts, all the while paying attention to wind patterns and Max's energy level. It's all a very subtle dance.

And although my eyes are always on Max I also have to watch where I step so I don't fall (I am Watson, remember)! In these stolen moments I am scanning the forest floor for tell-tale signs that an owl may be there. Is that tiny splash of white paint on the ground white wash? Is that a feather from a molt? Does this oak seem like a roosting tree? What is under that yonder big doug fir? Maybe it's a nest tree!

This is a clue to a Spotted owl's roost tree: white wash!

Max's paw next to Spotted Owl white wash... we're getting closer.

Meanwhile Max's nose (actually, Sherlock's nose) is at work and he is sniffing the air currents for a whiff of something fairly tiny, grey, with hair and little bones in it-- in the vastness that is the forest (our "office"). Seems crazy, I know. And it is. But when Max does a 180, turning to work upslope, wagging his tail every so lightly my heart skips a beat and I can't wait to see what our teamwork sleuthing has found. Voila, a pellet! Another mystery solved!

Sherlock-Max waiting for his ball after he located an owl pellet.

There's a pellet in this picture- can you find it? Max did!

Tuesday, June 15, 2010

PPM 6/15/10- A Mighty Mouse

A Mighty Mouse: The Pacific Pocket Mouse
(Perognathus longimembris pacificus)

While surveying on Camp Pendleton, we sometimes run into people who want to know what we are researching. When we tell people that our dogs are trained to find the Pacific pocket mouse, we often get the same response: 
“A mouse?!? I’ve got a few of those in my garage that I would like to get rid of.”
In truth, these mice are not just any old rodent. The Pacific pocket mouse is special because of its rarity and its unique role in the environment.
The Pacific pocket mouse (PPM) is one of 18 subspecies of the little pocket mouse of the Heteromyidae rodent family. Not only one of the smallest mammals, the Pacific pocket mouse is also one of the most endangered species in the United States. Thought to be extinct for over twenty years, a small population of less than fifty mice was discovered in California coast in 1994. Today, there are only four known populations to exist in southern California; three of them reside on the Camp Pendleton Marine Corps base. Tiny in size, an adult PPM only weighs that of a silver quarter and is only a couple of inches in length. This mouse is named not for its size, but for external cheek pouches that allows temporary storage of seed while foraging.

Small but mighty, pocket mice are considered a keystone species because they influence environmental characteristics in the desert, shrub, and grassland ecosystems in which they live. Specifically, pocket mice disperse native grass seeds, create healthy soil disturbance and serve as a food source for native predators.
As shown in the photos below, these avid burrowers can change the landscape of southern California’s coastal sage scrub environment. Sandy patches mark the habitat of the PPM. This soil disturbance acts as a natural soil tiller, ensuring that the sandy terrain is a fertile, healthy environment for the next generation of native plants and animals.
Expert burrowers and seed gatherers, PPM are an important member of the coastal community.  So next time you see a mouse, don’t assume it’s just any old mouse…it just may be a mighty mouse.

Tuesday, June 8, 2010

Hootin' and Makin' History

Hola CK9 followers,

So today, I made history.  That's right, history.  We all know about George Washington, Martin Luther King, Jr., and Jane Goodall.  Now, I feel like one of them.

Let me start from the beginning.  So we were out one night hooting, honestly, not really expecting a response- we'd never had a response in this area before, and this wasn't our first visit.  Then, out of nowhere, a contact call!  The high pitched NEEEEP was both exciting and a little odd.  Exciting in the fact that there was an owl here, odd in the sense that it sounded like it was coming from about 50 feet in front of me on the road.  I took a bearing, drove around the corner of the ridge a little, and took another bearing.  We were set for our follow up the next day.  Score!  Plus, we got to delete most of the other call points in the cell for the evening.  Double score!

Well, we go the next afternoon for our follow up.  We show up, barely get off a single hoot from the hootinator (I dubbed it 'Silverback' due to the mad gorilla noise it makes for an agitated NSO call) and then, NEEEP!  Once again, she was at the same bearing, and she sounded like she was right on the road- odd.  We hike up about 100 feet, maybe... and boom! another contact call, AND an owl.  I'd have to say, this was the best followup ever.

