My adventures in 2015 have kept me closer to home than is usual and my weekend at the Algonquin Research Station, only two hours from Bala, was an exceptional adventure.
Algonquin Park has been hosting researchers since 1944 with last year being their 70th anniversary. We began our weekend late Friday afternoon with introductions form Kevin Clute, Group Education Coordinator for Friends of Algonquin Park, and Tim Winegard, Research Station Manager. We,the participants, introduced ouselves, had a tour of the station and were assigned cabins.
I was lucky to be assigned a cabin with running water, flush toilet and heat as the temperature went down to -5 C overnight. The water system in the wash/bathroom house froze!
After an early breakfast Saturday morning “Small Mammal” researchers, Morgan and Sloan, from the University of Guelph, took us out to one of their trap lines to see what they had caught overnight.
Morgan and Sloan are participating in studies that have been ongoing for 64 years. Using Longworth and Sherman live traps they bait for shrews, jumping mice, deer mice and voles using water soaked sunflower seeds, meal worms and also polyester bedding. Unfortunately, shrews do not do well when trapped but various attempts are made to mitigate the problems. The only one captured had succumbed to by the time we found it.
For me, the highlight was the capture of a Woodland Jumping Mouse. I have never seen one before and Doug Smith and I have discussed the possibility of doing an article on jumping mice. They have beautiful colouring with a wide dark strip down their backs and a very long white-tipped tail. I asked Morgan where I would likely find one and she told me she didn’t really know as she has seen them only in the traps.
After weighing and measuring, each new capture is given an ear tag and released.
Even though flying squirrels are not part of the research being done by Morgan and Sloan, three of their traps held Southern Flying Squirrels. These were released without any measurements being taken.
Ironically, the squirrel researchers had not caught a single flying squirrel in any of their traps up to that part of the season.
From the small mammals we went on to reptiles and amphibians. These guys did a great job capturing a few amphibians considering the cold temperature overnight. They had a small and larger bullgrog caught near the dam where the local turtles nest.
From frogs to turtles brought us to the beach where one of the large mesh traps was setup to show how they were trapped. The biggest Snapping Turtle captured was Cujo, who had been counted for the twenty-first year. He weighs about 18 kg and he took every possible opportunity to attempt to get back to water.
Matt Keevil is the man holding Cujo. I met him again last Friday as I was trying to herd a female Snapping Turtle, tag #741, across Hwy 60. She decided she didn’t want to go at that time and quickly turned around and headed back to where she had started. I saw three other females laying eggs that morning in the soft, warm rain. Matt said that one of their tagged females had been killed on Hwy 60 the day before.
We were shown several different ways of determining the sex of Midland Painted Turtles. The first one is the long length of the male’s from claws.
The female’s tail is shorter and narrower than the male’s as shown.
Once again, during the day this time, and with no snow on the ground, Steve led us out to Bat Lake for an overview of the BLISS program. BLISS stands for Bat Lake Inventory of Spotted Salamanders, in which I had been lucky enough to be involved during another wonderful workshop in early May. Steve had managed to find a Spotted Salamander along with a Red Striped Salamander and its counterpart the Lead-backed Salamander. Another surprise for this late date was a Spotted Salamander egg mass. Here held by one or our participants, Laverne. This egg mass shows the green algae associated with the egg masses of this species.
Squirrel researchers, Elliot and Sarah, demonstrated their methods of trapping flying squirrels and Red Squirrels. We saw one of their traps attached to a tree branch with one of several Red Squirrels inside. They move the squirrel into a bag and then do measurements and apply an ear tag.
All of the Red Squirrels that had been trapped, already had ear tags, showing that they were retraps and likely less afraid of the traps and measuring procedures than the promise of a goody consisting of a peanut butter ball with additional nuts and seeds.
On Saturday evening Coley and Alex spoke to us about the ongoing Gray Jay studies in which they were involved. Tim and others got everyone but me up to see their banding of the latest recorded nest of unfledged young. I was unable to bend my knees enough to get down from the dock into the canoe and I carried on with other things. I was lucky to have been able to watch Dan Strickland and two of his assistants band a nest of young about twenty years ago and did not feel I had missed out on anything.
Our last event was presented by researchers Sandra, from Brazil, and Nathan who explained how they trap insects at various hours of the day and night to discover just what may be are available for birds to eat in the Park.
As I am unable to walk very far or on uneven ground I was allowed to use my car to get from site to site which allowed me to participate in almost every activity with no problems. At times a couple of others joined me as well.
It was a well-planned and executed weekend with personal time included. Meeting the people who do the research and being able to see just what they do was exciting and informative. All the other participants had interesting stories to tell as well.
Any adults interested in joining the group next year should begin planning now. Be prepared for biting bugs, rain, cold, heat and all other possibilities. It will be spring in Algonquin Park after all!
The Algonquin Wildlife Research Station needs financial help to survive. Please consider doing what you can.
All photographs included in this and all my blogs are the property of the photographer, Eleanor Kee Wellman, and may not be used for any purpose without my written permission.