Friday, January 27, 2017

Maine DIFW Regional Wildlife Biologist Intern Week 2

January 24-January 28 "Porcupine Horror Movie"

Week two already! It always feels good to put the uniform on, head out into the flag, and as my supervisor Keel says, "fly the flag".

Sadly, one of my classes in the morning got out late, so I regret to inform you that instead of telling you about wrestling white tailed deer out of nets and putting radio collars and tags on them, I missed the opportunity and got to be on land survey duty again.This time, though, it was all about Swan Island in Richmond.

Swan Island is a very large "island" in the middle of the Kennebec River at the tip of Merrymeeting Bay. It may look inland, but the waters are tidal from the ocean just beyond your sight. It's an IFW managed area, which is essentially shut down this time of year, but is a bustling place in the summer. Visitors come from all over Maine for its fantastic bird watching and wildlife viewing opportunities, as well as camping and summer programs. It is run by folks contracted by IFW who have staff housing on the island, which is a sister to several other buildings on the island. These buildings were our purpose of the day; we had to be sure that they were A. up and running, and B. not eaten by porcupines.

I'm not kidding about the second part.

Myself and another wildlife biologist, John Pratte, slipped our way over to the island and uncovered the ATV used by biologists for transport around the island. We checked the staff house first; everything was still working, the heat was still on, and no sign of porcupine damage. Good. Sweet. Okay.

The campgrounds looked good.

A few hundred feet of icy trails and graceful herds of deer prancing through the woods later, we came upon some houses that were in really rough shape.

All over the houses were giant holes, particularly around the base. We dismounted the ATV and walked toward it. All around its base I could see dung literally BULGING out against the chicken wire that skirted it. I recognized it. It was porcupine dung.

Seriously, LOOK.

 John had tried to devise a way to keep the porcupines out while letting anything that made its way under have a way out. His solution was a locked door that something could chew through. And guess what? The porcupines moved the logs in front of it, unlocked the door, and opened it right up.

"This is all porcupine damage" John told me, pointing to the chewed up house.

Urine and feces leaked from the ceiling.

"Neat" I said.

Sure enough, we encountered a culprit. He's hidden way at the back of the tunnel, behind the massive mound of dung he has building up at the entrance.

In fact, we found several.

A lot of them dead.

I will spare you of any more gross images, a lot of porcupines have died under, in, and around these houses. Everywhere you looked, there were porcupine skulls and bones. 

Just kidding about the pictures thing, one last gross one of this porcupine tibia and fibula among the feces.

It wasn't just porcupines either.

"Vultures nest in this one," John said as we entered the last house.

"You're KIDDING me," I said, expecting to find a huge assortment of dead animal parts from the scavengers. There certainly was plenty porcupine.

John is currently trying to get them to nest about fifty feet away in a tree where he built and installed his own nesting platform for them. It fell down a bit, but he still hopes they'll use it.

Swan Island is a very beautiful place, don't get me wrong; the beautiful herds of deer, the owls, and the coyotes make it a really cool place to be. The campsites and staff houses are awesome. But, the porcupines seem to really run the show there. I wonder if the trespasser who left the footprints at the north end of the island is aware of the horror show on the south end?

Maine Department of Inland Fisheries and Wildlife Regional Wildlife Biologist Intern Week 1

January 16-January 23

Hello all! I'm a junior in the Wildlife Biology program here at Unity with a minor in Environmental Interpretation and Education. I recently took on an internship position with the Maine Department of Inland Fisheries and Wildlife, which is the state's agency for managing fish and wildlife resources. Though they are more famous for their game species management (moose, deer, bear, etc.), they also take part in endangered species conservation, have a research branch, and are home to the prestigious Maine Warden Service.

