An adventure in the far north – Deline, NWT

 Deline in the Sahtu region, NWT

One of the perks of graduate studies are opportunities to go to remote places that few other people get the chance to see. Earlier this summer I had the opportunity to travel to a remote fly-in only community in the Northwest Territory. The purpose of the trip was not directly related to my thesis, but to help start a local community bird monitoring program in two communities in the Sahtu region of the NWT, a project that the Bioacoustic Unit at the University of Alberta (http://bioacoustic.abmi.ca/) and my supervisor, Erin Bayne, is involved in. So in June, I travelled to Deline on the shores of the Great Bear Lake, and another graduate student, Michelle Knaggs travelled to Tulita on the MacKenzie River. Our roles were to bring autonomous recording units (ARUs) to the communities and start deploying them at various locations nearby with the help of locally hired guides.

The day I arrived in Deline was summer solstice and National Indigenous Day, and the following day was another holiday, Sahtu Day. The festivities involved a delicious BBQ cooked over a wood fire, a variety of games including egg tosses and obstacle courses, and a drum circle. These two days of local celebrations served as an excellent introduction to the community of Deline and gave me the opportunity to meet many of the locals.

In the week that I stayed there, I deployed the ARUs in several different locations around Deline. Though Deline is probably the furthest north I’ve ever been in Canada, the habitat was quite familiar. This area is still within the boreal forest, and the predominant habitat here is black spruce forest.

Black spruce forest in the area surrounding Deline

There were only a few roads and trails, so the access was relatively limited in the first couple of days because there was still so much ice on Great Bear Lake. Talking to people in the community, it was not that unusual to still have ice on the lake in mid-June, and it was largely dependent on the wind direction.

Ice on Great Bear Lake

Finally, the wind changed direction and pushed the ice out into the middle of the lake and away from the shores of Deline. In the last couple days I was there, I was able to get out by boat on Great Bear Lake and put some of the ARUs along the shore.

Boats along the shore of Great Bear Lake

The lake in the evenings was truly mesmerizing, flat as glass and incredibly clear, I could still see the rocky bottom several hundred meters out from shore. It was calm and peaceful being out in a boat on the lake in the evenings. The long days meant there was no rush to get things done before it got dark.

View of Deline from a very calm Great Bear Lake

There was a diversity of birds on the lake including Common Loons, and a variety of ducks such as Northern Pintails, Mergansers, and Scoters. In town, there were large numbers of Ravens and Herring Gulls.

A Raven and Herring Gull, abundant in town and especially at the town dump

It’ll be really interesting to see what birds we get on the recordings, the listening will be starting this fall. Since this area is so far north, it’s at the northern limit of the distribution of many birds. For me, it was a unique experience in the far north, one that I won’t soon forget.

  • Photos and blog post by Julia Shonfield

 

Thesis Defence Seminar on Red Squirrels

As part of her PhD thesis defense, Wild49 member Jessica Haines will be presenting a one-hour public seminar at 1pm on January 12, 2017, in room CCIS 1-243 at the University of Alberta. Her talk title and abstract are below.


Resources and Reproductive Trade-offs Affect Fitness, Life History Traits, and Sexual Selection in Red Squirrels
Animals face trade-offs throughout life between competing functions, such as between self-maintenance, reproduction, and survival. Resource allocation between these competing functions leads to different patterns of life history traits, changes in investment in reproductive effort, and different patterns of reproductive success. Reproductive investment is also influenced by the environment, for example by resource availability or mating opportunities. In this thesis, I test for evidence of reproductive and life history trade-offs, as well as for whether individual- and population-level resource availability affect reproduction and life history traits. I first tested whether there was evidence of age-related changes in reproductive success in male red squirrels, and in particular whether there was evidence of senescent decline in older ages. I also considered whether there was a trade-off between early-life reproduction and late-life senescence in male red squirrels. Next, I tested whether encountering a resource pulse affected life history traits. I also explored whether life history trade-offs and the fitness consequences of life history traits were affected by encountering a resource pulse called a mast year. Finally, I tested whether individual-level food availability was related with breeding season timing and reproductive success in male and female red squirrels.

 

Volunteering in the Owlery for the annual School of Witchcraft and Wizardry event

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Lively looking owl specimens demonstrate to kids a wide variety of species

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Special adaptations of their wings, skull, and talons, make owls formidable predators

Several grad students in our lab helped run the owlery again this year at School of Witchcraft and Wizardry, an annual science outreach event run by Let’s Talk Science at the University of Alberta. We taught kids a variety of facts about owls including how they are adapted to their environment, how they hunt, and how they communicate.

The students got to listen to several different species calls recorded from the wild. We had a variety of owl specimens and new this year we brought in mammal specimens (a hare, mouse, vole, and a squirrel), to show the kids what kinds of prey owls will eat. The kids really seemed to enjoy it and so did we! It was great seeing their eyes light up as they learned about owls and listened to different owl calls, there was even one kid that did a great impression of the calls of four different owl species!

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Participants listened to audio recordings of owl calls

Photos and text by Julia Shonfield

Public Outreach: Wetland Ecosystems Talk at St. Edmund Elementary/ Junior High School

Last week, Logan McLeod and myself travelled to St. Edmund Elementary/ Junior High School to give a presentation on wetland ecosystems to the grade 5 students. The students learned about wetlands, including the differences between wetland classes and what kinds of flora and fauna can be found in these habitats. We also introduced the students to our work with bioacoustics and had them identify some of the vocalizations of common wetland species. The talk ended in a brief meet and greet with three tiger salamanders, which we had brought along to show the students. The students took in a huge amount of information on wetland ecosystems and left the presentation ready to go explore the local wetlands in our city. One step to conserving our wetlands is understanding their value by experiencing them first hand.

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Text by Natasha Annich, photos by Christina Panizzon, grade 5 teacher at St. Edmund Elementary/Junior High school.