Family Nature Night with Nature Alberta

A few of the SONY DSCgraduate students volunteered with Nature Alberta to teach young children about mammals. We had a blast and hope the children did too. It sure seemed like the parents enjoyed our fun facts about wolves, squirrels, bats, specialists vs generalists, grizzlies vs polar bears, mountain goats vs big horn sheep and more.

Check out the event’s facebook page for more information on upcoming Family Nature Nights, as well as goofy pictures from past evenings.

Job Posting: Genetics project on bighorn sheep by UoA and ESRD

Jamie Gorrell is looking to hire a lab assistant to extract DNA from bighorn sheep faecal pellets. This job requires meticulous attention to detail and steady hands. Previous pipetting experience would be preferred but is not required. The position is full-time for 2-3 months, starting immediately. Please contact Jamie to apply or for more details.
jgorrell@ualberta.ca

World’s Biggest Ferruginous Hawk Nest

FEHA nest sculpture in Leader, SK.  Photo: Janet Ng

FEHA nest sculpture in Leader, SK. Photo: Janet Ng

Some of our field work takes up to far flung places in Alberta and Saskatchewan.  Leader, Saskatchewan has several claims-to-fame including nine Larger Than Life sculptures that are scattered through town.

Our favourite, of course, is the 15 foot Ferruginous Hawk nest that resides on main street.

FYI, they frown upon climbing into the nest.

Burrowing Owl family in Leader, SK.  Photo: Janet Ng

Burrowing Owl family in Leader, SK. Photo: Janet Ng

Visit to the Revelstoke Caribou Pen

For Canada Day long CaribouCalfweekend, Melanie went to visit the Caribou maternity pen just North of Revelstoke. The pen was put in place to determine if maternity penning of mountain caribou can improve the survival of captive-reared calves in the Columbia Mountains Ecosystem. The overall goal of the project is to reduce the rate of decline and increase the size of the Columbia North caribou subpopulation by increasing calf survival.

The trip was amazing – Melanie was lucky enough to spot two calves and five cows while she was there. Not to mention the wonderful hospitality by the crew, and the beautiful location.

Check out the Revelstoke Caribou Rearing in the Wild website and facebook page to see the great work they are doing, and follow their blog!

Things are getting hairy in the Rockies this summer

Grizzly bear fieldwork has been in full swing since the beginning of June. The aim of the work is to collect grizzly bear hair as part of a DNA-based mark-recapture analysis.

We collect grizzly bear hair using two different methods: Rub trees wrapped in barbed wire, which bears naturally rub on for intraspecific chemical signaling. Grizzly_6_1

But, sometimes the bears get quite aggressive with these trees…Grizzly_6_2

The second collection method is a bait site in which rotten fish oil and cow blood is poured onto a bait pile, which is corralled by a single strand of barbed wire.Grizzly_6_3

We have checked approximately 180 rub trees so far this year and have collected hundreds of grizzly bear hair samples. We recently finished setting all the bait sites and will begin checking these sites tomorrow. Fingers crossed that our efforts prove fruitful!Grizzly_6_4

Some very spectacular vies have been witnessed over the past month and we look forward to more to come.

Grizzly_6_6 Grizzly_6_5 Grizzly_6_7

Wildlife sightings have been very abundant this year with many white-tailed deer and Rocky Mountain elk seen every day, as well as occasional sightings of Rocky Mountain bighorn sheep, Rocky Mountain goats, Shiras moose, black bear and, of course, we have seen 6-7 grizzly bears so far this year!

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Finding Old Friends

A returning banded male Ferruginous Hawk with his mate.  Photo: Janet Ng.

A returning banded male Ferruginous Hawk with his mate. Photo: Janet Ng.

Each bird we handle, we add two small pieces of jewellery. Both are thin metal bands that wrap loosely around their lower leg. One is a plain silver-coloured leg band that has a unique serial number engraved on it. The second leg band is coloured with a unique combination of large letters and numbers that can be seen from a distance or through a spotting scope. The National Banding Office keeps track of the band numbers and colour combos.

I encountered this pair of Ferruginous Hawks during our spring reoccupancy surveys. They were hanging out on a distribution line, in a territory that was occupied two years ago. Looking through a spotting scope, it looked like the male (the smaller hawk on the left) was wearing a leg band, but he was too far to read the band through my spotting scope. Instead, I took a photo using a telephoto lens and then zoomed in to read the band. Black 7 over S!

Resighting a band on a live bird is a rare event. Imagine writing your name on a ball and throwing it back into a huge ball pit at a play park. Now go find it. You could spend a very long time looking for it and it’s possible that you never see it again.

But finding a banded bird again can provide valuable information. If you banded it as a youngster, you will have age, where it was born, and the where it lives now. Sometimes birds are found during migration, providing important information about their migratory timing and pathway.

Male Black 7 over S was banded as an adult in 2012. He was captured in order to attach a short term satellite transmitter that was designed to fall off naturally. We collected data from the transmitter for several weeks during the breeding season, until the battery quit as planned.

A different male Ferruginous Hawk, but a nice looking bird wearing one of our satellite transmitters.  Photo: Janet Ng.

A different male Ferruginous Hawk, but a nice looking bird wearing one of our satellite transmitters (see the dark spot on his back). Photo: Janet Ng.

Resighting this male is interesting in several ways. 1) He has returned to his original home range with a potential mate. We’ll keep an eye on him this summer to see if he nests. 2) He is no longer wearing his backpack transmitter, which makes us feel good that he doesn’t have to carry his transmitter anymore.

Our project has banded nestlings for specific research objectives too.   Each year, we wait to see if any bird can be re-sighted by our group, other biologists, and citizen scientists.

Here is a young female Ferruginous Hawk sporting her new bands.On the left leg (her right leg) is the field-readable colour band and the silver band with serial number is on the right leg. Photo: Janet Ng.

Here is a young female Ferruginous Hawk sporting her new bands.On the left leg (her right leg) is the field-readable colour band and the silver band with serial number is on the right leg. Photo: Janet Ng.

Keep checking back for posts about our satellite tracking, juvenile life after leaving the nest, and banding.