Through the looking lens
Tuesday and Friday
This week is about getting back into the rhythm of Big Oaks. And I got to play tour guide! The new spring intern had already been here a week before I arrived and has been completing the driving training to be able to drive government vehicles and the fire training to be ready for fire season. But the fun happens inside the refuge. Not that we don't get along in the office, because we do, but as an outdoor person, outside is where I prefer to be. Plus there's many interesting things to see. So I gave her a in depth tour of the eastern side of the refuge. As we were driving along she spotted an adult opossum! It was poking its nose in some leaves right next to the road. It instantly froze when we pulled up next to it. It's okay to look at wildlife, but it's important to be respectful to them. We watched him for about 2 minutes, took a couple of pictures and drove off wishing him/her the best of luck!* Today, I'll give her a tour of the western side. I'll also show her the route that she has to complete for the fire pack test. Teaching someone is a great way to test your knowledge. I was surprised that I remembered the roads as well as I did. Usually, sense of direction is not my forte.
*Opossums eat ticks! They are a benefit to your backyards, not a nuisance!
Bright and early! Or should I say dark and early?
The sun had not risen yet when the three interns departed for Muscatatuck NWR. It had barely risen when they arrived at Muscatatuck. In the world of biology, one eventually realizes that the hours 8-4 or 9-5 sometimes have no meaning. You are awake when nature is awake. And nature, well, it never really sleeps. There's always something lurking around somewhere at what humans could consider to be outrageous hours (like 2am…). They just have different lifestyles than us! We (usually) sleep at night while many animals live at night. But in this case, the tundra swans, Canada geese, white fronted geese, mallards, green winged teal, blue winged teal, northern pintail, two northern shovelers, gadwalls, ring-necked ducks, two hooded mergansers, sandhill cranes, and cackling geese were just up early.
Well that didn't take me too long to write! A nice variety of species!
Using binoculars, we count and sometimes estimate the number of waterfowl in the different wetlands throughout the refuge. For the untrained eye (me for example) it can be difficult to identify species and count all of them. Even with binoculars, distinct features can be hard to see if the sun is not "in the right place." So, sometimes you have to compare shapes and sizes. For example the cackling geese are smaller than the canada geese. Mallards have round heads compared to hooded mergansers who's head extends vertically before rounding out. It's a practice that needs practice.
Waterfowl surveys provide refuge staff with information about water management. Refer to this blog for more information: https://www.bigoaksconservationsociety.org/single-post/what-happened-this-week-again . Overall, water depth influences vegetation species which in term influences waterfowl species.
The weather was playing games with us. We started with almost no rain, which escalated into heavier rain, which drifted off exposing a bright blue sky with white puffy clouds, and then it went back to being cloudy… But during the small window of sunlight, we were able to venture on a back bumpy, wet, and muddy road that led to a part of the refuge I had never seen before. And we saw 100 tundra swans! So getting splashed on the way back was totally worth it! And let's be honest, who doesn't take a UTV out to get a little dirty? Isn't that what they are for?
There was one thing the weather was consistent on: the wind. It was windy the whole time! I like changes in weather so I could have cared less!
We left at 6:45am and got back at 12:30pm. These surveys take time! Especially when there are hundreds of waterfowls to count!
Additional information: I was asked if shed hunting is allowed on the refuge. Yes, it is allowed during the public use season (we open April 17th). You are NOT allowed to sell the antlers if you find some.
Two attempts of mine to get pictures of waterfowl through the binocular lenses. It's kind of complicated to keep the hand holding the binoculars steady as you move the phone camera to align it with the ocular lens but oh well! Had the idea and had to try it out!
Anybody want to guess what kinds of waterfowl we see in these two pictures?