Tuesday, July 28, 2015

Wild baby rescue- week 8 (July 21st)

As the summer progresses, the animals are all growing up! Very few babies are getting bottles at this point, although many are still getting dishes of formula. We currently only have a few squirrels left, with only one being in the nursery. Two of the skunks are nearly old enough to release, while the rest are all outdoors and growing rapidly. We still have one baby skunk in the nursery due to pneumonia, which is just about cleared up. One group of fox kits is ready to release, and we are just looking for a location to release them into. The fawns are also growing up quickly- they are down to two bottles a day, which have been watered down. They are also starting to shed their spots. The only animals eating more than twice a day are the opossums, baby skunk and baby groundhog.

This week we were flooded with baby opossums, getting in a group of ten as well as several others. Thankfully, they are all eating from dishes and do not need to be tube fed. One group of five was moved to an outdoor enclosure last week, while the rest are in the nursery. We also started getting in “pinky” squirrels, as well as a pinky mouse. More squirrels are expected to begin coming in a few weeks.

The raccoons were also moved outside last week, and are no longer fed formula. They now get a mix of puppy food and a variety of fruits. As a treat, we froze cherries and grapes inside a watermelon rind! The foxes did extremely well with this week’s enrichment, which was a piece of fish hung from a bungee cord. It took them a little while to figure it out, but eventually the male (Franky) realized he had to jump up to reach the fish. Enrichment like this is extremely important to predatory animals, as it helps them develop problem solving skills as well as teach them how to hunt.

Sunday, July 26, 2015

WMNF Bear Patrol: Week Nine

Last week was our vacation time so I spent my time back in Unity, ME to catch up with friends. While we were away, we heard nothing of bear incidents which we were really happy about! This week heading back into the routine (7/22) we started out at Russell Pond Campground since that was where the last bear incident occurred. The campground was about half full and didn't have many problem sites, which was a good change from the last time we visited. The large male bear had returned the night before around 2200 hrs. He entered further into the campground from his game trail but did not receive food rewards or perform unnatural behaviors. A group of campers with flashlights were looking for him in the woods after he was shooed away, and the hosts reminded them to keep their distance. It was good for them to deter the bear away from the campsites but to agitate it more in his already unstable condition would be dangerous. We spoke with some folks about the food storage policy and many had already been informed by the hosts so we went to Hancock and Big Rock Campground. There were no sightings or incidents.

Around lunch time, we had a meeting with the other Unity interns, Nicole, Justin, and one of the supervisors to discuss changes and highlights of the program. Our feedback would provide parameters for next years interns. That went well and we had some great food at Sweet Maple Cafe in North Conway. Afterwards, the two backcountry recreation interns shadowed us on our afternoon patrol around Covered Bridge and Blackberry Crossing Campgrounds.

Thursday (7/23) we had an intern from Puerto Rico join us on patrol through the Kanc Campgrounds and Russell Pond Campground. We did not encounter many problem sites but spoke to a good amount of people; some inquisitive about the bears and others that could care less if they lived or died... When educating the public, both sides of the extreme are met. It's a great test of my patience to understand and enlighten these apathetic people. Educating is first priority when it comes to bear safety and proper food storage. Written citations follow when federal encouragement to properly store food is not acted upon.

Friday (7/24) the forecast didn't give us much to work with as scatter showers surprised us throughout the day and held their ground after lunch. We patrolled the campgrounds starting at Hancock where the host informed us that two bears had been seen. One was described as a juvenile and the other an adult. The larger bear entered a campsite from the river side around 2200 hrs, where a family was cooking. The family deterred the bear, who was obviously attracted by the scent of food, into the campground. While the family cleaned everything up, the bear meandered around the inner loop road of the camp near the woodline and returned twice to the riverside campsite to check up on the original attractant. Campers on the loop road saw both bears at the same time so we were convinced there were two separate bears. Multiple campsites vocally deterred the bear away. They assume both bears exited the campground on the road side.

Over at Big Rock campground, there had been no sightings from the previous night. However, a small group of Eagle scouts mentioned they witnessed a bear opening a dumpster at the Dunkin Donuts on Main St in Lincoln, just west of the Kanc Highway. Their descriptions and pictures identified the bear as a juvenile female, which could very well have been one that had entered Hancock that same night.

