Thursday, March 20, 2008

Moose research photos

Here's some photos of the moose research I was privelidged to take part in. In the first two I'm attaching an ear tag.

The snow was so deep that the moose seem to be using the creek beds to escape the wolves in the area. I quickly learned after sinking into deep snow that the moose were taking the smart approach. The weather was so perfect I couldn't help but smile.

Here I am preparing to "collect" a pellet sample.

Sunday, March 16, 2008

Moose, Wolves, helicopters and other stuff

When I moved to Alaska my friends a the moose pens told me that the short dark days in winter keep you sluggish and then the long days of spring and summer bring out an almost manic feeling. Sometimes that's the perfect description life in Alaska. Back in December sunrise was about 8:30-9:00am and a we could look out our office windows and see it get dark by about 3:15pm. Once we had a good snowfall things brightened up a bit but until then some days were a bit tough for most of us outdoor lovers. Now with the recent changing of the clocks sunsrise today is 7:09am and sunset is 7:04pm which seems very late even though summer will have sunsets at 11pm or later!
The longer days are good because they allow more time for field work. I recently got to help some of the best people in the busisness work on a moose study. After working at the Moose Pens on the Kenai I had learned an awful lot from the top moose people in the state which came in handy since it was my first time working out of a helicopter to capture moose. I have seen it from above several times but actually landing next to rivers and flying just over tree tops and seeing the places that the pilots can land was incredible! These studies are very important to the survival and management of moose populations so it was amazing to be able to help.
I've been around helicopters dozens of times during medical evacuations of critically ill patients down south but this was quite different. The main difference is that most of the medical evacuations where I came from included a fire department setting up a landing zone that was very safe and often the helicopter rotor was shut down until after the patient got loaded and everyone was safely clear of the rotors.
Field work in the wilderness using a helicopter is a totally different and amazing experience. First of all at the beginning of the day the helicopter lands and the door is remove on the passenger side and the rest of the day you fly without the door on that side! This is to facilitate safely and accurately darting the animal with tranquilizing drugs. To make the helicopter as maneuverable as possible they drop two of us off while the biologist goes with the pilot and darts the moose. Then depending on the situation he stays with the moose and we get picked up and dropped off as close as possible to the tranquilized moose. This means that for almost the entire day you climb out and stand on the skids of the helicopter with the rotor still going and grab your gear then while ducking low enough to avoid decapitation you try to walk on the snow hoping not to break through into the deeper stuff which slows you down alot. Often the helicopter is using some rotor power to keep from sinking into the snow and tipping over.
Once you move out of rotor range you get down on one knee with you're back to the chopper and get blasted by a huge rush of air and snow blowing at you and into any part of your clothes that aren't sealed tight. The wind is so strong that on one occasion I made the mistake of kneeling on both legs and when it took off it would have knocked me over if my coworker hadn't grabbed me. Once out of rotor range we had to get to the moose as fast as one can while occasionally breaking through up to our waist in the snow(in one case I was chest deep for several minutes). We were in chest waders and often got to the moose in or near streams. I soon learned from the experienced guys that if you could make it into the stream you could move much faster by walking in the stream as long as you could get back up the snow bank when you got close enough to the moose.
Imagine trudging across deep snow and through icy cold streams(I'm so glad they told me I needed insulated waders) and then reaching a moose that ways 800-1100lbs and lays down wherever it wants to. The biologist I got to work with is amazing and often had blood drawn before we even got to the moose. However, on some occasions the moose had layed down in streams and one of us had to hold it's head above water until after the work was done and the reversal drug had kicked in. This meant waiting until the last possible moment and then getting as far away as possible to avoid stressing the moose any further.
Where there's moose there are usually also wolves. While we were working on moose the spotter plane saw several moose kills and one was so fresh that the wolves were still feeding on it. Everywhere we went there were tons of tracks nearby and we even had to land on an old carcass to collect bone, teeth and what was left of an old radio collar. We can encourage hunters not take moose with collars(although they sometimes still do) but the wolves really don't care which moose they hunt as long as it's slow enough to kill. It always amazes me to see how clean the bones look after the wolves, ravens, magpies, etc. are done with it. As you can imagine it was a very interesting day. It was much needed after months of dull data entry. The field season is finally coming up again soon so I'll be away from the computer for up to to weeks at time but hope to update when possible. Thanks all the great comments on the blog. I'll try to update with photos as soon as I can get them from the gang.

Sunday, March 9, 2008

Is spring on the way to Juneau?

I decided to get some exercise yesterday and so I went for a hike on the treadwell ditch trail up the street from my house. Hiking this time of year is different because we've had some warm temperatures with rain and then colder temps with a snow rain mix and so there's kind of a freeze thaw thing happening. It seems like "break up" is definitely in full swing though with the channel completely clear of ice. Since the trail I was planning on hiking goes up the shady side of the mountain and seemed pretty firm I figured maybe I could do it without snow shoes. That is until I got out in the open and broke through the crust sinking up to my waist in slushy snow.
After extricating myself I decided to change the plan since I was solo hiking and didn't bring my snow shoes. I drove down the road a place called "otter point" that I hiked in 2003 with my parents. It's a very cool walk through the rainforest down to the rocky coast of the Gastineau Channel. When I got to the shoreline there were hundreds of Surf Scoaters along with Barrows Goldeneye, Harlequin Ducks, Mergansers and even a few harbor seals swimming around. Most of the birds were too far for good photos but it seems like the migration is in full swing. It's been warm enough that there's even been reports of bear activity in parts of southeast.
The best part of spring though is more daylight. Even before we turned the clocks forward we've had longer days. Today it was light out at about 6:45AM until almost 7PM which is having and effect on us all. When I first moved here a friend told me that winter everyone drags around in slow motion and then when spring hits the "manic" phase begins. I'm already starting to feel it alittle although not as much as when I lived on the Kenai where the sun is out longer an even the Moose get stir crazy! I just figured I'd give everyone an update since it's been awhile. No photos this

Sunday, March 2, 2008

The Juneau Wolf

A friend of mine mine gave me this photo of "Romeo." I've been hearing about Juneau's local resident wolf ever since I moved here. The black wolf, whom locals have come to call "Romeo," has created quite the controversy here in town. This wild wolf is frequently seen by locals and heard howling around the Mendenhall glacier, lake, visitor center and campground area during the winter months. I must admitt that the chilling sound has a profound effect on me until I'm reminded that he has become very habituated to humans.
Forest Service employees and Fish and Game staff repeatedly remind folks to keep their distance and shout at the wolf to scare him off when he approaches. Unfortunately these warnings seem to fall on deaf ears. Lots of people instead trying to chase the wolf off go looking for him while hiking or skiing with their dogs off leash with the hope that he'll "play" with their dogs. This creates quite the commotion when the wolf shows up. Last winter a pug ran up to him and the wolf suddenly reminded everyone that it is in fact a wild animal. The Juneau Empire got photos of the wolf as it picked up the pug and flung the terrified dog several feet. The stunned pug then layed there for a while playing oppossum. Thankfully the dog was left in one piece. But what will happen next time?