Tuesday, March 29, 2011

Ordway Trip Pt. 2

The following morning came early at the Ordway. We were up and ready to go at 7:30. The first thing on the agenda was checking the Sherman traps from the night before for mice. To my surprise, we caught quite a few and jotted down some data on caught mice in four different areas. Dr. McCleery said that someone usually fumbles a mouse each trip and guess who got the privilege of being that person?

Oh yeah...definitely me.

The physics behind how my mouse escaped from me is still in question. Mice were transferred from the traps into a bag so that we could identify species and sex them. At some point during the work up it somehow shot like a rocket out of a gallon ZipLock bag and hurtled itself to freedom.

But I couldn't simply let it escape that easy. With a few choice words and my usual retarded-cat-like reflexes, I reached out and attempted to catch (slap) the mouse out of midair. I, however, missed the grab and proceeded to only launch the mouse higher into the air. At this point, everyone in the group had looked up to see me playing catch with my specimen and noticed the mouse doing somersaults about head level. Now I had the mouse right where I wanted him. A simple free fall that would land it right in my open palm. But somewhere in the 3 seconds that this all took place, a tiny thought bubbled up in my head.

This mouse is going to bite the tar out of you when you catch it.

So I decided, with my infinite wisdom, not to catch the mouse. My tiny rodent aviator then landed in the sand with a 'plop' and quickly disappeared into the nearby brush.

The next thing on the to-do list for the day was dip netting. I know that some people in my class -really- enjoyed this, but I didn't. We walked around unfished lakes and dipped nets in the weeds to find tadpoles and what-not. It was interesting seeing a siren in real life, but wasn't really worth the sloshing, trudging, slipping, and falling in the mud.

After lunch we proceeded to practice some distance sampling. Distance sampling is when a person walks a straight line (transect) and notices animals from that line. When an animal is spotted, the observer takes note of how far the animal is and at what angle it is. With this information, one can determine the animal's true distance from the transect and eventually the animal's density in the area. Everyone's transect was 1/2 miles long and set off in a random direction through the woods. The only interesting thing that happened on my transect was that I nearly stepped on two rabbits. They flushed about 3 feet away from me. Aside from that and verbally abusing the horrible GPS's that were given to us, the distance sampling was uneventful.

The next thing we did was set out carnivore traps. We baited the Tomahawk traps with cat-food and sardines and let them sit over night.

After that, we got to do what I'd been looking forward to all trip: Hand grabbing alligators. I was expecting us to ride around on an airboat or possibly a jon boat. I wasn't, however, surprised when I discovered that our airboats had turned into aluminum canoes. We were set out on a lake at night and armed with nothing but paddles and spot lights. Our goal was to paddle up to small <3 ft. alligators, grab them, and throw them in the boat.

Just like any time I'm given a fly rod, stack of papers, or paddle, the wind kicked up to a mild gale. And of course, the only way to get out of the wind was to paddle across the lake. After paddling for close to a half an hour, we made it to the far side of the lake and started looking for gators. To my surprise, we weren't seeing many. We proceeded to paddle around for over an hour and I had just about given up hope. Suddenly, the guy paddling up front in the canoe started yelling that there were a bunch of eyes glowing up along the shore. I didn't see the eyes personally, but took his word for it. The only problem with the location of the eyes was that they were on the other side of about 50 yards of hydrilla. At this point I just wanted to catch -something- so we went ahead and got up to ramming speed in order to break through the weeds. The canoe then came to a sudden halt.

I looked around to see HUNDREDS of little alligators swimming all around the canoe. We grabbed as many as we could but since we were stuck, we only managed three before the others got just out of reach. I then proceeded to try and free the canoe. It turns out we were stuck almost on a gator nest and the canoe wouldn't budge from the mud pit I'd managed to stick us in. Every time I went to push the canoe off, I'd almost lose the paddle in chest deep mud.

Luckily, after about 30 minutes of prayer, near herniation, and refusal to call for help, we freed the canoe and were on our way back to shore. I did radio in to the FWC gator biologist that was also on the water and told him to bring his canoe over our direction to get the gators we missed.

Back at shore, we worked up the gators by measuring, weighing, and sexing them. The group I radioed soon came back to shore and had filled a bucket with close to 40 baby gators from the same hole we were stuck in. The work up took a decade and we weren't done until almost midnight. I did, however, enjoy it and would love to get to do it again.