Well, when we find an owl, we have to offer it mice in the hope that it will take the food to its mate or its nest, and we can see if if has babies or not.  For this owl, I got to feed it.  That's how I made history.  I put a mouse on a branch, and the owl swooped down, grabbed the mouse, and I didn't even feel the branch move.  Score x3!!  Three mice in all met their fate, me at the helm... The owl was in a rather italian mood for the first mouse, turned it into spaghetti, and slurped it up.  The second was eaten in more of a mongolian style- chunks of meat with the occasional pause.  The last mouse was cached, saved for later to be made into whatever type of cuisine the owl desired.

This was a particularly dainty owl.  She preened and cleaned like there was no tomorrow- and yes, she remembered to get behind her ears (even though owls don't really have ears, she found hers!)  Her nails were all nice, and her feathers done just right.  If you didn't know that she'd just grabbed and devoured mice, you would have no idea.

So, that's how I made history.  I fed an owl.  Okay, maybe not al that historical when compared to other people, but historical for me, and that's all that matters.

Adios from the Owl Crewhouse, don't worry, there're more stories where that came from, and if you're lucky, I might just share!

Monday, June 7, 2010

Fun Times and Fundraisers in Hayfork!

After learning about two local charities in need, NSO Team 2010 took action—organizing a charity event in Hayfork this past Friday. Handler Jodi (of Team Shrek) graciously volunteered to become “Hayfork’s Newest Bachelorette” for our knock-off of ABC’s The Bachelorette, a hit reality show. 17 eligible bachelors lined up for a chance to win a dinner date with Jodi. Bachelors won carnations (much cheaper than roses!) by participating in a question-and-answer session, carnation toss, and a round of mini-dates. Overall, we raised $141 for Hayfork’s Save the Pool Fund and the Berkeley Animal Shelter. To learn more about these charities or to donate yourself, see additional information below.

The Hayfork Community Pool has been a staple in downtown Hayfork for years. Located in the park, the pool serves as a safe place for local kids to gather and play during the summer. In addition, they offer free water safety courses and swimming lessons to the community. Due to county budget cuts, the pool may be forced to cut back on operating hours and/or staff this summer. If you’d like to donate to the Hayfork Pool, contact Mary Lane at (530) 628-5000.
Tragically, the Berkeley Animal Shelter burnt down in late May, killing over a dozen cats and destroying the laundry room, offices, and cat area. The damage is estimated at over $500,000! As huge animal lovers, we couldn’t pass up the chance to help this deserving organization. If you’d like to contribute, please visit their website at (accepting online donations).

PPM 6/7/10 - A day in the life

The past week has been a blast getting to see some new areas of the camp, with a few fox tail scares, and a rattle here and there. The weather’s been on our side, and the temps have remained low keeping the dogs in good health.

So I thought it would be fun this week to give everyone an idea of what a normal day is for us on the pocket mouse study.

3:45 AM: The dogs get let out first thing for a potty break. Luckily for us the USGS got us a fenced yard so we don’t have to walk the dogs at 4 in the morning like on the majority of our studies. Then it’s time for breakfast! Our dogs are ravenous when it comes to food and to alleviate the concern of one choking on their food we looked into slow feed dog bowls with a raised center that keep the dog from digging in too quick. Well these bowls run about $20 bucks so I took a look at our normal bowls we already had and realized if we simply turned them upside down they did the same thing. I love saving money ;). To make it even a little tougher we add a bit of water to the food as well, which all so helps soften the food a bit and aid with digestion, since our dog’s don’t actually chew the food. While the dogs finish breakfast we double check we’ve got everything charged and ready to go for the day, plenty of water (5+ liters) and a few balls for reward.

5:00 AM: Cheryl and Laura, our amazing USGS colleagues, arrive and I’m always shocked that they arrive exactly on time. This probably comes from hanging out with Julie so much and never being on time, but they are impressively punctual and always in bright spirits. We go over maps for the day, divide up the gear, load the dogs and hit the road. We get to our field sites just as the sun’s peaking over the Santa Ana mtn range.

5:30 AM - We spend the next 5 – 6 hours busting through chaparral, strolling through avena, tiptoeing around the cholla stands, and wandering the ridge tops looking for new pockets of pocket mice. When we the dogs pick up the odor they get a little spring in the step and you can see their tail start to wag a little faster (as long as the have a tail that is). We keep a distance and let them work till we see them sit, and then we walk over to see what they’ve found. Once we confirm they’ve found pocket mouse we pull out their most favorite thing in the world, a little red ball, and play fetch. The dog’s love to run and chase the ball, but here we’ve got to be a little more careful. It’s super easy to throw the ball to close to a cactus and whined up with a dog that looks more like a pin cushion.