Saturday (7/25) we followed up with food storage at Hancock and heard over the radio that a bear had entered some of the dispersed sites at Fourth Iron Tentsite that moment, approximately 1000 hrs. We finished up at Hancock where a lot of people were eating breakfast and made our way over to the Saco district. The biologist there said they hadn't send in an incident report so we went over the Fourth Iron Tentsite to follow up. The large adult sized bear had entered the backside campsites while the occupants where eating breakfast. The bear climbed on their table and began eating their food. The occupants of the site called Saco district ranger station at the time of the incident. When we got out to the backside sites it began to downpour and only one group of campers were on the campground. At the site where the incident occurred, no one was there. The site next to this one had three coolers out and a food scraps (banana peels, grape stems) in their fire pit. Each of these dispersed campsites conveniently have a backcountry bear box where they should be properly storing their food. Because this was an unattended risk site, we put the coolers in the bear box, collected/properly disposed of the food scraps, and left them a food storage notice. Blackberry Crossing also had some food storage issues, so we called an FPO over from the Saco to issue a warning.

Sunday (7/26) was a very foggy and wet day. We started on the Kanc at Hancock Campground and made sure the bears had not returned. Many people leave the campgrounds on Sunday morning before noon so a lot of people had coolers out because they were packing up. We worked our way down the Kanc finding this same situation at the other campgrounds. Along the way we found an FPO who need some assistance with graffiti removal. It, of course, began to downpour. So afterwards we went back to the office to laminate some Bear Alert signs and Picnic Table signs.

Saturday, July 25, 2015

Wild Baby Rescue, Week 8

This week at Wild Baby Rescue,  we received many new animals to take care of. The most notable of which was 16 new baby opossums. All of these opossums were orphaned and were brought to the facility soon after being found without a mother. We'll do our best to take care of them and raise them. Hopefully we can release them without any issue once they are fully grown.

The baby groundhog that I am in charge of, Skittles, is growing up nicely. She is getting a little rambunctious for her cage, but she is still too small to go into an outside cage. We're waiting until she is a little bigger before she begins her new life in an outside cage. This week, I started her out on a new food: kale. She loves it, and kale is full of vitamins that will keep her healthy. She also loves to chew on peanuts. She doesn't eat the nuts inside, but they help her to whittle down her teeth, and she seems to enjoy them.

The other groundhog, Boomer, is getting quite large. He has been in an outside cage for a few weeks now, and we are getting ready to release him. It'll be a good feeling to see him bound off into the woods and start his new life in the wild. In the meantime, he is still as fun to watch as ever, and comes out of his little house to see me when I bring his food down to him.

Additionally, all of the raccoons that we have at the facility are now in outside cages. These cages are large and spacious with lots of things to climb on. This will help the raccoons figure out how to get around and climb trees. They need to be able to do this in order to escape predators. I was in charge of feeding them this week,, and they seem quite happy in their new homes. Hopefully, we should be able to release them soon.

Tuesday, July 21, 2015

Wild baby rescue week 7

This was a great week for the animals! The adult groundhog that was hit by a car recovered well enough to be released into the woods surrounding the property. All the skunks are now in outdoor enclosures and eating meat, yogurt, and the occasional banana and meal worms in addition to formula. This makes it tremendously easier to take care of all the animals in the morning, as the skunks use litter boxes. Instead of having to carefully move them and clean out their cages, using quite a few large towels and blankets, they usually only need their litter pan cleaned out. The skunks are also benefitting from being in larger, more private outdoor enclosures away from all the other animals and people. They also have new enrichment items- tubes and tunnels for them to play in! Our newest baby “Esmeralda” is doing much better, with her pneumonia almost completely cleared up. She is still in the nursery in a temperature and humidity controlled incubator until there is no trace of pneumonia. After she recovers she will be moved to a larger cage and eventually, like the older skunks, moved to an outdoor enclosure.

The young adult fox that was admitted last week has made remarkable progress, with her wounds healing very well and a strong appetite for scrambled eggs, chicken baby food and pedialyte. It also became evident that she did not have mange. Our older two fox kits are ready for release; we just need to find a landowner with suitable habitat for them to be released into.  In addition to their meatsicles, they got a new enrichment item in the form of a miniature trampoline.

