Monday, March 13, 2017

Maine DIFW Regional Wildlife Biologist Intern Week 6

February 20-26 "Everything is a fair bit faster with sleds"

Up until this point, the ice had been pretty barren and was very easy to scoot around on real quick. But then, the annual snowpocalypse came, and we were up to our hips in snow drifts on lakes and ponds that would require miles of walking with duck boxes and shavings in tow.

The solution? SNOWMOBILES!!!

These aren't exactly racing sleds or extreme off-trail sleds, but they do get the job done. They're a little tipsy (being both lightweight and thin; it's apparently not uncommon to roll one according to the stories from the office) and really don't like to start sometimes (they're going on 30 years old, so for what they can still do I'll accept that) but they do get the job done and make things a whole lot easier.

I've driven snowmobiles plenty before, but it wasn't until we got off of the boat launch that I realized that I had never driven in conditions like these before. The snow was incredibly deep and very fluffy; it was very easy to sink and get stuck. My co-intern is a very avid snowmobiler and he held his own very well; I sunk myself three times trying to get onto the lake from the boat launch. However, with a few mistakes, I quickly learned the technique (essentially leaning in such ways that keep as much of the track bearing down into the snow as possible; I got quite a leg workout) and before I knew it, we were accomplishing wood duck boxes at speeds that I would have been very jealous of before. Not only was it faster, but it made the whole process of having to carry out extra boxes, snowshoes, and shavings that much easier.

Snowmobiles are incredibly important to the department for winter. Biologists use them for a variety of tasks; wood duck boxes, creel census, bear den telemetry, lynx track surveys, moose telemetry, and more. Wardens also use them quite extensively, including trail and lake use. They're a lot of fun, but my supervisor Keel told us how on his first day working for the department, he met the danger of sleds if they aren't used properly. Apparently he gunned the throttle going across a lake, and was thrown from the sled, causing it to cartwheel and him to slide some innumerable distance across the lake.

"You think you don't need the helmet as much as you do. When you hit the ice, you hit it harder than you can imagine, and that helmet saved my life."

The box maintenance itself was pretty average; another good amount of unhatched nests and some fledglings that, for whatever reason, never made it out.

Snowmobiling around for wood duck box maintenance took up the majority of my week, so that's all for now. Until next time!