Tuesday, June 12, 2012

Bears Out There

As most outdoor enthusiasts will tell you spring and early summer are a time of year that we want to be out and about.  But this also means that wildlife is stirring and becoming more active as well, especially bears.  This doesn't mean we need to be scared of venturing out in the backcountry, we just need to be more aware and proactive about protecting ourselves when we do go out in the woods.  A friend of mine is a writer for the Examiner and recently had a young cinnamon bear literally show up on her back porch which inspired her to write a great article that I'd like to share with you all.  She says everything I would, only better so I wont even try to create a blog that will top hers.  Enjoy and stay safe!


Thursday, April 1, 2010

"Horn Hunting"

Spring has sprung in Northwestern Montana and it has a lot of outdoors people itching to be out in the woods doing something... anything... after a long winter of cabin fever. Even though I work outdoors almost every single day I can completely understand this need to be out and about when the weather turns nicer. The days are getting longer, the sun seems to shine a little brighter, and plants are starting to bud out. Whats not to love?

One of the activities many outdoorsmen and women enjoy is "horn hunting" or searching for sheds. While "horn hunting" isn't exactly an accurate description of the activity since big game animals such as deer and elk do not have horns they have antlers, its a name that most people are familiar with. Just keep in mind that gathering sheds are legal only if its a natural shed, meaning that the animal dropped its antlers rather than someone sawing off the antlers for a winter kill (that's very illegal). My fiance and I have been out and about since the snow melted away and finding some really nice whitetail deer sheds and can't wait until May to start finding the bull elk sheds.

Recently I was in a group of old timers that were swearing up and down that they had already been finding huge sets of bull elk sheds for the past month or so on their horn hunting adventures. While I was only listening with a half ear at the time, this statement caught my attention because from everything I know the elk are still about a month off from dropping their antlers. Even with as nice and early of a spring as we've had there is no way that even the biggest elk would be losing their antlers this early. Some of the guys in the group also were skeptical and had to ask me what my opinion on the matter was. I of course when into my biology schpeal about how losing horns depended on hours of daylight and testosterone levels in the animal and not on the nice, early spring we were experiencing. This reasonable explanation seemed to satisfy the skeptics and disappoint the guys that said they'd already been finding these sheds to impress their buddies. I could see the unease in their eyes and tried to make them feel better by saying they may have just been really lucky and found some of sheds from the previous spring that no one had found last year. I also told them if they wanted to bring the sheds they'd found into my office I'd be happy to tell them how old they were. This seemed to make them even more uncomfortable so I have the feeling the sheds in question don't even exist. So much for trading stories... they can be like fishing stories in the end.

Whatever the case may be, I encourage everyone itching to get out in the woods to start looking for sheds. You'll be amazed at how much ground you can cover when you are concentrating on finding that little bit of white sticking up indicating a bull shed or deciphering between the sticks and horns for a deer shed. A lot of people turn their found treasures into art and furniture for themselves or to sell. Its a great way to spend time in the outdoors with people you love and a great bonding experience for many families.

Thursday, July 2, 2009

Towndsends's Big-Eared Bat

While most people fear the things that go bump in the night, my job actually charges me with studying the critters who make some of those bumps. I really look forward to my night work during the summers. I head out just as the night thrushes are finishing up their last calls and end my night with the sounds of morning birds calling as well. Its an experience that everyone should have at some point in their lives. But I'm getting sidetracked here. The reason I work at night for about a month straight over the summer is because I do a capture-mark-recapture survey method on various bat species in my area. I set up a harp trap system right outside of old caves, abandoned mines, and abandoned barns specifically targeted to certain species like the Townsend's Big-Eared Bat for instance.

The Townsend's Big-Eared Bat (Corynorhinus townsendii), aptly named for its uniquely ample ear-size, is actually a species of special concern so it's really neat to have them as native species in Western Montana and available to study. Several of the subspecies of this particular bat on the east coast are even listed federally as endangered. Townsend's Big-Eared Bat is a medium-sized bat with extremely long, flexible ears and small yet noticeable lumps on each side of the snout. It is brown on the back, and wood-brown on the sides. The underparts are a slightly paler shade of brown. These bats can be identified by the nearly uniform color of their bodies. It's total length is around 10 cm (4 in.), its tail being around 5 cm (2 in.) It's wingspan is about 28cm. It weighs around 7-12 grams. This bat is often distributed near rocky areas where caves or abandoned mine tunnels are available. They may also occasionally inhabit old buildings.

During summer, males and females occupy separate roosting sites. Males live a solitary lifestyle away from females. Females and their pups form maternity colonies which often number from around 12 to 200. During the winter these bats hibernate, often when temperatures are around 32 and 53°F (around 0°C and 11.5°C.) Hibernation occurs in tightly packed clusters, which could possibly help stabilize body temperature against the cold. Males often hibernate in warmer places than females and are more easily aroused and active in winter than females. The bats are often interrupted from their sleep because they tend to wake up frequently and move around in the cave or move from one cave entirely to another. During hibernation, C. townsendii grow incredibly fat, which compensates for the food they do not eat during the winter with a low metabolism.

As far as reproduction goes, Townsend's Big-Eared bats do something quite interesting known as delayed fertilization. The mating season for Townsend's Big eared Bats takes place in late fall. As usual, courtship rituals are done by the male. Until spring, when ovulation and fertilization begin, the female stores the male's sperm in her reproductive tract (hence the term delayed fertilization). Gestation lasts from 50 to 60 days. When the pup is born, it is pink, naked, and helpless. Only one pup is birthed per female, although 90% of females give birth.

Monday, June 29, 2009

First Aid Kits

It doesn't take a genius to figure out that being out in the woods is not necessarily the safest place to be in the world but that certainly shouldn't stop you from going out and enjoying yourself in the wild. An important thing to always take with you, however, is a first aid kit. Now I know what some of you may be thinking "I don't need that", but I tell you its a handy thing to have around no matter what the circumstances. Even if you are just going on a day hike with your friends having a small supply of first aid materials can sometimes make a big difference. A first aid kit doesn't need to be a behemoth of a box that can weigh any pack down, but it should include a few items that can come in handy when faced with cuts, scrapes, and the occasional spained ankle that even the most skilled of mountaineers have encountered from time to time.

Now some people prefer to buy a first aid kit for their pack, which is perfectly fine and there are several companies out there that make a great wilderness survival first aid kits, but I'm a person that ends up carrying quite a bit in my pack and the lighter I can make it the better. I prefer gather up a few of the basic products, put them in a water resistant zip lock bag, and place the bag in a very accessable side pocket of my pack. One of the best packaged first aid kits that I've come across is this one below with these contents. This particular kit is very lightweight and relatively small for what all it contains.
(20)3/4"x3" Adhesive plastic bandages
(10)3/4"x3" Fabric bandages
(5) 1"x3" Fabric bandages
(2) Knuckle fabric bandages
(2) Fingertip fabric bandages
(2) 2"x4" Elbow & knee plastic bandages
(10)3/8"x1-1/2" Junior plastic bandages
(2) Butterfly wound closures
(4) 2"x2" Gauze dressing pads
(2) 3"x3" Gauze dressing pads
(1) 5"x9" Trauma pad
(1) 2" Conforming gauze roll bandage
(2) Aspirin tablets
(2) Ibuprofen tablets
(2) Extra-strength non-aspirin tablets
(6) Alcohol cleansing pads
(6) Antiseptic cleansing wipes (sting free)
(2) Antibiotic ointment packs
(2) Insect sting relief pads
(2) First aid/burn cream packs
(1) 1/2"x5 yd. First aid tape roll
(1) Sunscreen pack
(1) Lip ointment pack
(1) 2"x2" Moleskin square
(1) 6"x11/16" Finger splint
(1) Medium #2 safety pin
(10) 3" Cotton tipped applicators
(1) 4-1/2" Scissors, nickel plated
(1) 4" Tweezers, plastic
(2) Exam quality vinyl gloves
(1) First aid guide
Kit Dimensions: 7-3/4"x5"x2-1/8"

Usually I pick and choose from the above contents for my own personal first aid kit depending on where I'm going, what I'm doing, and the possible hazzards I encounter in a given area. If you are hiking or camping with several people I do recomend having a kit similar to the one listed above because the more people in your party the more likely to encounter accidents you would not expect when traveling in the woods on your own in an area you are familier with. Also don't forget to replace items when they have been used, you don't want to be stuck in the woods without bandaids because you used them all up the last time you were out. When in doubt its better to be safe than sorry.

Saturday, June 27, 2009

Predator/Prey Relations

You've all seen those documentary clips in National Geographic or on the Discovery Channel of a pride of lions taking down a sick wildebeest or perhaps a pack of wolves encircling an elk calf in early spring. While these images may seem graphic and perhaps even violent from the human perspective, predator-prey relations are a major part of the natural world and even vital to the health of many wildlife populations. For this reason predation has been and most assuredly will continue to be a fascinating topic for wildlife biologists, ecologists, and wildlife managers alike.

Many biologists view predator-prey relations as natures version of an arms race, meaning that the physical and genetic changes that both predators and prey undergo are for bettering their abilities to outdo one another and survive. At any given snapshot in time either the predator species or the prey species will have more "technology" under their belt in terms of survival. For wildlife prey we see speed, poisons, coloration, armor, alertness, and deceptions pitted against a variety of such traits in the predator as well. An understanding of predation is important because the public is vocal and curious about what happens to predators and prey, but for wildlife managers its an understanding of predations role in populations dynamics that is key. Some of the most controversial issues in wildlife and conservation biology hinge on the extent to which predators affect prey numbers and visa verse. When predators and prey have evolved together, they interact on more equal footing. So the easiet and at times the most complicated of questions on this topic is...does predation affect prey numbers?

The best short answer for that is... sometimes. I know I know... what good is that answer! But the simple truth is that there is a balancing act going on at all times between predator numbers and prey numbers. We don't have to look very far to see examples of predators limiting prey population size (sometimes even to extinction). But for the most part, predation usually causes oscillations in prey abundance ranging from very high numbers to low numbers and everything in between. Some prey species persist and even flourish in numbers with predators in their midst. What we have to keep in mind is that prey are active participants in the life and deth process, always evolving and behaving in ways to reduces their chances of being killed. The best generalization that can be made on population responce is that predation can certainly regulate and help limit numbers of prey, but its unlikely to drive prey populations to extinction unless introduced species are involved or the prey population is small and fragmented to begin with.

Tuesday, June 23, 2009

Kokanee Salmon

For those readers that do a little angling in their spare time I thought it would be fun to talk about a really neat fish that we are lucky enough to have up here in Montana as an introduced species to our local lakes, the kokanee salmon.
The kokanee salmon (Oncoryhnchus nerka) is actually the landlocked version of a sockeye salmon found in the Pacific ocean. Kokanee salmon are the product of evolutionary changes in sockeye salmon that were prevented from migrating to the ocean, and thus adapted to surviving exclusively in freshwater lakes. The kokanee salmon never migrate out to the ocean to feed so they have become a little smaller than their sockeye counterparts due to a more limited diet (plankton, insects, bottom organisms, and larval fish), but visually they are the same.

The migration of the kokanee salmon during spawning season is much more limited than that of the sockeye. Kokanee return to the site of their birth within their freshwater systems between August and November, normally along inlet streams of the lakes or shoreline gravel beds. Mature kokanee turn bright orange-red before the spawning season. The male displays more prominent coloration and develops a hooked jaw and humped back. The female selects a suitable nesting site, called a redd, and creates the egg bed by fanning or knocking gravel away with her tail. The male fends off intruders while the female works the redd. After the female lays up to 2,000 eggs in various batches, the male fertilizes them. The kokanee hatch in late winter and remain in the gravel feeding on the egg-sac nutrients. The fry will then emerge from the redds in the spring.

The kokanee is not an anadromous salmon, thus it inhabits only freshwater lakes and tributaries. The fish prefers cool, well-oxygenated water with temperatures of 50 to 59 F. Kokanee are generally found near the surface of the water as long as the temperature remains in their preferred range or cooler. As the surface water warms, kokanee may choose deeper water. Most kokanee live in a lake for most of their lives, so you can usually see them spawning either near the edge of a lake or in the small tributaries that feed into the lake of origin.

Kokanee salmon are a popular sports fish. Their red, oily, high-quality flesh can be cooked in a variety of ways or canned. It is important to clean and ice the kokanee soon after the catch, because its high oil content can cause it to spoil quickly. One of the best methods for catching kokanee is trolling with small, brightly colored lures at the depths where the fish congregate. This can be near the surface during cooler months and in deep waters during warmer seasons.

Sunday, June 21, 2009

To All Outdoor Dad's

This simple post is dedicated to all those dads out there celebrating their father's day with those they love in the woods, on the rivers, and even in the backyards barbecuing and having fun. I wish you all the best and enjoy the day to the fullest. And on a more personal note to those who have lost your dad's, know they are looking down on you and still have you in their hearts.

In Loving Memory of MY DAD!

July 31, 1943 - January 27, 2009