We used to use tennis balls, we’d get tons of them from tennis courts that people no longer wanted, and then we learned that tennis balls are actually bad for dogs. The fuzz on the balls is abrasive and over time wears down a dog’s teeth. While this may not be a concern for you average dog owner, our dogs play with a ball 365 days a year for a living so we take this concerns seriously. It also became a little bit ridiculous to carry tennis balls, our dogs chew through runner toys in a heart beat, a tennis ball is short work, and dangerous if the dog decides to eat it. Now a day we use a couple different varieties, a Kong solid red ball, a Kong serrated ball that cleans their teeth while they chew, and a West Paw Design Huck that floats.

While we play fetch with the dog, the orienteer (Cheryl and Laura) collects relevant data on a HP IPAQ, a small handheld computer. The IPAQ stores our geographical location, keeps a track log of where we’ve been, and has a nifty form that pops up and allows us to fill in various characteristics about the area and the dog’s response. Along with the IPAQ each dog also wears a Visiontac 900 data logger that collects a GPS point every second that we later download to show exactly where the dog searched. The orienteer also collects any scats we find in the area. It’s truly amazing to watch the dogs running across the landscape, have a “change of behavior”, whip around and sit at this random spot in the middle of nowhere, walk over look down, ask “show me” and have the dog put it’s nose on a scat smaller than a grain of rice. Amazing!

We try to finish up the day before the San Diego “June Gloom” breaks up around 11 and the temperatures start to rise. The heat is our biggest enemy and can drain the dog’s energy quickly. We’ve been lucky enough so far to have fairly mild temperatures, but I’m sure the warmer weather is on the way.

12:00 PM - We get home a little after lunch time and a nap is sounding better and better, but before we doze off we’ve got to brush the dogs for cactus spines, fox tails and ticks. You might imagine a cactus spine being fairly easy to see and the big ones are, but for each big one there is a bunch of tiny little one’s that are just as painful but super hard to see. The fox tails are every where and it doesn’t take long for them to get under the skin and running the risk of getting infected. Last comes the ticks, just the other day we pulled over 50 off Sampson alone. We start brushing the dogs with a stiff scrub brush that pulls most of the loose fox tails out and relaxes the dog. This is followed by a brushing with the Furminator, the most amazing dog brush in the world. If you have a dog and don’t have a Furminator I highly recommend getting one, it’s just like they show in the commercials. You can often find these on sale at Amazon for about $14. We then go over the dogs inch by inch with a flea comb examining them for cuts, infections and ticks. By this point the dogs are in pure bliss and we finish up with a bit of lotion on the paws to keep them from cracking in the arid dryness of the desert.

1:30 PM - Now it’s time to download the day’s data and import it into our mapping software to see exactly where we went and where we found PPM. Since we have GPS’s on ourselves and the dogs we can see how much the dog is ranging around us while searching for scat. Generally the dogs travel between 3 and 4 times the distance that we do, so when we cover 12km their covering up to 48 km.

3:00 PM – After the dogs have caught their breath and we’ve got the data all downloaded we like to reinforce the pocket mouse odor in case the dog’s got a little confused in the field. This helps us recalibrate the dogs and reinforce this is the odor we are interested in finding. We use the nifty screen device that Julie and Michelle worked up last year and get to play a little ball in the back yard, with Casey and Gator glued to the window (every once in awhile we’ll let C & G come out give it a shot just for fun).

4:00 – 7:00 PM – Time to catch up on office work (blogs, emails, budgets, proposals, etc) and if we’re lucky nap time.

7:00 PM – To treat Casey and Gator, who patiently tolerate the long days while we are at work, they get an evening jaunt up and down the coast. One of the many benefits of our new digs is its super location 2 blocks from the beach. While the beach is off limits to dogs during the day, at 6PM it’s open for all and we take full advantage of the open horizon and cooling surf for evening jogs.

It is great running here because there are so many dog fans, while Casey get’s most of the attention, amazingly there’s been quite a few Cattle Dog fans too!

8:30 PM – After Casey and Gator catch their breath it’s time for Dinner! Dinner’s finished off with a potty break and then it’s off to bed and up again at 3:45.

And that’s our day!

Heath, Julie & the gang!

Monday, May 31, 2010

PPM 5/31/10 The greater danger: Foxtails vs Rattlesnakes

Blog Date: May 31, 2010 (Memorial DAY)

The greater danger: Foxtails vs Rattlesnakes

Happy Memorial Day!

