Monday, February 4, 2013

Non-invasive wildlife sampling methods

The location of our lab today- a private property
(that we had permission to use) in Richmondville, NY. 2/4/13
As I mentioned in yesterday’s blog entry, I’m enrolled in the “Wildlife Techniques” course at SUNY Cobleskill this semester. There is a 1 hour lecture, and then a 3 hour lab that makes up the course. The lab section will largely be field based, which seems to be everyone’s favorite. Even though today in Richmondville, where the lab was held, it was snowing steadily the whole time, everyone seemed to enjoy our time in the woods.

So the course covers a whole gammet of topics that we’ll likely experience as professionals in the wildlife field. This week’s lab focused on non-invasive means of sampling the local wildlife. And I don’t mean served up at Applebees in a sizzling skillet, but taking information down on local species of wildlife found on this property. Haha…. Also, non-invasive simply means that we wanted to conduct research about local animals without having to actually handle the animals. It’s much easier logistically, and less stressful on the wildlife.

The class used 3 different means of data collection: hair snares, camera traps, and track plates. Hair snares, in this case, are a simple set up of making a barbed wire “cage” between trees, and putting a bait (roadkilled deer) in the center. As animals clamber through the wires to get at the carcass, some of their hairs are pulled out and left stuck in the wire. This can tell us not only species, but individuals within a species. DNA can be extracted from the hair samples. This means of sampling will primarily pull hairs from mammals that are large enough to brush against the wires, and won’t slip below the wire undetected. Camera traps (aka: game or trail cameras) were used with bait as well. This is a station that I set up, so I’ll get more into that in a moment. Finally, the track plates are really cool ways to see what species are roaming around. It’s essentially an ink pad that you lure the animal onto and their feet picks up whatever medium you lay down, and then they have to walk on a clean surface to deposit the track. The board is placed within a box to protect the tracks, as well as to guide the animal where you want. At the far end of the box you place a bait or stinky lure of some sort to draw the animal in. Usually this is typically for just small to medium size mammals.

Alright, so my team (myself, Austin, and Joey) chose to mount an infrared Reconyx camera trap. If you’ve been following along with my blog, you know by now that I love to use these cameras. It’s a lot of fun to set the camera out in the yard, leave it for a week or so, and then check it to hopefully find video or pictures on the SD card. Today, for example, I checked my personal camera and came away with 34 pictures of fisher, some cottontails, and raccoon. So cool! We also used bait: our teacher picked up some roadkill deer to use to hopefully lure some critters in.

For our set, we used a Reconyx camera trap and white-tailed deer legs as bait.
Our teacher gaves us all predetermined locations, and we set off following a map of the property. The boys and I had a nice little hike uphill, and I don’t know about anywhere else in the Capital Region, but between 9 and 11am today, it was snowing so hard! It was a beautiful morning to spend some time in the woods. We reached our location and went about setting up the area.

We wired the deer leg to a tree, about 5-6 feet off the ground. We are attempting to target the fisher (who avidly climb trees), and weed out other critters from making off with the deer leg too easily. Then we mounted the camera between 10-15 feet away from the bait. We set the camera to only take pictures over the next 2 weeks.
Austin and Joey took the slope (degree of incline), aspect (which direction the slope is facing) and the latitude and longitude points. I kept record of all of these things on our group data sheet. We also recorded things like: snow depth, wildlife sightings, track sightings, date, location, equipment used, etc.
We will leave all of the sampling methods out in the field for 2 weeks. On February 18th we will return to check our results! I’m really eager to see what turns up at all of the stations. On this property, there have been fisher, bobcats, bear, coyotes, red and gray foxes, deer, and many other mammals…not to mention birds and other vertebrates!

Stay tuned…


  1. What a wonderful private property, and special people who have given their permission for you to be there. Dedication has no limits for you and the others, but passion for what you do overcomes all weathers.Waiting for the next installment with trail camera pics. Greetings from Jean

  2. Ok, I'm hooked. I can't wait to see your results on this one. Reading this just makes me want to head out in the woods with my camera.

    1. Thanks Rick! Please do go set up a camera, I'd love to see pics from your neck o' the woods. Cross your fingers for us :)


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