I barely dragged my exhausted self from the tent Sunday morning and met up with my group at 7:30 on the dot. We then drove off to check the carnivore traps that we'd set the evening before. Out of ten traps, we managed 4 possums and 2 raccoons. One possum had babies in her pouch and I'm still kicking myself for not taking a picture of the little pink guys. We got the possums from the traps with a noose and did a quick field work up on them with sex and weight. The first three possums were quite upset and did their usual hissing-I'll-kill-you dance in the trap and only got more upset when we noosed them.
The last possum, however, we beyond upset. He was downright livid and guess who happened to be carrying the noose?

Once again, yours truly.

I squatted down in front of the trap and proceeded to noose the possum when we opened the door. It was only then that I realized that this possum was giant. WAY bigger than the other three. I soon wrangled Mr. Big McLarge-Huge from his trap and we worked him up. I'd never held onto a possum's tail before and it was a bit weird having his prehensile tail grab hold of my fingers.

We took the two raccoons back to camp and did a more thorough work up on them. In order to do this we had to sedate them. The drug we used was Ketamine Hydrochloride and our professor put the effects in the terms: "All the lights are on, but nobody's home". Apparently, Ketamine's 'street name' is special K. That's right...street name. Meaning that someone, somewhere, is shooting this stuff up and staring mindlessly at the ceiling until it wears off. I imagine though, that no one is measuring, sexing, aging, microchipping, tooth inspecting, and weighing a Special K junkie while they're on a trip.
The last thing we did was look down a few Gopher tourtise holes with a camera. It would have been a bit more interesting had it not been the last few minutes of the field trip (I was beyond ready to leave) and had we actually seen animals inside the holes. As soon as we were done, I packed up my stuff and headed back home to Pensacola.

Overall the Ordway trip was a good time...better than I expected even. Especially when you consider the fact that I had two days of my spring break stolen from me.

Sunday, March 27, 2011

FWC Office Trip & Ordway Trip Pt. 1


I'm WAY behind on my writing...school has been...crazy. I haven't had much time to do anything aside from work. Hopefully that will change soon. I'll be posting in little spurts when I find the time.

FWC Office Trip:

The week after I got back from the 'Glades, my Wildlife Techniques class took a trip to the FWC office here in Gainesville. The purpose of the trip was to show us some trapping techniques that they use for different species. We looked at turtle traps, amphibian traps, bear traps, and something called a rocket net.

The idea behind the rocket net is that you bait an animal (deer, turkey, etc.) for a few weeks until they're used to the net being nearby. Then, when the day finally comes, you sit in a blind a few yards away and wait for the animals to show up. When they've gotten in the right spot, you fire the net and capture the animal(s). This...works in theory. From what I've been told, however, the rocket nets have a nasty habit of decapitating our furry and feathery friends. But, it's all in the name of science...right? The rocket net has loaded charges that fire an iron tube at an angle over an area. The tubes take with them the rest of the net. After picking one up, I can understand why they sometimes kill the animal...they must way 8 lbs. a piece.

The other thing that I found particularly interesting was the bear leg snare trap. It's spring loaded and requires the bear to step on the spring to trigger the trap.

Luckily for me, my teachers managed to keep me hostage on a mandatory field trip during my spring break. After raging for only a few days about this, I drove my Jeep out to the Ordway Swisher Biological Station located outside of Melrose Fl. The station is used by UF strictly for research and my Wildlife Techniques class would be spending the weekend out there learning...well...wildlife techniques. What really drove me crazy about the Ordway was the fact that no one is allowed to hunt/fish there. And, of course, there are deer, turkey, and other fun things coming out of the woodwork. So lakes like the one below, will never get to see a lure.

The first evening we spent setting and baiting small mammal (mouse/rat) traps. These were Sherman box traps that simply catch the animal inside by having them step on a pressure plate and a door closes behind them.
Once night fell, we loaded up in a truck and drove around on an owl survey. I didn't feel particularly well as my spam dinner was disagreeing with my stomach. It was very interesting, however, that we managed to call a Barred Owl to the truck and got to see him fly around the canopy above us.

The final thing we did that evening was 'shake and bake' a mouse. This was possibly the coolest thing I've ever seen. The company DayGlo makes a powder that glows bright orange when placed under a blacklight. We were able to capture a mouse in the Sherman traps and cover it with the DayGlo powder. We then shut off all of our headlamps and turned on blacklight flashlights. The result was an BRIGHT orange mouse, running around the brush. It looked something like predator and I failed to get any pictures because I was so entranced by it. After letting the mouse run off for about 10 minutes, we were able to follow his little orange tracks and find his burrow. I believe someone in the group got a video of it, so I'll have to see if I can find it and post it later.

To my surprise, the following day was even more interesting...