Last week, Amanda D and Eric went to Ya Ha Tinda Ranch to help Jodi Berg, from the Merrill lab, do pellet surveys. The ranch is located in southwestern Alberta and is a 4-hour drive away from Banff National Park. The ranch’s grasslands and coniferous forests are surrounded by the beautiful, snow-capped Rocky Mountains, which make it an absolutely stunning environment for fieldwork!
They set off for Ya Ha Tinda early Monday morning with a convoy of conspicuous white university pick-ups. They arrived in mid-afternoon and eagerly headed off to the field. Their task consisted of counting pellets to estimate the relative abundance of ungulates (notably elk and deer). They used a handheld GPS device to locate the pellet sampling points, which were distributed along a grid, and counted the pellet clusters that fell within a circle. Pellet clusters were recorded and aged (either “fresh” or “old”, depending on how moist the scat was), and attributed to a taxon: elk, deer, lagomorphs etc. They also recorded the habitat type (e.g. wetland, conifer, grassland, shrubland) and recorded the average height of grasses.
Of course, being out in the field meant that they got to see lots of wildlife! They saw feral horses, mule deer, white-tailed deer, and elk. Even cougar and grizzly bear tracks! On their way back home, they saw two grizzly bear cubs (from the security of their pick-up) next to a spot aptly called “Bear Creek”.
Needless to say, they were really happy to get out to the field, if only for a few days, and experience the beautiful vistas and wildlife of the Rocky Mountains. Amanda and Eric wish Jodi and her team the best of luck in their fieldwork and research, and hope to have the opportunity to help out again soon.
More information on Jodi’s project and Ya Ha Tinda Ranch: