Monday, November 17, 2014

Camera trapping at RMBL

I meant to post these months ago, when the excitement from all these pictures was still fresh, but of course, since being back at UCLA, I have been very busy catching up with analyses and teaching and things...

Sometime in August, I was out scouting for new marmot colonies in the valley where we do our research and I came across this really strong animal trail that I quickly named the "big game super highway". I hadn't actually seen any animals up there, but the trail looked so good that I knew I had to put some trail cameras up.

This tree seemed like it would provide a really good angle, and what do you know? Some bear must have used it as a back-scratching post because it had bear hair all over it, so I took that as a good sign for that particular location.

In total, I got pictures of  9 species (including 2 hikers) during the 3 weeks that it was up, which I thought was pretty impressive. Here are a few of the highlights:

 An adorable elk calf and his gang (yes, a group of elk = a gang)

Adult bull elk showing off his summer rack

My wildlife detective skills were totally validated!

There appear to be 3 sets of eye shine behind this black bear, suggesting a female with 3 cubs in tow.

This bear looks pretty hefty and kind of scratched up, so I'm guessing he is a male.  Luckily, he didn't stop to scratch his back/break my camera this particular day.

2 coyotes. They are most likely a mating pair out hunting together.

There were several marmots that would sun themselves on the logs here. New colony discovered!

And the sighting that literally made me jump out of my seat...
Mountain lion! AKA puma, AKA cougar
I still can't believe that I got this shot. I had seen puma scat near this trail previously, so I knew at least one lion was using the area, but I was absolutely thrilled to catch this on my camera.

I am looking forward to putting a camera up here again next year as well as finding new jackpot sites like this.

Tuesday, September 2, 2014

My first marmot season and memorable marmots

Hi everyone!

I’m Svenja Kroeger, a PhD student from the University of Aberdeen (UK, Scotland) under supervision of Dr. Julien Martin and Prof. Jane Reid. I study senescence in yellow-bellied marmots and over the summer I spent three months at RMBL to help with the data collection for this long-term study. I’ve had an awesome time observing and trapping these adorable creatures and I’m looking forward to spending some time with them next year too!

 Over the last months I’ve grown really fond of a lot of the animals that I’ve been observing, so I’d like to not only introduce myself but also a couple of memorable marmots that I’ve encountered during my time here. In the picture above I’m holding the sweetest and smallest pup I’ve ever had the joy of getting my hands on: ‘Ghost’ - a tiny lady, weighing a mere 250 grams when she first emerged. Her name stems from the fur mark on her back, which resembles the ghost in ‘pacman’.

Another marmot that has definitely conquered my heart is this handsome guy in the picture below, a sturdy male by the name of ‘Dandelion’ (aka ‘Dandy’). In fact he is the first marmot I ever named! I’ve spent a lot of time watching him as he is fairly comfortable with people nearby. Also, he’s sort of ‘the man’ in Gothic town at the moment and as his name suggests he LOVES dandelions! I can’t wait to see him again next year!

Monday, August 18, 2014

Pup season

Hi everyone!

My name is Holly, and I'm an undergraduate member of Team Marmot! I've been at RMBL since mid-June and have seen a lot of pup emergences this season. Despite smaller populations of reproductively mature animals, we've had quite a bit of pup action. Down Valley alone had only 2 adult males and 6 adult females, yet they produced 30 pups. In one colony, there were 21 pups among 1 male and 4 females!! 

I've found it interesting how the different marmots behave in the traps. One female, forbidden sign, got trapped with 3 of her pups one time, despite truly disliking the handling process. We catch her almost every trapping session, but she always struggles when we are handling her. Separately, musical note was seen protecting her pup birthday cake when they got trapped together (see adorable picture below). I'm also fascinated by how similar some pups are to their mothers. Some have very similar faces, while others seem to inherit their mother's feistiness when trapped. Pup season was huge this year, but now that we've caught them all, all that's left is to watch them molt and remark them for hibernation!

