Follow by Email

Thursday, May 31, 2012

FLCC Conservation Field Camp 2012

(l to r: Madie, Clinton, John, Alyssa)
Last week was spent at our residential field course CON 190: Conservation Field Camp. The course is required for our Conservation, Conservation Law and Environmental Studies majors. It is one week of looooong days at Camp Cutler Scout Camp in Bristol, NY (Resulting in a loooonng post here). The students rotate among different disciplines throughout the week. For faculty, this means repeating the same day over and over with different students. I spent the week with co-instructor Clinton Krager and our two Technicians Madie and Alyssa. Activities included small mammal trapping, Breeding Bird Atlas protocol, GPS, tracking, and of course camera trapping.
Here are some highlights --

Lactating Peromyscus
(South Bristol, NY 5/12)
Small mammal trapping was a huge success. Clinton runs the trap lines and had 60 Sherman traps set out in brushy and grass habitats. We captured four species this year with the big miss being meadow vole. Many of the critters were in breeding condition as indicated by swollen mammaries. Students took turns taking animals from the traps, handling them safely and applying ear tags.

Notice the swollen mammaries between the hind legs of this Peromyscus sp. Once animals were processed, they were returned to the spot they were captured.

An additional 12 traps were set specifically to target flying squirrels. They were set in a hardwood forest at about five feet off the ground. Traps are attached to the trees using surveyors flagging. Each day we caught two or three flying squirrels and they were a huge hit with the students. Although flying squirrels are common in our area, they are not commonly seen. We have both northern and southern flyers and sometimes catch both species.
Clinton and Madie affixing a flying squirrel trap
(South Bristol, NY 5/12)

We have found that putting the critters in a glass jar helps to calm them down. In most cases, the animals will almost immediately calm down and even groom themselves. It also helps the students to see the animal at leasiure. Below is a flying squirrel:
Flying squirrel
(South Bristol, NY 5/12)
Flying squirrel patagium
(South Bristol, NY 5/12)
We did not ear tag any of the squirrels so I am not sure how many individuals we captured. We would release the squirrels and watch as they climbed a tree. Often, the squirrel would then launch itself to another tree to the delight of all. I have yet to capture a photo of that though so you will have to settle for a picture of the crowd in rapt anticipation.

The results of our camera trapping were equally exciting. We placed 12 cameras out a week before the class and then pulled SD cards from some each day. We tallied 12 species of mammal and five species of birds. Here are some of the better ones:

Mammal species captured:
-White-tailed deer
-Red fox
-Striped skunk
-Weasel sp. ***
-Gray squirrel
-Red squirrel
-Eastern chipmunk
-Flying squirrel sp.
-White-footed mouse sp.

 We had no shortage of raccoon photos. One in particular looked like a young coon. Note the color on this photo. This is the Cuddeback Attack with infrared and I believe that this color occurs when there is some ambient light but the flash still triggers.
Young raccoon
(South Bristol, NY 5/12)
This same location also produced an adult coon. Check out the bin int he background. That is an inverted tote with one side cut out so animals can enter. Inside is some bait at the far end of a home made track board (wish I had a photo for you). The bait is at the raf end of the board. At the near end of the board is a piece of felt saturated with "ink" (mineral oil and food coloring). In the center of the board is contact paper, sticky side up. When an animal leaves its tracks on the contact paper, a piece of white paper can be stuck to it so they can keep the prints without getting smudged.
(South Bristol, NY 5/12)

 We inspected the logs and found very clear coon tracks. I only had my cell phone so the photo is not the best. See if you can find any of the distinct five-toed tracks....
Raccoon tracks
(South Bristol, NY 5/12)
I am always anxious to show students size comparisons between different animals. The results from the Field Camp cameras allowed me to create a few spliced images that show two species "together" in order to directly compare their sizes. First up, gray squirrel size compared to red squirrel.

Composite image of gray and red squirrel
(South Bristol, NY 5/12)

The spliced together photo was created using Paint. I am pretty much a novice in this area and welcome any and all comments and suggestions.

This next image is a gray squirrel comared to an Eastern chipmunk in size.
Composite image of gray squirrel and Eastern chipmunk
(South Bristol, 5/12)

The two rarest images of the week were an owl and a weasel. First, the Mustelid! I so rarely capture weasel images that I cherish each one. This one is very nice as it shows a nice image of the weasel in action. This was an Attack camera and set to record video as well. The video is too short to be worth much.
Weasel at Camp Cutler
(South Bristol, NY 5/12)

Now the owl.... I have never camera trapped an owl so this was exciting for me. My first reaction was to call this a barn owl, but is just isn't big enough (compare to gray squirrel above). I am going with Eastern screech-owl. Thoughts?

Last year I trapped int his same area and last year we also captured images of red fox pups. I made no attempt to find the den.

Red fox pup
(South Bristol, NY 5/12)
 We set out one of the Cuddeback Attacks on a downed tree and got some fun video of raccoons and red fox (not together). Here is the best of the red fox (only need to watch the first half):

Saturday, May 5, 2012

Bobcat dissection at FLCC

Bobcats are becoming more common in our neck of the woods and when a fresh roadkill showed up nearby this summer, the DEC offered to let me dissect it with my classes (as long as I retained a tooth for aging). I set the date for this past Tuesday in order to correspond with the Felidae lecture in CON 102. For a more complete treatment of bobcat tracks, see my previous post here.

The dissection was done as an activity for the FLCC Student Chapter of The Wildlife Society. Alyssa Johnson, current president, has agreed to create a sister post on her blog here.
Road killed bobcat from Howard, NY
Thirty-five students showed up along with Clinton Krager, a Biology Professor. We started with a look at the external anatomy. I asked the students to guess the weight. Most of us were a bit high in our estimate. She weighed 17 pounds. That is not a bad weight for a cat around here. I give my students three external characteristics to tell a bobcat from a lynx. In each case, the bobcat and the lynx share the characteristic but the lynx has more. For example, on the photo to the right you can see "sideburns". A lynx also has these facial tufts, but they are more pronounced.

Next, look at these ear tufts. Bob has them, but lynx has more.... On a bobcat they tend to be small (these are really small). On a lynx, they are much longer.
Bobcat ear tuft
Finally, examine the tail tip. Bob has black on his tail, but lynx has more. The bobcat tail is half black and half white. The lynx has a tail tip that is completely black.
Bobcat tail showing black and white tip

We then examined the feet. Cats have five toes on their front feet, but only four show up in the track. The other toe is higher up and often called the dew claw. It is functional though -- they can distend it when capturing prey.
Front feet of a bobcat
The rear feet show no such toe. They are smaller than the front feet. Check out the distinctive toes and foot pad.
Hind foot of a bobcat
It was a great experience for students and faculty alike. We all agreed we should do this more often. Now, click here for more photos and the "inside story", head over to Bearly Alyssa