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Wednesday, May 30, 2012

Field Camp 2012

Hey folks! I'm back from the world of a non-working power cord and a dead battery :) Also, my life has finally stabilized for a few months.

Last week I participated in FLCC's week-long course called Conservation Field Camp. This is a class that all students going through the Natural Resources Conservation, Conservation Law, and I think Fisheries Technology programs must participate it. I was a student in it last summer, and this spring I applied to be a student technician this time around. I was hired to be a "wildlife tech" under conservation professor John Van Niel (wildlife expert), and biology professor (cell bio expert) Clinton Krager. My friend/future roommate, Mady, was also a wildlife tech.

The four of us were in charge of exposing students to camera trapping, small mammal trapping, bat mist-netting, track identification, using track boards, and GPS/telemetry.

There is SO much I could write about, and I have a ton of pictures...but I don't have the time to write about it all. We caught flying squirrels, red squirrels, chipmunks, deer mice, and jumping mice in the traps, and I have some awesome pics of critters in the hand. And I hope that John at Backyard Beasts posts some of the camera trap pics we caught. Some AMAZING first "traps" for me personally, but he has all the pictures :)

What I'M going to write about is the bat mist-netting. This was a first time experience for me personally, so I was super excited to see what we caught. Because bats are nocturnal, we couldn't set the nets 'til about 8:30-9pm. The students were technically done with class at 9:30, and the days were long...so by the time bats came out, many were ready to head to bed.

So, on Monday night: John and I set the nets while Clinton gave a brief lecture on what bats live in our area, some natural history, winter adaptations, and some information on bat-related diseases.

Before I continue, I must add that John and Clinton both received intensive training in mist-netting and handling bats. It's not something that anyone can just do for fun. They also both received the full round of rabies vaccinations as a precaution, and then on top of that, they wear leather gloves covered by vinyl gloves that get swapped out between each bat.

Ok, so the net was set...and we walked away from it for 15 minutes. Checked it: nothing. Waited 15 minutes, checked it: nothing...and onwards for about 45 minutes. Student numbers were dwindling, all four of us were losing patience and interest...and so we called it a night, bat-less.

Tuesday night, we has a new group of students, and so Clinton went through his schpeel again, while John and I set nets up. I think Mady was napping... :)

We waited a few sets of 15 minutes...and then:

I'm unsure of species...the 4 of us meant to look at the pics I took and try to ID this little guy, but that didn't happen. The guesses were a big brown bat (Eptesicus fuscus) based on Clinton and John's previous experience handling bats. This little guy was pretty vicious, which you could expect from any wild animal, but some have more attitude than others.

Student Melissa Miller and John checking out which side of the net the bat is on. Sometimes it's hard to tell because they get themselves so tangled!

Check out the dentition on this guy! In our Intro to Fish and Wildlife class that John teaches us to ID skulls from black bear through the canids, rodents, lagomorphs, and the bats, amongst many others. The chiropteras have this gap in their jaw, which you can see here between their canines. It's cool to finally see in "live" after studying just skulls for so long.

John assisting Clinton remove the bat from the net. Sometimes, as bird banders can attest, you just can't get the bird/bat out of the net. As any hands-on studying requires some amount of stress, we the researchers should have the animals welfar first in mind. Clinton probably could have gotten that bat out eventually, but not without loads of stress on this little guy. So John took a small pocket knife and carefully snipped the constricting lines.

FREEDOM! I love this picture :)

They're surprisingly furry!
I kind of wanted to touch it, but I couldn't because I'm not vaccinated for rabies.

The rest of the week yielded no bats. For those of us who were there Tuesday night, we got to witness a very cool thing. Even though bats are a common critter in NY, we don't often get to see them up close. We didn't have a high success rate of captures, but I hope that John and Clinton know that it was totally worth the time and effort to set those nets every night.

PS: I'm in ALASKA! I will be writing an entry soon on my first day here before I started work!

Sunday, May 13, 2012

A 'fluffy' entry!

I'm in the midst of wrapping up my final days of school here at Finger Lakes Community College. I have tests, a HUGE paper, packing, moving, work, and all sorts of other time consuming things going on. I haven't been able to write in about a week, but I wanted to share some pictures of things I've learned about and have been tested on recently.

Last weekend (5/5/2012) I took a field trip with my Glacial Geology class. We drove all over the Finger Lakes in search of glacially formed features...which are in abundance here! The pictures of the features didn't come out very well, it's always hard to capture the scale and grandeur of topographic landmarks. I did see some fun flora and fauna along the way though.

11 little turtles, sitting on a log....probably midland paints!

Red admiral butterfly


A honeybee on a dandelion!

A lovely view of the junction of Canandaigua Lake (out of shot to the left) and Glacial Lake Middlesex, now just a meandering river.

