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!

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