Friday, April 25, 2014

Eager males, or...?

With our first sighting of a marmot emerging from hibernation on our second day, I feel like the season of marmots has begun!

I’ve seen four marmots at the colony I’ve been observing, Picnic. A yearling and an adult emerged from a burrow way up the slope at the base of a cliff. Two adults emerged from burrows at the base of Picnic.

Despite this being my fourth year in the early season, I continue to gain new insights into the behavior of these animals. The other day I saw one of the adults, which I’m assuming is a male for the time being, sniffing around the snow-covered colony, honing in a location, and then digging a hole and disappearing for 20 minutes. After coming back out, he repeated this behavior.

Adult males tend to be one of the first animals to emerge, presumably to mate. At Picnic, in the absence of a bounty of emerged females, this particular animal appears to have taken the initiative to dig through the snow in order to enter burrows that may house semi-hibernating females.

I haven’t seen that animal again since that day. Maybe he went off to another colony to find more females . . . or at least burrows he can access through the snow!

As of right now, I can’t say this is the animal’s intention. However, with careful observations of the females that emerge from particular burrows and genetic data on those females’ pups, we may be able to figure it out!

Picnic colony as of today. I've been spending my mornings here.

Tuesday, April 22, 2014

Early season at RMBL 2014

Although this is only my second year coming to RMBL, this spring sure feels different. The big dust storm that blew in a few weeks ago left this crazy red layer all over the valley. 
It looks kinda cool because it contours the hills in nice patterns but it is not cool for skiing in to the research station! Skiing over it essentially feels like you hit the emergency brake, so here we are actively avoiding it on the road in to RMBL.

We're still waiting to see how the long winter, dirt layer and now warm, rainy days (!) affect our marmot population. So far, a few animals are out and about, but it seems like most are still hunkered down in burrows. Where we don't see marmots, we have seen a few open burrows like the picture below. Since there are no tracks around these holes, it appears that a marmot popped out, had a look around, and decided to go back into torpor. Although it doesn't look like much, these are the kinds of things that us marmoteers get excited about in the early season.
So for now, we are keeping busy catching up on data analysis, shoveling snow to get into cabins, and re-learning how to ski. More updates will come as the marmots start showing their faces, errr...their backs, since all we really care about are their marks.

Tuesday, April 8, 2014

Good news...and a LOT of snow!

The good news:  Team Marmot PhD student Tiffany Armenta just passed her PhD oral qualifying exams today. Way to go Tiffany.

Other personnel news includes:

PhD student Matt Petelle is working on his last dissertation chapter and plans to graduate in the spring.
PhD student Nicole Munoz is making great progress on a remarkably difficult mathematical model that needs to be written before she writes up her empirical marmot results.
PhD student Adrianna Maldonado is making progress on her population biology models.
And, it looks like we'll be having a new PhD student join the lab to work on marmots...stay tuned for details.

The 'interesting' news:  There's a LOT of snow at RMBL (like over 2m!) and Nicole and Tiffany will be skiing in on the 17th and Line will follow them on the 18th to start our newest year of marmoteering.  David Inouye wrote the other day that based on his calculations, the road will open on 27 May.  billy quickly agreed that it's likely to be a long winter.  The one piece of hope--there was a big dust storm that deposited a layer of red dust on the snow.  When the sun hits the dust-covered snow, the snow can melt VERY quickly.

So, is a long winter good or bad for the marmots?

Well, the big die off of 2011 happened after an exceptionally long winter...and the recovery has taken a while.  We have a lot resting on this year...insofaras we have planned experiments that require marmots.   I expect that if the snow continues and doesn't melt very quickly that we'll have a lot of spring mortality--where the marmots emerge from hibernation through a large snowpack and then starve to death (because there is no food available) or are killed by waiting coyotes (and possibly foxes).

Stay tuned.  I'd love to be out there (UCLA responsibilities call)...the valley is magical in a snowy spring!