Wild geranium


Maidenhair spleenwort

Red trillium

White trillium

I just took the biggest test of my life so far...75 slides of identifying mammals, fish, reptiles, amphibians, insects, and "conservation" field equipment. And then I also had a field test where I had to be able to identify 25 of anything found in our woodlot on campus. Overall in the class I got a B, which was way above average as I understand, but still I wish I would have done better! I guess everyone wishes to know more and be able to recall things at a seconds notice...and I'm no different.

Coming up: tomorrow I'm heading to the site of Field Camp- a week-long course that all conservation students must participate in to put their ID skills and field techniques into practice. It's offered once a year, at the end of May. I already took the class, last summer, and this year was hired to "tech" as support to the faculty. Tomorrow I'm heading down with the "mammal and wildlife" profs, John and Clinton (who have been frequent guests on my blog), and the other wildlife tech, Mady (my future roommate!!!), and we'll be setting camera traps and prebaiting Sherman traps. And then field camp is next week! I'm sure I'll have alot to share!

Monday, May 7, 2012

Week #12: The Final Pics

I should have posted this last week, but I am SO behind in my blogging. I am going crazy right now with wrapping up my time at this college, the semester, life in this town...and starting to think about moving to Alaska. In 20 days. 20 DAYS!

Last week on Monday, April 30th I wrapped up my data collecting for my independent study that's been running for the past 12 weeks at the Muller Field Station. To refresh, this study was funded by a National Science Foundation Grant, the Community College Undergraduate Research Initiative. I was able to purchase 5 Cuddeback camera traps, various scent lures, and other sundry supplies like batteries, gloves, and scent pads. I've been checking the cameras weekly on every Monday since February 6th, 2012. The following are the pictures collected between 4/23 and 4/30.

Camera A


Canada Goose

Camera B

NO pictures for Camera B because I forgot to turn it on after the last time I was there checking the cameras. And wait til later in the post, when I share something cool. Really kicking myself...

Camera C - please note that the time stamps are wrong on these pictures. I'm not sure what happened, but I realize they are incorrect!

White-tailed deer

Red fox

Red fox

Red fox...there must be a den nearby!


A male WTD with nubs!

And that's all she wrote! Officially through with collecting data. DONE! It was a wild 12 weeks, so much fun checking the cameras every week waiting to see what I got. I'm honestly surprised that I didn't get: beaver, striped skunk, black bear, or more river otter, mink, and muskrat.

This morning I got a call from Nadia, the K12 Outreach Coordinator at the field station. I've left the cameras up for her to continue to use with school groups that come and visit. She calls me in a frenzy this morning to tell me that we finally got this:

BAM. 3 days after I was "done" collecting data! AND this was on Camera B, the one I neglected to set correctly for the final week! I'm kicking myself. I can't believe this darn bear waited perhaps all 12 weeks before showing his/her face. I have been seeing bear sign for WEEKS at the field station, within eyesight of one of my camera sets! So frustrating, but VERY cool that it finally happened!

Now it's data time. I've been looking over and over at the data I collected which I've stuck into a spreadsheet in Excel. I'm also writing my final paper and drawing conclusions and "stuff". It's tedious, frustrating, but I'm very excited to see the final results.

Friday, May 4, 2012

...The Continuing Story of the Bobcat Dissection...

If you're just joining my blog, head over to Backyard Beasts  written by John Van Niel to get some background information on this bobcat dissection that I am writing about. John has been my advisor for the past 2 years at FLCC, instructor, and definitely mentor. He's the one who helped push me into writing "publicly", so when he suggested we tag-team write a blog post, of course I jumped at it! (...also I wanted hits from his blog ;) ... ) I must mention again that this was a Wildlife Society club event that all students were invited to. I think at the most we had 35 students in the classroom, and several faculty/staff as well. It was an extremely rewarding for me, as I've spent a lot of my time planning and advertising events like this. So when people show up- it makes me feel like my time spent was worth it.

Photo credit: Melissa Miller

After we all carefully checked out the bobcat, who was in excellent condition besides being deceased, and despite having been killed by a vehicle, John spoke to all of us about some external anatomy. Again, check out John's entry for more of that. I just wanted to mention before getting into the dissection, that we talked about the skull. John brought with him a skull of a domestic cat for some perspective.

Bobcat and bobcat skull

Bobcat on left, domestic cat on right

Side view of bobcat and domestic cat

John then gloved up and made the first cut.


The following pictures are extremely graphic.

If you are uncomfortable with viewing blood, and a dead animal please do not continue. I would like to mention, even though John did, that this bobcat was hit by a car in the Finger Lakes, collected by a wildlife biologist who works for our state agency (DEC) and donated it to the college for students to learn from.

