Caw Ridge “Goat Camp”


A curious 1 yrs male approached very close to our hiding spot.

I had the chance to visit my friend Edouard at Caw Ridge this summer. This beautiful alpine ridge is a popular destination for outdoor recreation not far from Grande Cache. It is also home to a long-term study on a large herd of mountain goats affectionately named ‘Goat Camp’.

For 20 years Steeve Côté has led this project out of Université Laval in Quebec. Each year students and technicians have worked dutifully to monitor the goats – trying to catch and tag them so they can study the demographics of the herd.

For me it was whirlwind of a working ‘holiday’ and right away I was slotted into the daily routine. This entails early wake ups on a rotation to check whether any of the weighing stations, baited with salt licks, have attracted goats. After breakfast, some maple syrup, and a quick game of stratego, we spent the rest of the day tracking the goats to make focal behavioral observations.


Edouard has spotted his favorite nanny goat!


You have to stay well hidden to avoid disturbing them


Written by Logan McLeod


Wolf culls and Woodland Caribou

Check out this article – a good summary and perspective on some controversial work that has recently come out of the Boutin lab.

Some additional words from Emma Marris that didn’t make the 700 word cut:

A spokesperson for Alberta Energy, Natasha McKenzie, said, “the actual approval to go in and actually drill is AER.” A spokesperson for AER, Bob Curran, blamed Alberta Energy, saying, “If the province of Alberta sells mineral rights, what they are saying is you are okay to develop. By the time it comes to us, that policy decision has already been made.”

Kyle Fawcett, Minister of Environment and Sustainable Resource Development, said that current reduced level of timber and oil and gas activity, combined with wolf control, is holding caribou populations in the province stable while the details of the range plan are hammered out. “The premise our range plan is that this is a working landscape. There are multi-millions of dollars worth of investments; you don’t just sterilize them overnight.”

But while Fawcett says the province plans to keep oil and gas and timber active in the area, under the forthcoming range plan there will be “significant changes in how industry operates.”

Animal rights advocates were shocked to learn from the study the high number of wolves killed each year. Mark Bekoff, a retired ecologist and advocate of “compassionate conservation,” says even studying these wolf kills was unethical. “I just would have said, I am not partaking,” he says. And he says the killing would not be justified even if it were the only way to save Little Smoky caribou. “If you claim that killing the wolves is the only way than caribou can rebound, then the caribou have to go,” he says.

Such a triage approach is also supported by industry. Brad Stevens, Vice President of Western Canada Operations for the Canadian Association of Petroleum Producers says, “It makes sense apply resources in the areas with the greatest effect. The woodland caribou are right across Canada.”


An Ecologist’s Day: 12 April 2014—Setting up Wildlife Cameras

On paper today’s task looked quite simple: Drive 200 km north of Edmonton to my home town and set up 5 pairs of wildlife cameras in farmer’s fields. Spring conditions in open fields are great – no bears, no bush and no bugs. In addition, the farmers were all people I know and were very positive about having their fields used as sites for an ecological experiment. To top it off Martin, my husband, was coming along for company (and to help me carry stuff).

We packed the gear we needed into our car: cameras, metal stakes, marker stakes, camera boxes, a metal post pounder and other smaller items. Lastly, I carefully decanted part of the scent lure (a yucky oily substance that smells like skunk) into a small glass jar and wrapped it very well in several layers of bags. Even so our car had a faint aroma of skunk all weekend.

With everything stowed in the car, we headed out for the two hour drive. The first stop was the camera pair on my parent’s farm: one set up in the middle of the hay field and one on the edge. This was a good place to start because we’d figure out how to do things and avoid possible embarrassment in front of the neighbours. We grabbed our gear and quickly hiked the few hundred meters into the middle of the field. So far the job was as easy as desired.

Unfortunately there is nothing easy about pounding a post into frozen ground, even if the post is narrow and has a pointed end. I managed to lift the metal post pounder over my head and onto the post but, given my height and insufficient upper body strength, I had to give up and let Martin take over that task. Spending the day with me wasn’t going to be that much of a holiday for him this way! With much effort we got the first post as far into the ground as it had to go. But there was no way we were getting the plastic marker stake into the ground. That’s where being at my parents farm came in handy. I looked around the equipment shed and found just what we needed: a small smooth pointed metal stake that we could use to make a pilot hole to drive the marker stake into.Photo 1

Once we had the marker in place in view of the camera where we needed it, it was time for the last part of the set up: leaving a bit of scent lure to entice the local wildlife to pose for the camera. I put on some gloves, carefully opened the jar and put a teaspoon of the lure in each end of a black pipe. Even though I held everything a far away from my face as possible, the smell was nauseating. Handling this malodorous goop is not for the faint of stomach or nose.

