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

Dan swabbing a pellet on a steep slope- a very delicate operation!

Jodi training Shrek to "Speak!" at a spotted owl pellet

Dan and Amanda in our field "lab" putting together swabbing kits

Wednesday, May 5, 2010

Monsieur Max

Bonjour!  My name ezz Max.  I am part French, part Blue Heeler.  Slurp.  Shrek and I vent on a hike today in zee forest.  So sunny, many little creatures to sniff but my handler told me "Non!"  Oh well.  I do not mind because Shrek and I both found many owl pellets.  He and I love to search out zee pellets and play wit zee ball.  Zee owls, they are so funny, yes?  Why do zee people hoot for them when Shrek and I, we can find them no problem?  I get to train again this afternoon.  I am learning to speak at the pellets to let my handler know I have found zee Spotted Owl.  Is she blind, that she needs me to also bark?  She is so silly.  Au revoir for now!

Monday, May 3, 2010

Meet the 2010 California NSO Team!!

Ryan, Keegan, Dan, Eric, Kathryn, Jennifer, Amanda, Jodi, and of course, Max and Shrek!! (We're missing one team member, Stu, who will be joining us in a couple weeks).  Photo taken outside of our crew house in beautiful Hayfork, CA.  We're happy to say that training is well underway and couldn't be going better!

Sunday, May 2, 2010

Update from Team Shrek and the Northern Spotted Owl Crew!

Woof!  Last night, my human hooter friends heard the first spotted owl of the season!  Then, this morning, I got to go with!  First, my human hooter friends hooted (I had to wait in the car :(  --I just wanted to play ball!), and the owls hooted back, and my human hooter friends ran into the trees to find them!  After they found them, I got to go in and find some pellets!  Yes, finally!  My ball!  And that's only our second day of training!  I can't wait to go find more pellets!

Slobbery kisses,
The Shrek-inator