A Day in the Life of a Wildlife Ecologist – Small mammal live-trapping

In an earlier blog post, Anjolene Hunt detailed the daily routine of her and her field assistants tracking the movements of Canada warblers. I thought I’d do the same for the small mammal trapping I conducted with my crew this summer. As part of my research on the effects of industrial noise on owls in the boreal forest of northeastern Alberta, I’m also interested in finding out if those same sources of industrial noise have an impact on the abundance of small mammals, the main food source of owls. This year we set out 64 live traps at each of 23 different sites (each just over a hectare in size) and trapped each site for four days in a row.

Here’s what the daily routine for small mammal live-trapping is like:

 

5:30 am – We’re up out of our tents, dressed for the field and eating breakfast. In July it was already light out at this time, but by the last couple weeks at the end of August we needed our headlamps to get ready.

View of one of our campsites from across a small lake. Photo by Julia Shonfield.

View of one of our campsites from across a small lake. Photo by Julia Shonfield.

 

6 am – We leave our camp and drive to our sites.

On our way in to one our sites. Photo by Julia Shonfield.

On our way in to one our sites. Photo by Julia Shonfield.

 

6:30 am – We arrive at the first of three sites and start checking the traps. At each trap, we check if the door is open and if it is we lock it open so that no animals get caught in there during the day. If the door is closed, we find a comfy spot on the forest floor and take out our trapping kit. We open up the trap into a mesh bag. Once we get the animal in there we can take a closer look to see what species it is. Deer mice and red-backed voles were our most commonly captured species, but we also caught a few meadow voles, a chipmunk, a weasel, and a flying squirrel. Every animal caught gets weighed with a spring scale, checked if they’re male or female, and ear tagged with a small metal ear tag, each with a unique number. After all that, we open up the bag and let them go, and watch them disappear into the underbrush. There’s a good chance we’ll catch that same guy in the next couple days, sometimes in the same trap or in one of the other ones nearby.

Usually we only get animal per trap, but in this case there were 3 very young red-back voles, likely siblings born this summer. Photo by Julia Shonfield.

Usually we only get animal per trap, but in this case there were 3 very young red-back voles, likely siblings born this summer. Photo by Julia Shonfield.

The first step is to get the animal out of the trap and into the mesh bag. Photo by Julia Shonfield.

The first step is to get the animal out of the trap and into the mesh bag. Photo by Julia Shonfield.

This deer mouse is a recapture, he’s already got a shiny metal ear tag. Photo by Julia Shonfield.

This deer mouse is a recapture, he’s already got a shiny metal ear tag. Photo by Julia Shonfield.

A chipmunk flies out of the bag in a blur when released. Photo by Julia Shonfield.

A chipmunk flies out of the bag in a blur when released. Photo by Julia Shonfield.

 

11 am – By this time we’ve usually finished checking all the traps we set out and head back to camp for lunch.

 

12 to 3 pm – We use this time in the middle of the day to catch up on data entry, but also to catch up on sleep, go swimming in a local lake, pick berries or some other relaxing activity.

An afternoon spent relaxing in a hammock at one of our campsites. Photo by Julia Shonfield.

An afternoon spent relaxing in a hammock at one of our campsites. Photo by Julia Shonfield.

 

3:30 pm – Dinner time! The four of us would each take a turn cooking dinner, and we had some excellent camp food over the summer.

Cooking dinner in the great outdoors. Photo by Julia Shonfield.

Cooking dinner in the great outdoors. Photo by Julia Shonfield.

 

4 pm – We head out again to our sites to set the traps. Each trap gets baited with a handful of sunflower seeds and a small piece of apple. We also stuff each trap with bedding so the animals can make a nest in there overnight. Lastly, we unlock the door and put a smear of peanut butter at the entrance of the trap to entice the animals inside.

A baited Longworth trap. Photo by Julia Shonfield.

A baited Longworth trap. Photo by Julia Shonfield.

 

8 pm – By this time we were typically back at camp for the evening, enjoying hot chocolate around a campfire, playing cards or reading before heading to our tents for the night.

Post by Julia Shonfield.