The position I have taken is an assistant regional wildlife biologist (RWB) at the IFW Sidney office. It is twice a week (sometimes adding on weekends), which is probably one of the most variable positions one can have as a biologist. Daily tasks can be anything from tagging furs to tagging deer to checking land easements. I'll also be taking on tasks of fisheries biologists, which primarily consists of lab work and cruising around on a snowmobile on Maine's lakes interviewing anglers about their catches. I'm three weeks in (I'm a little late to writing these posts...) and I can say that this internship is a blast!

Before we get too far from the word "snowmobiles", I should mention that this internship grants me the opportunity to operate state vehicles and wear a state uniform. Some may think it's not all that fascinating, but words can't describe how pumped I was to have the red MDIFW patches on my arm and be driving a truck with the IFW logos on the sides on my very first day. Picture proof of how excited I was:

Alright, so day one! Tuesday the 17th. I arrive at the Sidney office and get my uniforms and shown my office (OH YEAH! I get my own sweet office too!). My first task that my supervisor, Keel Kemper, gave to me and my co-intern is to build a huge map of our region (the Sidney office manages Region B; it's a very large and diverse region, covering rural land, coast, and cities from Bangor to Belfast, to Augusta, to Brunswick). Since this was our first task, my co-intern and I (I'll refer to him as Zach from now on, since, well his name is Zach and co-intern is kinda lame) took this incredibly seriously as we took apart an old Maine atlas and trimmed it up so that when we stapled it to the wall, it'd look as good as the map on the wall behind us that a previous intern had built for us. 

This map would be used to visualize where all of our Wood Duck (Aix sponsa) nesting boxes were located, and which ones were in need of us to check on. Unbeknownst to us there are thousands of them. We didn't mark them all. In fact, I think we marked four and Keel told us to just give up before it was too late, so we did.

With that done and us feeling like really accomplished little IFW interns, we got our next task from Keel; we had to take his truck (WOO!) down to my hometown area of Litchfield and Bowdoin to get the GPS coordinates of an old Mourning Dove (Zenaida macroura) call survey route. The survey route is part of an old US Fish and Wildlife Service study to monitor mourning doves, which to my understanding is no longer active; however, they were requesting the route coordinates, so off we went!

Keel also asked us to survey a pond that I'm actually pretty familiar with down in the area when we were finished. Caeasar Pond is a protected wildlife area managed by the state, and the fishing there is phenomenal. We were told to look for signs of vandalism or improper use, which there was none, but we got to check out a few Wood Duck boxes and run into our first civilian while in uniform (really interesting feeling! It's like being on "the other side"). We talked a few minutes about people we know in the department and how sea duck populations are doing and whatnot, but we soon wrapped up the task and headed back to complete our first day by tagging an insane number of furs brought into the office.

Trappers technically don't own their catch until they come get them tagged; until then, they're owned by the state. An old man from way up north brought us quite the number of Pine Marten (Martes americana), Fisher (Martes pennanti), Mink (Neovison vison), North American River Otter (Lantra canadensis), and Beaver (Castor canadensis). 

Oh, and I forgot to mention how we got to assist Keel inventory the science/evidence freezer. There were lots of fish for the "fishies" (fisheries biologists) to study later, and lots of dead raptors.
"Most of these either were dead from collisions or starvation," Keel told us.
I was very surprised to find out that birds of prey starve. He showed us how to determine if they starved, if they died of lead poisoning, or natural causes. We did this with anything from barred owls to an eagle. amongst the warden's pieces of deer that were evidence to some poaching case and the woodpeckers, fisher pups, and other birds of prey.

Day two was all about conservation easements. Easements are properties technically owned by civilians, but are in contract with the Department to be areas of conservation. We were tasked with driving down to Westport to survey two easements on the coast. Both were beautiful coastal properties. Essentially, we had to be on the lookout for contract violations and photograph key areas to update a database of our region's easements. It was super icy and windy out there, but we had a blast navigating these properties by any means we had, as we pulled a great intern move and forgot all of our documents at the office with vital pieces of information.

That's all for this first post; this is likely the longest of any I'll have. I'll have the next one up soon!