Team’s Romeo and Juliet finished up a week of training on Friday and things are going exceptionally 
well with both dogs alerting to PPM burrows in known areas. Our USGS team has been awesome to work with and very accommodating of our training needs. The weather has been fabulous, if a touch on the hot side for us Seattleites, and Casey’s happy to soak up the rays.

With training finishing on Friday we’re raring to get started on surveying Tuesday after a 3-day long Memorial Day weekend. Thanks to all the data the USGS has on current PPM populations we’ve had a nice and smooth burn in period. Our biggest concerns, rather than finding tinny tiny poops, however has been rattlesnakes and foxtails, oh and “live fire” areas or course. J


Team Juliet has had two rattlesnake encounters so far that were thankfully uneventful. Both dogs have received their first of two shots that will provide some safety against a Western diamondback bite and we have local vets on call should we need emergency help.

There are three different types of rattlesnake here in San Diego, the Southern Pacific, the Southwestern Speckled, and the Red Diamond Rattlesnake.

The Western Diamondback Rattlesnake (Crotalus atrox) is a venomous pitviper. Most people erroneously think of snakes as poisonous rather than venomous. While it may not seem that important since we’d want to avoid either, a poison is absorbed, where as venom is delivered via an apparatus, in this case the snake’s fangs. The nice thing about a rattlesnake is they do their best to let you know they’re upset by rattling their tail. This gives us a good chance to move out of the area quickly and avoid direct contact. The pitvipers are also able to control the amount of venom they inject and often choose not to inject the full amount. Even though the diamondback isn’t particularly toxic, it can still have some nasty effects and life threatening consequences. The venom is a proteolytic, most commonly referred to as a hemotoxin, which destroys cells and tissue through intermolecular digestion. While there are some neurotoxins (these are the really bad toxins that cause paralysis) as well, the hemotoxin is what becomes visible as the area swells rapidly. This poses the most danger to our dogs since they could easily be bit on the face and the swelling could quickly affect their ability to breath. The most important thing is to remain calm and seek medical help immediately.

While a bite hopefully won’t be life threatening with these precautions we still do our best to reduce our presence to wildlife in the area, including snakes, and be as non-invasive as possible. 


Team Romeo had a bit of a scare on Monday when we thought Alli had inhaled a foxtail. We immediately called the closest vet and scheduled an appointment. After a fit of sneezing on her part and Sampson’s, we determined it was more likely the dogs were suffering from allergies than a foxtail and decided to keep an eye on her for the time being before rushing to the vet.

Foxtails have been a constant annoyance but they can also be a serious danger to the dogs. The seeds are barbed like a fish hook and easily get caught in clothes and dog hair, but they can also get stuck in the paws, eyes, nose and throat. Once embedded in the tissue, these nasty seeds begin to burrow deeper and deeper into the tissue causing infection and ultimately migrating to the spine and internal organs.

Foxtails aren’t just a safety issue but also a “thorn” in our foot. We’ve had some issues with all of our gear becoming so crammed with foxtails it can be quite painful to wear. Our biggest concern was Sampson’s boots and his need to wear them due to all the cacti. Our friends at Ruff Wear came to the rescue suggesting we try out the Skyliner boots that have a ripstop cover rather than the standard breathable mesh. The boots worked perfectly and even have a gaiter that helps keep the foxtails from getting down into Sampson’s boot making him a happy camper. Thanks again Ruff Wear!

In an effort to keep the dogs healthy, each day as soon as we get back the dogs each get there own personal grooming session. This includes a nice brushing, with Julie and I picking foxtails out of their hair, and checking the paws, ears, eyes and throat for possible seeds. This also helps us keep track of ticks, possible cuts or bites that we may have not noticed in the field, and cracked pads. It’s also a nice reward for the dogs after a hard days work which they love
After a few days relaxing the teams ready to hit the hills and get to work. Well let you know how it goes and the adventures we find this week.

Hideho from San Diego!

Tuesday, May 25, 2010

Shrek's Demo at Hayfork Elementary

     Today Shrek showed off his superior pellet-sniffing skills to a group of local K-8 kids. We hid 5 pellets around the gym (it was pouring outside!) to simulate how Shrek and Jodi work together in the field to locate Northern Spotted Owl pellets. Though Shrek is used to working outside, he did a great job finding the pellets on bleachers, under music stands, and in the corners of the gym. The kids asked a lot of questions afterwards, which was quite impressive considering they had pie and a movie waiting for them back in the classroom. Overall, the presentation went well and this was an awesome opportunity to talk to the kids about wildlife in their backyard.