We briefly had a very unusual animal come through our doors too- a juvenile porcupine was found by itself and was brought in. It had an interesting diet, considering that they are lactose intolerant.  While she ate well and appeared healthy, she passed away from unknown causes in the night. While this is sad, there are animals that come in with genetic and congenital defects that negatively impact their chances of survival. It was an interesting and rare experience to be able to be in such close proximity to one of these elusive animals, even if we did not directly handle her (for obvious reasons). 

Sunday, July 19, 2015

Wild Baby Rescue, Week 7

This week at Wild Baby Rescue, not many new animals came in while I was there. However, an awesome addition to the facility is the porcupette, Puddles. She was brought in this week and has been a joy to have in the facility. She'll be here for a while, since porcupines usually nurse for 5 to 6 months. She makes adorable noises and is quite cute, but those quills can hurt, so we take precautions so that nobody gets hurt. Thick gloves are worn when handling her, and we use a thick blanket to hold her with. This will prevent the quills from sticking into anything or anyone.

Skittles, the groundhog that I am in charge of, is doing quite well. She is gaining so much weight that she doesn't like to be held anymore. She prefers that I feed her through the bars of her cage. I'm also feeding her different things so that she gets accustomed to things other than formula. This week, she got strawberries, basil, kale, lettuce, cherry tomatoes, and cantaloupe. We also released the giant groundhog, Ivan this week. He came into the facility with a nose injury, but he was otherwise perfectly healthy. It wasn't long before he was released, and when he was released, he bounded off into the woods so fast that we couldn't get a picture of him.

We also put a trampoline in with the foxes. This will allow them to learn how to get into the air and catch food out of mid-air. They will need to do this when they are released into the wild.

Monday, July 13, 2015

Wild baby rescue week 6 (July 7th)

The week in one word: BUSY. As the animals we’re raising are getting older, larger, more mature and closer to being released, they need more mental stimulation as well as “training” in skills they will need in order to survive in the wild. I mentioned all the enrichment we’ve done in my last post, but I will give a short summary: The raccoons are still getting bowls of water, and our singleton raccoon got some extra entertainment by having to figure out how to unscrew the top of a baby bottle to get to a tasty treat. The foxes get their bag of meat, live and dead fish, and this week something new!  The skunks get bowls of earthworms, and the squirrels get antler chews and branches. The opossums get hammocks to play on, and finally, the outdoor woodchucks get a digging box, while the indoor ones get gnarly branches and tasty herbs as snacks.  The fox’s new enrichment item this week was a “meatsickle”- chunks of meat and/or fish frozen into blocks of ice, then tossed into their ponds. These were a huge success, with the foxes having to fish them out of the water, wrestle each other for the prize, and chew on it for quite a while to get to their treat. It also helps keep them cool in the balmy 90 degree weather we’ve been having.

The diets of the animals are also changing as they are getting older, evolving from formula to soft solids to diets similar to what they would be eating in the wild. The foxes are getting a mixture of chicken gizzards (or boiled thighs), soft-boiled eggs, peaches, cherries, and fish. Squirrels went from being hand fed specially made formula to eating peanuts, sunflower seeds, apples, cucumbers, and watermelon out of dishes. The groundhogs are eating almost the same thing as the squirrels, however, they do not get sunflower seeds, they get a large amount of lettuce, and in order to help them pack on the pounds for hibernation, they still get a bowl of formula in the morning.  The baby opossums are getting a mixture of formula, soaked cat chow, baby food (meat, veggies and fruit) and yogurt.  The fawns are still getting their bottles, but they are also beginning to forage, as well as eat pellets and hay.  Because the raccoons are still extremely young, they are still getting formula mixed with yogurt and baby food.

This week we got in a few new animals, including two very young opossums, a chipmunk, a fawn with a head injury due to a car accident, and an adult groundhog who had also apparently been hit by a car.  They opossums are doing well, as is the groundhog who should be ready to release very shortly. The fawn was being kept in the nursery, and as a result of his head injury, continuously walks in circles. A young adult female fox was also admitted with severe wounds on her hind end, fleas, ticks, and mange. Her wounds were cleansed and treated with antibiotics, and the parasites were removed.  She has made remarkable progress! Her wounds are healing extremely well, she is eating and drinking by herself, and she has gained a little weight. She should be ready for release in the coming weeks. 

