Saturday, April 27, 2013

The 2013 Spring/Summer Field Season Approach-eth.....

....two weeks ago it was the "calm before the storm" and now we are in full-throttle "deployment" and "turnover" mode.

We're also getting to that crazy crunch time in the semester.  A constant string of grading and gearing up for finals.

This summer will be hectic, to say the least.

One camera trap project that has been ongoing for a year will terminate at the beginning of May.  And this will be replaced with a slew of new projects (all involving undergraduate researchers) that I will oversee and have to bounce around in-between all summer.

A second camera trap project will continue for another year.  One of my research students will take this one over for the summer (I usually do it, but it would be perfect for him).

I have one student who will continue wolf research that was started this last winter.

I also have two new herp-related projects starting....

1) A radio telemetry study involving Blanding's Turtles (Emydoidea blandingi) can see some photos below from the prep work for this project that started LAST spring.  I have three students involved in that project.

2) a study of riparian snake communities, which requires drift fences.  This week it was finally warm enough to really try and install the fences.  Luckily, I have a cadre of hard-working undergraduate students that I can trust to volunteer and help me with stuff like this.....

As a mentor to budding ecologists, nothing makes me happier than to see them all working one standing around....and no complaining or whining (which I have a zero-tolerance policy on.... ).  Furthermore, they looked to be enjoying themselves.

In a single afternoon we installed all of the fencing for one of three study sites.  Hopefully we get the other two sites done in the next week and we can start catching "stuff".  :)

I also was "mean" enough to force my Advanced Ecology students to measure out a small mammal trapping grid as part of a class exercise, just like last year.

Yet, this year we did our work in the middle of a down-pour......

We didn't actually set any Sherman Traps until the following week, when it was not raining and the critters wouldn't be so likely to die due to exposure.  We added a bit of alpaca wool to the traps to help them out (it was in the 30s the evening the traps went out.

Rodents were more than willing to take advantage of the peanut butter and oats we provided.  These are a Peromyscus sp., I always call them White-Footed Mice (P. leucopus), but they could just as easily be Deer Mice (P. maniculatus).

Then...of of the students locked their keys in the car.  Luckily some of the others knew how to solve this problem (because they had locked their own keys in their cars at one point :)  ).

More to come when I get a chance to breathe!

Monday, April 15, 2013

More Phenology 2013: Tiny Peepers and Other Little Ditties

Today (April 15th) marked the first time I've heard Spring Peepers (Pseudacris crucifer) this year.  Much like their congener the Chorus Frog (Pseudacris triseriata), Peepers are one of the earlier frogs to call in our region.

The species name "crucifer" is in reference to the X-shaped mark (or cross) on their backs.

Like most amphibians, the Peeper must lay its eggs in water, which is the reason why the males call around wetlands this time of year (i.e., to attract females for reproduction).  Although many larger frog species around here lay their eggs in large gelatinous "masses", the Peeper is alittle different.  They lay their eggs singly, or in small clumps, attached to vegetation in the water.
The tadpoles are also small and mostly non-descript to the unfamiliar eye.  In general, tadpoles of frogs in the "Treefrog" group (Family Hylidae), which includes the Gray Treefrog, Cope's Gray Treefrog, Chorus Frog and Spring Peeper in our fine state, have a deep tail.  Peeper tadpoles don't get as large as the Treefrog tads....but are similar in size to the Chorus Frog tads....which makes them hard to ID as tadpoles.

Otherwise, it's been for the birds.....

A Pair O' Canada Geese (Branta canadensis)

Goosey, Goosey Gander laying down the law.....

....and Fido turning the tables on Goosey......

Also, a confused Sandhill Crane....

Some other firsts for the year:
April 3: Yellow-bellied Sapsucker (yard)
April 7: Eastern bluebird (prairie on campus)
April 7: Goldfinch (yard)
April 15: Tree Swallow (prairie on campus)

I should also point out that recently I attended the National Council of Undergraduate Research to support some of my students that were presenting data from our research projects (where I also saw Alyssa doing a very nice job of presenting some of her research).  This conference is the reason why I took a week off of the blog.  There were about 11 total ecology students from my institution attending the conference and as a group we took a small field trip to a neighboring marsh (~2 hr hike).  While there, we saw a variety of birds, despite the short time frame.