Sunday, May 23, 2010

PPM 5/23/10

Deployment Date: May 15, 2010

Target Species : Pacific Pocket Mouse (Perognathus longimembris pacificus)

CK-9 Team Roster:
Team Romeo
Handler: Heath Smith began working with the Center for Conservation Biology in 2001 with CK-9 Gator. Heath and Alli last worked together in 2008 surveying for Marten north of Mt Shasta, CA.
CK-9 Alli, displaying a surgical finesse tactic geared at reducing ecological disturbance to critical areas
Team Juliette
Handler: Julie Ubigau returns after completing a successful deployment on PPM in 2009 with Ck-9 Casey. Julie will be changing gears and reuniting with CK-9 Sampson after their 2008 deployment surveying for Marten in northern CA.
CK-9 Sampson, a cactus bustin’ get ‘er done approach geared at surveying a large area
Team Tango CK-9 Casey, a fine tuned search & locate method for sample extraction on a micro habitat scale. After successfully demonstrating the ability for detection dogs to locate super tiny poop, Ck-9 Casey returns for another tour as secondary micro habitat support for the team.

Logistical Support: USGS WERC

CPE (Canine Protective Equipment) Support:
Ruff Wear – for dogs on the go!
                                    Bark N’ Boots - Grip Trex & Skyliner
                                    Swamp Cooler Cooling Vest
                                    Hi-Vis Track Jacket
                                    Flat Out Leash

Data Collection Equipment Checklist:
HP IPAQ Classic 111 handheld computer
                                    Visiontac VGPS-700 bluetooth GPS
                                    Visiontac VGPS-900 standalone GPS datalogger

Sunday, May 23, 2010

Well we’ve got our first week under our belts and I figured it was time to sit down and starting blogging. As per the normal Heath and Julie schedule we planned on a 6am departure from Pack Forest and finally headed out of Eatonville around 1 in the afternoon, right on time. J The trip down was fairly uneventful, with a short pit stop in Redding, CA where we rendezvoused with Griffon of the NSO crew and handed off some field gear for the team. After somewhere around 23 hours on the road we finally pulled in to Oceanside around 8pm Sunday night. We owe a huge THANKS to Cheryl, Laura and Scott with the USGS, who were nice enough to find a house perfect for the dogs with a fully fenced in back yard.

Monday morning it was time to get to work. With Julie just finishing up substituting on Friday we’d taken the “just throw everything in the truck and we’ll sort it out when we get there” packing approach. This actually worked quite well, but left most of Monday to organizing and grocery shopping. With all the major chains of stores less than 5 miles from the house you’d think shopping would be easy, but surprisingly it became quite a chore to find Eco friendly alternatives. I guess we’d gotten spoiled living in WA, and were quite shocked to learn that CA didn’t offer the same alternatives. With organization and shopping out of the way we were ready to commence training and head to the field tomorrow.

This study is unique in that we are dealing with a scat about 1mm in size. If that wasn’t hard enough, the pocket mouse prefers sandy soils so not only are the scat super super small, but we’re trying to locate it in an environment that is rapidly changing when disturbed. It goes without saying but, when we get poop this small for training we have to take extra special care of it. Any poop that gets blown away by the dogs breath, stuck on the end of a wet nose, or stepped on by a misplaced foot is gone for good.

We began the first phase of training back at the Ck-9 facility at Pack Forest by introducing PPM scat samples to the dogs in mason jars. Using a technique developed by Julie and Michelle Manza last year, we purchased some standard lattice and window screen from the local hardware to construct a protective pin-pointing device for our microscopic poops. With this protective screen laid out flat on the ground we are able to place single poops underneath and have the dog work the screen to pinpoint the exact location of the scat without disturbing it. It was amazing to see Casey and Timmy do this last year, it’s even crazier to see a block head like Sampson doing it this year!

