My Montana

My Montana
My Montana

Sunday, June 8, 2014

Bug Catcher in Training

There is a lot of research focused on the sage grouse because a decision  will be made next year as to whether to list the species as threatened or endangered. A big research project is going on at the refuge. Fifty--one (I think)  hens have been captured on the leks radio collared and several interns are currently monitoring them.  The birds are nesting and the first clutch has hatched. One of the objects of this study is to be able to characterize habitats that the mother grouse choose to forage in with their clutches.

I drove through the Gravelly mountains on the north side of the refuge to get to the training sit

The plants in these habitats will be identified as will the insects. That is where I, and many other people will get involved in this study.  We will go out several days a week and set insect traps at sites where the telemetry guys  have determined a radio collared grouse is foraging with her chicks.

Pronghorn antelope  I closely passed

Last Tuesday, I went to the north side of the refuge, where the Nature Conservancy maintains a site to meet with my biologist boss, Kyle Cuttings, and the instructors from a group called Ecology Project International, who matches high school kids with research projects across the world. The instructors will bring one or two groups out here every week and they will be setting traps and collecting and sorting the insects..  Kyle explained the study to us and then took us out into the field to learn the collecting protocols. The EPI students will be collecting bugs, and then sorting them into orders of bees, grasshoppers, ants beetles, and others. I'll be doing the same thing, along with another summer employee.

We drive as far as we can and then get out and walk 

The first thing we have to learn is to navigate to the sites.  We'll be given the waypoints of the hen location and told the roads we have to take to get there. This part is still mostly unknown to me but I'll be working on it starting next week.

Getting all the equipment we need

Heading to a waypoint location

When we get to the waypoint. we'll dig an insect pit trap hole big enough to hold a 2-liter soft drink bottle that has had the top cut off if it.  We are using the bottles to protect small mammals from getting killed in the traps.  The bottle holds our sample cup which has a little salt water in it to preserve our insects.  We then invert the neck of the bottle into the bottom part of the bottle.  This keeps the top part shallow enough to allow the mammals to climb out while allowing the insects to fall through the hole into the cup of salt water.

Boss Kyle Cutter digging the hole

Then backfilling around the bottom of the bottle 

Very carefully getting the soil EVEN with the top of the bottle

Kyle explaining how inverting the top into the bottle after putting in the sample cup will prevent small mammals from drowning

Pouring less then an inch of salt water into the trap cup

Finally we add a few sticks over the trap and tie a tiny piece of orange tape on an adjacent bush 

We'll set up the first trap at the waypoint given us for the hen's last location. Then we'll set up four  more  traps around the first on,  on a twenty-five foot radius - one north, west, south, and east.

We also have to collect grouse scat within the trap circle.   This will be sent off to determine if it came from the radio-collared hen or her chicks. I actually found some old scat when we practiced this.But it will be much harder if I'm working alone or with a partner than if we are working in a group. Wit a group we could just make a line from the center trap to on of the others and then slowly walk the circle.

Grouse scat - each piece is about the width of my little finger nail maybe twice as long

We have to collect the insects after 48 hours and then try to get them separated from as much dirt as possible  before sorting  into the groups usually eaten by the grouse.  We'll sort into 4 groups plus everything else. That seemed hard, but hopefully, I can wash more dirt away than we did in the training.

We came back and went through the sorting process but we didn't have enough bugs to make that interesting to you.

I'm also surveying bluebirds and will soon put up a blog about that.  I ran my trail Thursday and Friday evenings and found my first hatchlings.

I also had to move from the bunkhouse to the house when a new guy arrived.  I'll move one more time to a volunteer trailer. I'm also doing data entry for the Beaver Dam project that is trying to determine if beaver dams stop the grayling from getting to their spawning sites. I've looked at thousands of pictures so far and have several thousand to go.  I'll also be entering sage grouse data and bluebird data.