Welcome :) Follow my blog as I explore the mammals of Nova Scotia!

Wednesday, March 17, 2010

Day 5- East Port Medway - Happy St. Patrick's Day!!!

Weather: Sunny
Temperature: 50s F


Congratulations to Bushra- Scientist of the Day for correctly telling the difference between a mouse and a vole!!-

Mice have larger ears, eyes, noses and tails. Voles have smaller ears, eyes, noses and tails. Anyone know why??

When I woke up this morning I was wondering if we'd find a leprechaun in the traps we set last night at the East Point Medway research site- hahaha! We set out after breakfast to go and check them. Remember I told you yesterday that the scientists have never trapped this early? Due to the fact that its still so cold, it is even more important that we get out there early and release any animals we may have trapped. This is a humane type of trapping- more catch and release actually and although we've made the traps as comfortable as possible, we need to make sure they can get out and return safely to their natural homes.

Our first challenge was making sure we found all of our traps. Luckily we marked nearby trees with some florescent plastic ribbon. This was hugely helpful because even though you think you'll remember where you put one, everything starts to look the same in the woods.

Would you know where you are?

We climbed around checking all 50 of the traps my group was responsible for... and guess what? Although almost all of our traps still had open doors ( meaning no animal was inside)... we DID have two with a closed door!! We had to carry the trap all the way back to where the team was meeting up. It turns out that the other half of our team had also gotten two traps with closed doors.
Trap with a CLOSED door :)

Just because the trap door is closed however doesn't necessarily mean that there is a small mammal inside. Dr. Christina showed us how to observe the trap before opening it all the way to see if there might be something inside. Basically you very carefully slide open just a tiny bit, the door. If there is hay right up to the door, it is likely a nest has been created :) One of ours did not have this but... our other one did :) We learned the steps that happen next to open the traps properly to make sure we didn't let loose whomever was inside. This is how you do it:

Materials Needed: 1 plastic bag, the ability to be careful and not FREAK out that there is a mouse or Vole inside

The Process:

Step 1: Put the trap inside the plastic bag

Step 2: Place your dominant arm inside the bag (if you are right handed, your right arm goes in!), Make sure your sleeve is rolled up... the small mammals like to climb up sleeves!

Step 3: Roll up the plastic bag tightly around your arm and hold the bunch of it under your arm.

Step 4: Very carefully remove the tunnel part of the trap from the rest of the trap

Step 5:Check the tunnel for the animal, usually though this part is just a little nest. These animals spend their time rearranging the hay we placed inside to make the trap "their own"

Step 6: Remove the tunnel from the bag making sure you don't drop it. This is to prevent the animal from getting hurt by the metal trap when it comes out.

Step 7: Carefully remove the hay from the larger part of the trap- here is where the animal falls out into the bag along with the hay and food we put in the day before.

Step 8: Once the animal is out, remove the rest of the trap. Then remove all hay and food until it is just the animal inside the bag :)

Well guess what? Two of the traps did not have anything inside of them and there was no sign of hay in the tunnel part of the trap... but TWO of the traps did have something inside. One of them was...

This little Guy! A Red Backed Vole!!

Yay! We had caught our first small mammal! This is a male and he weighed 19.5 g. We are holding him like this because it reminds them of when they were little and their mother would pick them up to move them. Many mammals such as the vole have no nerve endings in this area of their neck, so it does not hurt them when you pick them up. We pick them up to determine their sex and also to see if they are one that has been captured before. This little guy had been previously caught last September which means he survived the difficult winter... pretty cool considering that these mammals have an average lifespan of 28 days (many are eaten by various carnivores such as coyote, raccoon and certain avian species (birds)).

Before we could return him to the place we found him we needed to not only weigh him but give him a little "fur- cut". Dr. Christina trimmed off a little piece of his fur to reveal the darker part of his fur. This way we will know if he is captured again by looking for this dark spot. It helps in more accurately assessing the population. We also put him through a "timidity test" which is a way to see how clever the mammal is. This test is basically a little maze in a wooden box. The vole(or mouse) is placed at one end of the maze and they are timed to see how long it takes them to get to the exit on the other side. It is expected that voles such as the one we caught (who survived the winter), would be able to navigate quickly through the maze to the other side. This is because they have had to work cleverly in their environment in order to stay alive. Our vole went in one side and out the other in less than 2 seconds... however he got out, looked up and saw us and ran back inside where he proceeded to sit for 10 MINUTES!! We finally had to un-tape the box and let him out because he would not do it on his own :)
Timidity Test- Can you see him in there? ( a dark spot)

After the morning trap check we went back to the scientists home and picked up supplies for a Snowshoe Hare dropping transect.

Ok this is the point you will all start laughing...

We picked up 4 huge red and white 3 meter long poles and carried them to a spot where we proceeded to make a 10m x 10m square with them (each one marking a corner). Then all of us spread out along one side and started moving slowly forward... picking up EACH and EVERY piece of Snowshoe Hare dropping. Yes that is right, on our hands and knees we went over the entire area picking up Scat! On our first square transect we totaled 961 pieces of Snowshoe Hare dropping.

Collecting Scat

We didn't stop there though...

We went once more in a new 10m x 10m square again looking for droppings. Here we totaled 530. Very nice ;)

After this we proceeded to have lunch, you might think that you wouldn't want to eat after handling scat however it is hard work to be in the field all morning so I WAS HUNGRY!

Later in the day we did a survey of Porcupine damage to trees (you know what that looks like now). While we were doing this we found a den. We think its a Porcupine den, what do you think? - I will have to post the picture later.. the internet is very slow right now. Then we went back and checked our traps once more before going home.

When we returned tonight we had a great presentation by Dr. Chris about Climate Change. Guess what? Did you know that Plate Tectonics plays a role in it??? Can you figure out why??

Data Collected Today:
1 male vole 19.5g
1 female vole 18.0g

Snowshoe Hare Scat:
961 pieces 530 pieces

Porcupine Tree Damage:
Not yet calculated

I will leave you with one last question for today:

Why do you think its important that we look for signs of animals in addition to looking for the animals themselves?

Black Fly Video

Well I am really glad I am here during a colder part of the year... we were told that black flies are around once it warms up. For any of you that have ever dealt with them before they are REALLY not nice...

Here is a video that shows why they are so bad... enjoy it!