08 August 2012

Chasing bison: Cohabitants of the Forest

This is part of a series by Jerod, about his bison research.  All photos are by Jerod, unless noted otherwise.

Photo by Georges Kedl, a 2011 field assistant

Although bison are the focus of my project, working in Prince Albert National Park can be a spectacular experience for those interested in a variety of animals. Many of the species residing in the park are associated with insects and water. If you eat insects – think animals such as dragonflies, bats, and frogs – you are at home in the park. Specifically, if you enjoy dining on mosquitoes, you can gorge yourself from the beginning of June until the end of August, without a break. Those miserable mosquitos are not the only species to benefit from the thousands of acres of standing water in the park - other species, such as ducks, moose, and other insects find food and shelter in the vegetation growing in this warm stagnant water. As I pass through meadows or sit quietly in them, I come across a variety of wildlife, not limited to just bison. 

If you are interested in waterfowl, there is no place like the park. Every section of open water is full of ducks. And, not just one species – we rarely see mallards, but often many others. I have seen over 6 species of waterfowl in one little pond, and you can expect to see just about all the species of waterfowl listed in a western birds field guide.  These are pictures of a green-winged teal and a ruddy duck that I took in the Tap Creek area.  

Elk are elusive in the park, but when they turn up, it is usually in spectacular fashion. This picture was taken after a bison group had left a meadow, and I was still finishing up my data forms. I didn’t notice the cow until I heard a snort. She stomped in front of me for a while, and then eventually retreated into the forest. I assume I was in the area where she had stashed her calf. The lighting was nice, and she posed a few times for me, allowing for some excellent up close photos.

One of my 2012 field assistants, Marie-Pier Amyot,
took this up close and personal photo. 

Sand hill cranes are also a common sighting in the meadows of the park. Just about all meadows house a breeding pair. They can be seen trying to distract you away from their nest by transforming themselves into predator-like form and making a lot of noise (you know what I mean if you have encountered sand hill cranes before). 

White-tailed deer are a dime-a-dozen in the park, and are for sure the most regularly seen ungulate in the park. Rarely a day goes by where you don’t see a deer. If you look closely, you will see that these deer have very long eyelashes that almost wrap around their eye balls - protection from the swarms of mosquitoes and other insects, I assume.  The deer photo below was also taken by Marie-Pier, in the yard of the station.

It is common to see red foxes in the park, particularly when biking down the trails between meadows early in the morning. This year, we actually found a den quite close to the station. Many of our evenings where spent watching the pups wrestle around the den; it was neat to watch them grow up. They proved to be quite difficult to photograph because they only came out just before the sun went down, and they rarely held still enough to capture a good photo. 

As in most of North America, American robins characterize many of the sounds and sights in Prince Albert National Park too. It is common to hear their calls throughout the day, and have them poking around searching for food on the ground next to where you are sitting. I took this photo of a robin as I was watching a group of bison in a meadow. This robin hopped around, catching worms within 50 feet of me, for 10 minutes or so. It would poke its head into the ground, and then occasionally look up at me and check on me. That is how I snapped this photo.

The park is full of moose, but they are generally a rarity to see in the summer. They usually stash themselves deep into the thickets of willow, gorging themselves on leaves. However, occasionally, they come out into the open. My field assistant and I first spotted this moose foraging in Walrod Lake (a pond, really). We spent some time watching her swim around the lake and eating the underwater goodies. At some point she exited the lake, quickly noticed us, and began to move right toward us. The look on her face made us quickly gather up our things, ready to make a hasty retreat. That is exactly what we did, after hearing her grunts and watching her persistently move toward where we were. Again, I imagine that we were standing right near where she had stashed her calf while foraging in the lake… Exciting, but a close call, to say the least.

These interactions with other animals make my work even better – icing on the cake. Even on days when the bison seem like ghosts, disappearing into the forest before I can collect any data, the rest of the wildlife makes up for it.


Danielle Chalfant said...

Cool! His research sounds interesting. Is he trying to count and classify the park's bison or is there a question to be answered? Are these wood bison or plains bison? I look at bison almost every day so it is neat to hear about other populations.

Bethann said...

 Hi Danielle, That is such a great question...range of questions. :)  I am sure you are not the only one wondering.  

I just published an article in the Quebec Chronicle-Telegraph that describes Jerod's project in a little more detail. There are several nuances to his project, and Jerod's research is only part of the larger scope of the over-all project. Here is a link to the article: http://www.qctonline.com/digital_qct/August22.pdf.  Look on page 3 for the article about Jerod's research.

Hope all's well in Yellowstone.

Danielle Chalfant said...

Thanks for the link! Great article. I now see the reason for the research. I would be interested in their results. They would be valuable to apply in Yellowstone as well. Our conflict is 100% outside park boundaries.

Jennie said...

This post was a treat - so fun to hear and see what you were up to in PANP!

Gene said...

Bethann and Jerod,
These are great photos!  Your moose story reminds me of last September while backpacking in Glacier Park, I had a bull moose chase me around a tree.  He came up on me three times.  The first two times I threw sticks and yelled at him.  Finally I gave him a healthy shot of bear (pepper) spray, and he grunted and blundered off into the brush and left me alone. 
Linda and I got in the middle of a bunch of elk earlier this summer also.  Good to hear from you!

Bethann said...

I agree totally - it's so fun to see some of the other things Jerod finds out there in the woods of Saskatchewan. :)

Sounds like quite the episode with that moose!  Glad you had your bear spray along. :)

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