Pam has been volunteering in Banff National Park, most recently doing wildlife photo classification. The project's Research Assistant, Mirjam, needed some help with a couple of other projects in the field and we were happy to get outside and help her out. First stop was checking wildlife track pads in culverts under the TransCanada Highway. The researchers are trying to determine which animals use the culverts to get across the highway and if using the culverts is a learned behaviour or just by chance. After climbing fences and crawling INTO the culverts to collect the track pads, we saw tracks for little guys like mice, bigger animals like weasels and martens and even a couple of coyote tracks.
After collecting all of the track pads, we headed to Field BC where we hiked up Mt. Stephen to the site of a Wolverine Hair Trap. Researchers are trying to get a better handle on how many individual wolverines hang out in the mountain parks and because they are such reclusive animals, the only way to figure this out is to collect DNA samples (hair). There are a number of sites throughout the park where these hair sites are located and they consist of a tree wrapped with barbed wire with bait attached, a really stinky lure and a camera. The idea is that the wolverine smells the lure, then sees the bait and climbs the tree to get it down. As it struggles with the bait, it leaves hair behind on the wire and triggers the motion sensor camera. The "bait" is a large, frozen, skinned beaver and Dale was the lucky beaver schlepper for the day. He carried the 30+ lb beaver in a backpack straight up Mt. Stephen on snow shoes. As he'd never really been on snow shoes before, it took him a while to get the hang of going uphill in fairly deep snow with that weight (and smell!) on his back. When we reached the site, we found that something had taken the previous bait (no sign of the beaver or any tracks) and it left lots of hair behind that we had to collect using a specific protocol. It took a while, there was a lot of hair! Unfortunately the camera had malfunctioned so we're not sure if there was just one wolverine enjoying the beaver snack or more (Mirjam was pretty sure it wasn’t a lynx or cougar, the hair looked like a wolverine’s). After getting all of the hair off the wire, we nailed up our frozen beaver (not as easy as it sounds) and set up the lure which consists of really stinky stuff like blood and guts, poured over a cloth which is attached to a rope and hoisted into a tree. After resetting the camera and changing the battery and memory card, we packed up and headed back down the trail, easier going for Dale without the heavy load. This site was in a restricted area so there isn't much chance that someone would stumble upon it. But just in case, there is a large sign saying "Carcass in Area" with a description of the project on it. Good thing because if someone accidentally came across one of these sites, they would likely think there was some strange cult at work in the area crucifying beavers!
What a great day! We learned something new, got some exercise outside on a nice day and enjoyed hanging out with Mirjam!