There were some questions about the pelt being saved, but John/the DEC didn't seem interested in saving it and then tanning it. So with no thoughts of being nice to the pelt, John cut in at the cheek.

John pointed out the gap the bobcat has in it's dentition, that the domestic cat lacks. The domestic has a little tiny tooth here. In some instances I'm sure a small bobcat and large domestic cat skull look very similar, except for the tooth or lack of.

John then invited students up to feel the tongue. It was very rough, like a 40 grit sandpaper.

The happy Dr. Van Niel preparing the bobcat to be weighed. We took guesses ranging from mine at 22lbs to 15lbs. The actual weight was 17lbs.

John then skinned a foreleg to show us the musculature and structure of the front paw.

A skinned paw and a furred paw. Cuter with fur on I think...

The bottom half of the bobcat was a little rough. That dark red colored is indicative of hemorrhage or internal bleeding. I think it's safe to say that this bobcat was hit on the hind end by the car.

John then handed over the scalpel to Professor of Biology, Clinton Krager. Clinton has more experience doing actual dissections in the classrooms, and knew a bit of the internal anatomy, so he was happy to take over.

He cracked open the rib cage, and started removing the organs and identifying them. I think that this part was awesome for students. All of use have either taken a General Biology class, or are IN that class right now, and the animals we've done dissections on are basically pickled. So it was very cool to have a semi-fresh specimen to look at.

The most interesting organ, in my opinion, that Clinton pulled out was the stomach. He said it felt full, so we were eager to see what was in it.

This is almost a complete little critter, perhaps a shrew. I know it's probably hard to see in a picture, but above my thumb are a front paw and back paw. The fur is still pretty attached to skin. This bobcat had a last meal at least.

All of the stomach contents. Alot of fur and bones...and to the left, a mouse tail! We found a few tails actually, perhaps they're not as digestible as the rest of the mouse, that's why they were left behind.

And one final picture of the "Dream Team" taking a last look at our bobcat.

I'll take a chance to speak on behalf of the rest of the students present: this was a kick-ass experience. We are so lucky to have faculty and staff that are just as enthusiastic about learning as we are. It's kind of the chicken and egg paradox. Are they enthusiastic so therefore we are? Or do we feed off their passion? Either way, it seems to be working for students and faculty alike. I'm REALLY going to miss this kind of stuff, I only hope I can convince a faculty member at Cobleskill to get elbow deep in a stinky dead animal :)

Wednesday, May 2, 2012

Camera Trap Pics: East Hill Campus

Several weeks ago I wrote a blog entitled: What Shat That Scat? (pretty hilarious IMHO!)...and I've not yet had the chance to show the results of the 9 Cuddeback cameras we hung out!

Briefly, we had a group of Wildlife Society student members, and our trusty professor and wildlife buddy: John Van Niel to lead the field trip to our college's newly acquired field station, the East Hill Campus. The cameras were running for 2 weeks.

It's a gorgeous campus, and we're lucky to have the generosity of the man who donated the property! I don't have much to say this time, so I'll just let the pictures speak for themselves :)

Camera #1

A new species for me! Can you tell what it is?

A Ruffed Grouse doing his thang! Perhaps there was a lady Grouse on the other side of the snow fence...?

White-tailed deer. We poured a little "Toxi-Dog" scent down that pipe there to lure someone in, and as usual, it was the WTD!
Camera #2

Red fox

A curious WTD

That's a nice patch of fur off her shoulder, I wonder what happened?

And Nicki, the homeowners pet dog!

Camera #3


Red fox

Cooper! The neighbor's pooch.... a common occurrence on cameras I've put out over the past couple of years here!
Camera #4

Gray squirrel

WTD butt...

Camera #5


What could this be?! When we first found this site, we set a camera because we found several coils of weasel scat. Some people thought that this was a mink, but it's too thick and not the right habitat, although there is some water here. Just past the critter, there's a small pool of water that usually hangs around all year, but this year might just be vernal...

Well, there's the next best pic we got of our friend...

Red fox

And there, finally a great picture of a majestic animal: Marmota monax....or the woodchuck!

Camera #6

Gray squirrel

Gray squirrel

Camera #8

Haha, the only picture this camera took was of me standing in front of it while it was being hung :) That tree there has a flying squirrel box mounted on it about 10 feet above my head, which has been inhabited by flying squirrels in the recent past. We were hoping for one of them crawling down at night....but nope!

Camera #9

Can you pick out the WTD rear?


And finally...a WTD ear perhaps?

Those are the pics! We got some great variety, and some personal firsts on camera for me (Grouse and woodchuck). John (Backyard Beasts) was going to write about our results as well, but he let me take the pics and write. He's super swamped with grading and teaching (and I should be swamped with writing and learning...), so, here they are!