Photo 2

My dogs, on the other hand, absolutely loved the smell and I had to keep them from trying to perfume themselves with the lure by rolling against it. We did not want skunky-smelling dogs in our car!

Photo 3

Next up was the first fence line camera. That was easier. Firstly, we knew how to get the marker post into the ground and, secondly, the camera was attached to a fence post, so we had one less stake to pound. Before we left each camera, we checked to make sure the camera was on and ready to take photos. Nothing would be more frustrating than doing all that work and getting no data.

Photo 4Now that we had honed our post pounding skills, we were ready to venture onto the neighbours properties and set up their cameras. Because of the long drive and all the time it took to do the first pair, we had only enough daylight left to get one more pair out. We finished the 4th camera just as the sun was setting. That left three pairs for the next day. Now it was time to go home and see what good food my mother had cooked (a welcome change from the usual ending of my field days in the boreal where I’m cooking on a camp stove under a tarp and sleeping in a tent). I went to bed that night very tired but satisfied and kept thinking about how maybe we’d get some really cool wildlife pictures—maybe even a wolf passing through the fields at night.

Photo 5

Note 1: You can read more about why our lab group is doing this project (and see a few cool photos like the rare shot of 3 eagles flying past a camera which came from a camera we set up that day) in this Wild49 post from August.

Note2: Although the scent lure is smells very strong, it does not attract animals from more than a few hundred meters away. We use a very small amount and it does not increase the number of foxes or coyotes that live in an area. It only entices those that are passing through anyway to come over to the camera so that we can get a good photo of them.

Author: Hedwig Lankau

New Paper!

Check out this new paper from one of the lab member’s undergraduate thesis.

The Importance of Survey Timing on Shorebird Density Estimates at East Bay, Nunavut, Canada

Abstract: Accurate estimates of population size and trends are often necessary for wildlife conservation, but imperfect and variable rates of detection can lead to substantially biased counts during surveys. The influence of survey timing relative to timing of breeding on the counts recorded for five shorebird species during transect surveys at East Bay, Nunavut, Canada, from 2000 to 2010 was examined. Transect counts varied widely among species and years, and transect counts were most strongly predicted by the density of nests found during more intensive surveys. However, after accounting for this variation, survey counts were influenced substantially by survey timing. Surveys carried out shortly after the median date of nest initiation (~2 days after) corresponded most closely to the densities of found nests, and if surveys were not within several days of the median date, the discrepancy between the two estimates was large. Although neither nest densities nor transect surveys are believed to be a perfect indication of local population status, these results suggest that the nearly inevitable variation in survey timing could introduce substantial bias into density estimates.


Job Posting: Research Biologist

After a  much needed holiday, Wild49 is back up and running! To start the new year off on a helpful note, here is a pretty great job posting:

Ducks Unlimited Canada’s Institute for Wetlands and Waterfowl Research (IWWR) is seeking a Research Biologist to work on a project examining the effects of landscape changes on settling and productivity of waterfowl in the boreal forest. The position is a one-year term with potential to renew for at least 2 additional years.

Responsibilities will include, but are not limited to:
overseeing logistical planning for upcoming field seasons
leading field operations of helicopter-based aerial surveys
entering, proofing, and managing data
analyzing data and writing progress reports
assisting with budgeting and fund raising efforts
conducting literature reviews and assisting or leading manuscript preparation.
Candidates must be willing to work long hours in sometimes uncomfortable conditions.
Conducting waterfowl surveys from a helicopter is a mandatory requirement for this position.

MSc in Ecology
Leadership experience with solid organizational skills
Strong attention to detail and ability to multi-task
Demonstrated ability to work both within a team and independently
Strong oral and written communication skills
Excellent waterfowl ID skills and an ability to analyze ecological data
Aerial waterfowl survey experience & use of double-observer methodology is a definite asset.
Experience using MS Access, ArcGIS and SAS or R would also be asset.
Must be a Canadian citizen.

This position will be based from our national head office at Oak Hammock Marsh, near Stonewall, Manitoba.
The successful candidate will have an affinity to the outdoors, conservation and the world of waterfowl.
Closing deadline: January 19, 2015
Start date: March 1, 2015
Annual Compensation: $65,900 (CDN)