Tuesday, November 11, 2008

Wild animals in the field bandwagon

So I've decided to jump on the bandwagon of posting some pics of wild animals I encountered while in the field. I thought you might find it interesting if I concentrated on the animals from my masters research at Little Fish Lake near Drumheller, Alberta. Little Fish Lake is a lacustrine site made up of an attritional assemblage that is punctuated by several episodes of mass mortalities. Well, more on that later as I am attempting to get it written up in 2-3 papers within the next year.

Anyway, while working on the beach my constant companions were the California Gulls who lived on the nearby island within the lake and kept me entertained. Once they figured out I wasn't going to feed them, they pretty much left me alone while keeping a sharp eye on me - in case I changed my mind. For several weeks, I had one (well, I think it was the same one) who would land about 4-5 feet from me and follow me around watching my every move. He'd cock his head at me and walk sideways whenever I walked towards him. If I got too close, he'd take off and hover over head while yelling at me. It was pretty funny.

My other constant companions were the midges (hope you can see them in the pic) and the sand flies. The midges weren't too bad because they don't bite, but they swarm around your head buzzing in a high pitched fashion that could drive one insane. The sand flies, on the other hand, made me want to destroy all insect-kind. I tried everything while out there - deet, lavender scents, Avon Skin-so-soft, bandanas, etc. - until I couldn't take it any more and ended up wearing a mosquito-net hat to keep the little buggers from chewing my ears and throat above my collar to bits. I will admit to a gleeful fit of vengence one day that included hairspray and a lighter...

Since it is a lake (even though while I was working there the water depth was a mere 1-6 inches at any time), there were tons of birds there. At one time or another I saw virtually every type of waterfowl that is native to the area migrating through as well as shorebirds, raptors, song birds, and the odd White Pelican. I've included a pic of a Piping Plover nest that Darren found one day while out prospecting. Since the Plover is endangered, Alberta Fish and Wildlife patrol the beach during the nesting period and cage off the nests. The cage is large enough to let the Plovers through, but small enough to keep out the main predators such as Coyotes, cats and Gulls. I had to be very careful to watch for the Plovers and had they been spotted, abandon my research until the hatchlings were gone, but I never did see them. Darren took this pic and I didn't even know where the nest was until much later in the summer.

Some of the things that surprised me most were the tracks and traces found on the beach of the local animal-life that I never actually saw. This pic is of porcupine tracks that I found on the beach one morning. Other than these tracks and some very chewed branches of the trees, I never saw a porcupine there. I also saw Coyote tracks virtually every day and heard them yipping back and forth at night, but never caught sight of one. I woke one morning (I was living in a holiday trailer in the nearly always empty campground) to find Moose tracks outside my camp and am not quite sure where the big guy went after he passed.

I was lucky enough to have a multitude of animals that were visible like the fox I glimpsed one day while walking down to my site, lots of Jackrabbits and Cottontails living near camp, and White-Tailed and Mule Deer walking through the campground in the early evenings. My absolute favorite was the Long-tailed Prairie Weasel who lived in my wood pile and would come out sniffing for the ever present mice who seemed to enjoy living in the walls of my trailer and in the engine compartment of my car. The Weasel was sleek and quick and always seemed to know when I didn't have a camera handy.

Working at Little Fish Lake was quite the experience. I was a bit concerned when I first got out there as a woman alone in the field, but soon realized that the worst of my worries was trying to figure out how the damn moths kept getting into the trailer and committing sepukku (apologies for the spelling) into my candles at night. Or maybe how I should handle the mouse that crawled into the walls of the trailer and promptly died. Phew! What a stench! But it's also a time alone that I treasure when I learned alot about the site of my masters work and about myself. : )

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