Here's a hasty species list, based on what I can recall:

The aquatic birds were particularly obvious:
American Coot
Pied-Billed Grebe
Great Blue Heron
Scaup (couldn't tell if it was Lesser or Greater)
Ringneck Duck
Blue-Winged Teal
American Black Duck
American Wood Duck
Northern Shoveler

There were a few Raptors
American Kestrel
Bald Eagle (Juvenile)

A few odds 'n' ends, and I'm sure we heard more that I couldn't identify (my bird call ID is rusty!)....
Red-bellied Woodpecker
Downy Woodpecker
Belted Kingfisher

Then there were the common ones....the Red-winged Blackbirds, the Common Grackles, the European Starlings, the North American Robins, and such.....

Overall, it was a good experience for the students and an enjoyable for me to watch them mature as professionals.

Friday, April 5, 2013

Phenology 2013: Faltering Frogs and Wary Leapers....

Today I heard the first calling Anurans (Frogs/Toads) of the season.  Chorus Frogs (Pseudacris triseriata) are generally the earliest frogs to call in the spring 'round these parts.  I've been listening intently at various wetlands nearby for the last week.....but these tiny amphibians have been extremely hesitant (and rightfully so, given our very cold spring this year).  Despite this, I've been anticipating their calls for several days now seeing that it has started to sneak above 50 deg F more frequently over the last week.

Today I finally heard them.....

In some parts of the region they are rivaled for first position by the Wood Frog (Lithobates sylvatica).  But we do not have Wood Frogs in the immediate I always consider the arrival of spring to be heralded by the Chorus Frog.

Interestingly, this is much different than their date of first call last year (which was a much warmer spring)....but on par with past dates I've recorded.

2012: March 14th
2009: April 14th
2008: April 8th
2007: April 27th
2006: April 12th
2005: April 7th
2004: March 28th
2002: April 6th
2001: April 14th

Beyond that....sometimes all that's needed are a few cool camera trap pictures.

First, an Eastern Cottontail (Sylvilagus floridanus).....

Then, what might be one of my favorite Red Fox (Vulpes vulpes) pictures to-date.......

Foxes are so amazingly cognizant of their surroundings.  The Cuddeback has a lightning-fast trigger speed (< 1 sec.), which is the primary strength of this make and model of camera trap.  Thus, it almost appears as if this fox started to leap, sensed the flash, and faced the camera.....all as it was springing into action.

That is what I'd call complete situational awareness!

Tuesday, April 2, 2013

Phenology 2013: Preggers Coyote....

The Coyote (Canis latrans) activity has picked up substantially at several of our camera trapping locations.  This makes sense, as it has corresponded with the mating season and (soon) parturition for our region.  As Jackson (1961) reports, breeding primarily occurs in February, and most pups are born in April (gestation period of 60-63 days).

So, the timing is perfect.

Below are two clips of males at the same site for comparison.

....and now the pregnant female.....she just looks uncomfortable, doesn't she?

The den must be nearby, and I hope we can get clips of the pups......

As most know, the Coyote is often vilified and looked upon with scorn.  Jackson (op. cit.) mentioned several historic accounts of negative attitudes towards Coyotes in our region (note the "wolf" referenced in the passsages below is the "prairie wolf", which is an old common name for the Coyote).

"Among the other evidences of the rude and primitive condition of the town [of Mineral Point-TB] was the almost unceasing howling and barking of the wolves during the night, around and within its very borders, sounding at times as though the town was invested by scores of the brutes, much to the annoyance and alarm of timid strangers." (S.M. Palmer, 1872; 302).

Jackson also recounts some of the methods used in the past to eradicate these rude, brutish and annoying animals....

"A grand wolf hunt will come off Monday the 17th of December, 1863. There will be a line formed, commencing at ...... the town of Fulton, extending up the town of Janesville.  Said line will be formed and ready to march at 10 o'clock A.M. There will also be a line formed on the west side of the river to act in conjunction with the first. ........ We invite all to take part, for the wolves are troublesome (Janesville Daily Gazette, Dec. 7, 1863)."  

The distance that this line of 'yote-hunters would have spanned was probably anywhere from 12-14 miles, as the crow flies.  Now, I don't want to sound hippy-dippy......but that's alot of effort to kill little ol' Wil E., which would suggest a very deep-seeded dislike or fear.

I wonder if the folks who orchestrated those hunts (or anyone today who dislikes Coyotes) would feel differently about them if they saw them acting just like their beloved domestic dog?

This doesn't appear to be skittishness. This behavior looks just like that of my dog when he's excited to go outside.