We started work with the screen Tuesday morning in the backyard and then took a quick trip to the field that afternoon. Once we start training in the field we call this phase the “burn-in” period, which can sometimes take the dogs up to two weeks to get through. Items important for shortening a “burn-in” include; 1) lots of fresh wild scat for training 2) areas known to harbor wild populations of your target species. Luckily our friends here at the USGS were able to supply both of these in great quantities. Since we’d had a substantial amount of known PPM scats for training we were able to easily communicate to the dogs what odor we are looking for in the field. We try to use as many different scats in training to help the dog generalize on a species rather than specialize on an individual or sex of that species. That way when we get to the field they have a solid understanding of what we need them to find. Our next step is to hide samples in the field and have the dogs find those, however, that is a little tougher when dealing with such small poop. To simulate this we burry small baby food jars containing a number of poops in a small area and have the dog locate them. We then enlarge our search area to areas that we know contain PPM populations. With the help of USGS experts we had the dogs alerting to PPM burrows the first day. The dogs are still a long way from doing this on their own but it was fantastic to get off to such an incredible start.

Through the week we continued with field training in the morning, taking our screen along with us to the field to start the each day with some pinpoint exercises. The dogs then took turns working areas pre-determined to have PPM populations.

Sampson is a PPM locating fiend that was super quick to pick up on the task, and thanks to our friends at Ruff Wear dog gear he is able to do it safely. Our field site is loaded with Prickly Pear and Cholla cactus and Sampson in is exuberance is completely oblivious to any physical deterrents and crashes through cactus like they were tissue paper. We use Ruff Wear Bark n’ Boots to help protect the dog’s feet from cactus while they are working. Without Ruff Wear’s support we wouldn’t be able to accomplish the conservation work we do.

Working in Southern California comes with other dangers as well, rattlesnakes! We’ve outfitted our 1st aid kits and located the appropriate vets in the area but we wanted to take it a step further and got the dogs vaccinated. While the vaccine won’t fully protect the dogs against a rattlesnake bite, it will hopefully give us a little extra time to get them to a vet and antivenin. Being non-profit we work on very tight budgets and I was surprised to learn that Petco actually offers reduced cost vaccinations. The added bonus is you don’t have to pay visitation fee of $45 to $65 dollars for a vet to weigh the dogs and look in their ears. Our dogs are very well taken care of by the Comparative Medicine staff at the University of Washington so we’re comfortable skipping a $45 vet visit just for a vaccination. Thanks Petco!

On a funny note, Sampson can tear through cactus all day long but as soon as the vet came over to give him his shot he started crying like a baby. The vet hadn’t even given him the shot yet.

We finished out the day on Friday with the dogs fully vaccinated and independently locating new PPM burrows on their own.

Thursday, May 20, 2010

USFWS visits!

Keith Paul with the Red Bluff Fish and Wildlife visited the dog and hooter team in Hayfork! He gave us an excuse to gather together as an entire crew to make & bake homemade pizzas. We used Eric, hooter team crew leader's, wheat crust recipe topped with fresh morel mushrooms collected straight from our hiking adventures. Jodi, CK 9 dog handler, had recently purchased an ancient ice cream maker for $3. She looked up a recipe online and tested it out on us. Wow, it was delicious. We owe Keith and USFWS in Red Bluff a huge thank you for coming up to lil' ol' Hayfork and getting the entire crew together for a night because unfortunately we work COMPLETELY different schedules and never get to see one another!  Field work is off to a great start despite some minor rainy weather setbacks... the dogs love the cooler temperatures but hooter crew can't hoot in the rain (it could pull a nesting female off a nest).  This next week promises more days of sunshine though.

Sunday, May 16, 2010

May 16th

The Hooter Crew is finally complete, Stu just arrived and we are ready to get down to business.  We are all stoked and ready to play electronic hooting devices per 2010 protocol.  To be honest its not as fun nor amazing; as getting a response from your own vocal hoot.  Yet the electronic hooter is efficient and works well.  We are halfway through our fist visits to cells and getting ready for a stand search this afternoon, with a bit of night hooting if the weather holds up.  Scattered thunder and lighting storms are predicted the next few days which hopefully won't shut us out from working, but we all got positive energy and nothing can bring us down.  Booya.

Sunday, May 9, 2010

Surveys Begin!

Max, Shrek & team got up at 5AM today to prepare for their 1st official survey day.  We got lucky because it was gray and chilly out with a light sprinkle= perfect working temperatures for the dogs.  They are able to work longer and further when they can keep cool and comfortable.  Meanwhile hooter team is busy scoping out road conditions for the rest of the study area and setting up Spotted Owl call points.  A long day of driving is in store for them.  Luckily we all had a pizza party the night before and everyone went to bed well fed and glad to "sleep in."  Hey, 5AM is better than 3:30AM!

Monsieur Max (notice the white whisker?) sporting his Ruffwear Web Master harness and Track Jacket

Hooter Kathryn at home in the crew house