WMNF Bear Patrol: Week Eight

Monday (7/6) through Wednesday (7/8) I was not feeling so great so I took Wednesday off as a sick day. Was lucky enough that Mon/Tues were already my days off after the busy weekend. 

Thursday (7/9) we were patrolling the Kanc all day, got into many in depth conversations with multiple sites of older folks at Covered Bridge, previously experienced backpackers but were well retired. They had a lot to say and we had a good time talking about bear and moose encounters they've experienced. When arriving at Hancock, we caught wind that a bear had walked through the campground just an hour earlier. Starting to think this whole thing is a hoax... However, I am confident I will see at least one bear before I leave this internship! 

Friday (7/10) we followed up with Covered Bridge and Blackberry Crossing area. Covered Bridge had a sighting of a bear reported by the host at his own site. The host had a box with their Cornhole game in it. Unfortunately, the bags contained corn and were left out overnight. The wife mentioned she saw the bear through the woods that night. In the morning the bags were found ripped open and a few were missing from the box. They also stated they saw the fox that night. We are certain it was the bear that took the corn bags and ran. We patrolled the Kanc until 1630 and realized we didn't have time to stop at Russell Pond which was going to be our last routine visit. After we returned home we found an email of an incident report that occurred at Russell Pond campground that morning and the night before (7/9) A large ~450lb male bear came through two campsites between the hours of 2300 and 0200 hrs. The first site (C9) had all food properly secured. However, their storage container holding tools, lamps, etc which resembled a cooler was torn into. The party yelled at the bear and it left but kept returning to the site throughout the night. 

Saturday (7/11) we returned to Russell Pond with Clara to follow up on the second incident and also brought a Bear Alert Sign with us to post up at the front entrance. This second site that was approached by the bear (F3) was where the bear received the food reward. It had rained the night of 7/9 and the occupant's daughters decided to have smores after their he (father) went to bed. The rain started and they retreated to their tents, leaving out the marshmellows and cookies. The bear came into their site and ate the marshmellows. The father, an experienced hunter, did all he could to scare it away made loud noises, set off his car alarm. The bear was persistent and stayed near. The bear was weaving his head and apparently bluff charged at the guy. It took the neighbor's revving of a motorcycle to get the bear to leave. The bear returned in the morning when the occupant of site F3 went to retrieve his cooler from his truck cab where it was properly stored. The bear came down again into his site at ~0730 hrs and flipped open his cooler the guy tried to scare it away but it maintained the same boldness as to claim his territory and his food. The bear would not leave the site again until about 15 min of deterring from the occupant (throwing rocks at other boulders to make loud noises) the bear stayed within the woods and meandered up his usual route. These two sites are along a wooded ridge line on the western side of the campground. Apparently this is the normal route for the bear to travel. After re-interviewing the occupant we understood the behavior from this bear, though persistent, was more of a defensive behavior than an aggressive behavior. There was no intent on harming the humans (ears laid back, snapping or teeth clacking, intense staring), it was purely an action towards the food he was so conditioned to. This bear has a very comfortable association with humans and their food, meaning he has lost his natural fear. Clara is thinking that this is the same large bear from Hancock that was deterred from that area last year.

We spent the rest of the day on hazing patrol around Russell Pond with our vests and gear (15mm bird banger, bear pepper spray, safety glasses, whistle, cans of rocks) and hoped to be able to deter the bear if sighted. We did not see the bear that day but left our sent along his game trail behind site F3 where he frequented. We didn't have ammonia with us to put down around the area (their noses are quite sensitive to it) so we sprayed some bear pepper spray on a rock away from the campsite and in the direction of wind. Hopefully leaving our scent will keep him out of the wooded area. 

Sunday (7/12) we continued to patrol the area of Russell Pond and found some problem sites from yesterday that didn't seem to get the hint. We brought in some FPOs that were in the area so they could write up citations for unattended coolers. A lot of people were packing up so most had their belongings out but it was good to hear that there were no other bear incidents the night before.