Author Archives: Adam Taylor

Restoration work on Mt Moriarty

It’s November (just in case you’re not near a calendar). That means all the marmots should be in bed, and we should be busy writing field season reports. Things aren’t going to plan. 

Continuous, heavy rain delayed planned restoration work for over a month, but just as we were giving up hope, a brief break in the weather enabled us to get a crew into Mt Moriarty to restore a key feature of marmot habitat – sight lines.

When marmots see a predator near their meadow, they will sit up, often on a high rock near a quick escape into a safe burrow. If the predator gets too close, the marmots whistle to alert the rest of the colony, and if the predator continues to approach, the marmot will whistle again and then dive for its escape route. It is not a foolproof system, but it generally works reasonable well as long as conditions are right.

One of those conditions is maintaining sight lines. If the marmots cannot see the predators because of trees or branches, then the warning system falls apart. In the past, this cover was cleared from marmot meadows by avalanches, but a number of years of below average snow falls have allowed significant cover to grow in a number of meadows in the more southern marmot colonies.
Our first priority was Mt Moriarty in the Nanaimo Lakes region. Our restoration goal at Mt Moriarty was to remove this stalking cover by hand, restore the marmots’ sight lines, and minimize disruption to the marmots. In October, Crew Leader Mike Lester prepared the site with staff from BC Wildfire Service and Island Timberlands by flagging all marmot hibernacula – no work would be conducted too close to a burrow – and making safety plans for the site by marking and clearing debris from access trails, flagging hazards, and planning how to manage woody debris to eliminate any increased risk of wildfire with the BC Wildlife Service. After that, all we needed was a small patch of dryish weather and the work could get done.

We waited. And waited. And started making contingency plans. And finally, after a record-setting month of rain, we spotted a clearing in the weather. Mike and volunteers Sean, Jerry, and Alicia headed up to do the work. It can be hard to see in the photos, but they put in an incredible day and got about 95% of problematic cover removed! Hopefully, the marmots that hibernate in the meadow were blissfully unaware of anything unusual happening, and will awake in the spring to an improved view.

The Foundation is extremely grateful to Sean, Jerry, and Alicia, all whom work for the Ministry of Forests, Lands, and Natural Resource Operations, for volunteering for a hard job and doing amazing work. Also to Island Timberlands and the BC Wildfire Service for coming out with Mike to prepare the site and assisting with safety and fire plans. Environment Canada’s Habitat Stewardship Program also matched donations and volunteer time for this work, which made this project possible. Thank you all!

We hope the marmots don’t notice a thing – except for predators of course!

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The Marmoteer – Online!

Followers of our work to recover the Vancouver Island Marmot have been receiving our annual newsletter the Marmoteer by mail. Now we’re happy to offer it as a online pdf file as well! This winter we’ll be working on an email distribution option – stay tuned! In this issue, find out more about our work to help the Strathcona population of marmots and meet our new Executive Director, Adam Taylor!

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 Download the 2016 Marmoteer!

Marmots heading to Hibernation: End of season check-ups underway

It’s the end of September and many of the marmots are headed to hibernation (as our social media accounts!). Mike Lester and Wildlife Veterinarian Malcolm McAdie are doing final checkins on the marmots.  At Castlecrag they found nice weather and active marmots, but it was clear that they were getting ready for a long winter’s nap. As the end of season approaches, the marmots stay very close to their burrow.

One of our marmots, Kirby was detected in a burrow on Castlecrag; a bit of a surprise since we released him on a different mountain! Admittedly, Kirby’s release site was reasonably close to Castlecrag, and it is great to see the marmots move around between these close colonies. Kirby is sharing Castlecrag with Johann, Shiraz, Daisy2, Howard, plus Mia and her pups, as well as an unknown male we suspect is there. A great marmot community!

Meanwhile on “P” Mountain, P Gal and Canoe are down already! We located their plugged burrow last week.  The weather at “P” Mountain is cooler, but it was earlier than we expected.  The Marmot plug their burrow with rocks to keep safe from snow or predators, and it looks like P Gal and Canoe are nicely tucked in for winter!
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Here’s a close up of the marmot burrow, with a GPS for scale.  Still not a lot to look at! But it will protect the marmots against winter weather and predators for 7 months.

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Thanks to Mike Lester for these photos!

 

Farewell to our 2016 Field Crew

As the summer comes to a close, it’s time to say farewell to many of our field crew, most of whom are returning to school. We’ll continue to post some of their photos and stories on here, and celebrate the tremendous amount of work they’ve put in this summer to care for the Vancouver Island Marmot and its habitat.

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From left to right: Mike Lester, Noberto Pancera, Joey Chrisholm, Andrew Horsfield, Marina Gray, Jordan Cormack, and Cheyney Jackson. Not pictured are Malcolm McAdie (Wildlife Veterinarian), Alana Buchanan (Marmot Keeper), Kim Metz (Office Coordinator) and Adam Taylor (Executive Director)

Willellen and Rex

Your gifts to the Foundation have made it possible for us to put the Vancouver Island Marmot back on a path towards recovery and away from extinction.  One way we say “thank you” is by giving our donors a chance to name-a-pup in the fall.

Hollis is an new marmot mom at Mt Washington, and her children from last year are growing up fast, and are now playing an important role in rebuilding the Strathcona population. Willellen was the only female of Hollis’ 2015 litter. She loves to box with her brothers. Rex is very close to his sister Willellen and they were often found in the same burrow or boxing. Both were born on Mount Washington, but were moved into Strathcona Provincial Park.

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Willellen and Rex’s mom Hollis at Mt Washington in May 2016.

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While it is still early in the year for Vancouver Island marmots, our survey results so far have been positive. Overwinter survival for the marmots has been high, particularly among breeding aged females. This is exactly what we hope to find at this time of year. Later in the summer when pups start to emerge, we will be looking for signs of reproduction – that is to say active pups. We have feeders out at a number of colonies, which we believe may help the marmots reproduce more frequently. Our fingers are crossed that lots of those breeding-aged females have litters!

Many people have been asking about the weather. Vancouver Island has had a particular cold and wet spring, which followed a cold winter! However, it does not seem to have had any negative impact on the marmots. In fact, weather station data suggests that after a few mild alpine springs, this year’s alpine weather was closer to the historic norm.

While there is a lot of work ahead of us this year, this is good news for the start of the season!
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Vancouver Island marmots are emerging from hibernation. This is wonderful news, but also a challenging time of year for the marmots. As they recover from 7 months of sleep, the marmots rely on the last of their stored energy reserves. Once they have reinvigorated their digestive system, they are able to find food, even in the snow covered mountains. Conditions in the alpine this year are fairly normal, despite the poor weather we have had at lower elevations.

We have put out feeders, targeted to help females improve their body condition rapidly. In turn, we hope they will breed more often than they would without help.

The BBC did a great segment on the challenge Vancouver Island marmots face this time of year:

www.youtube.com/watch?v=Svm6yqKx-Go
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