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Updates from the Team

Vancouver Island marmots on ShawTV

It may have been snowing sideways, but ShawTV’s Kelly Robinson and Derek Johnstone were all smiles as they trekked along with us on our first field day in early May. It was an exciting day for everyone – we saw happy marmots, checked burrows, and confirmed overwinter survival for several individuals. We also had a surprise when we discovered that a notorious wandering female who had left the hill last summer had returned to hibernate with a friend. To watch our field crew in action and see some of Mount Washington’s resident marmots, follow the link to Vancouver Island Marmots – ShawTV Nanaimo.

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Remember Snow?

Each spring, field crew visit Vancouver Island marmot colonies to determine which marmots survived the winter. As part of this task, they also scour the mountain tops to locate the special burrows that marmots hibernate in (called a “hibernaculum”). Usually, this is a fairly easy task. You see, marmots hibernate underground, and so their feet, nose and tummy get covered in soil. In spring, when marmots leave their hibernacula and dig up through several feet of snow to the surface, marmots create a dirty-looking tunnel in the snow that we call an “emergence hole”.

But there’s something missing this spring that we usually see in other years, particularly in the Nanaimo Lakes region. We’ll give you a hint it’s fluffy, white, and a great insulator for hibernating marmots…that’s right, we’re talking about snow! This past winter, there was very little snow at the Nanaimo Lakes marmot colonies. This means that these marmots didn’t even have to dig emergence holes this spring – they just stepped out of their burrows! So in order to show you what an emergence hole looks like, we took a photo at one of the fledgling colonies in Strathcona Provincial Park, where marmots woke up this spring with at least a little bit of snow to dig through.

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Hide and Seek

Our field season kicked off on May 1st, and in their very first week on the project, field crew already discovered something new and exciting – there was an extra litter of marmot pups on Mt. Washington last year! Vancouver Island marmot pups are rarely seen above ground before early July. By this time, the vegetation around their burrow has grown really tall. Pups are excellent at hiding, and so it can be a challenge to see them when they don’t want to be seen. This litter could have won any game of Hide and Seek!

Vancouver Island marmot pups are born in early June, and so these four pups haven’t quite reached their first birthday. But they have survived their first summer and their first hibernation, which is a really good sign. Keep up the great work, pups!

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Meet This Year’s Field Crew

The Vancouver Island marmot field crew is back and better than ever!

This year’s field crew will be guided by crew leader Mike Lester and
returning crew members Shawn Lukas and Patrick Reid. Over time, we’ve found that the most important qualities for field crew are enthusiasm, tenacity, and a curiosity to learn more. You’ll be happy to know that these three have this in spades!

We are also excited to welcome new crew members to our project. Andrew Horsfield, Hannah Hall, Zachary Palmer, and Trevor Dickinson are the fantastic new talent we brought in to help us achieve our recovery goals this summer. With such a keen group of marmoteers, we know that the Vancouver Island marmot is in good hands this summer!

Check in again for our wild updates.

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It’s spring and we’re off to an early start!

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After a very light winter with almost no snow on many of our lower elevation colonies, the marmots were up early this spring. This was confirmed by one of our returning field crew, who was so excited for another marmot season that he couldn’t quite wait until our official start date on May 1st. According to his report, the marmots were playing, fighting, foraging, and doing all kinds of marmoty activities. It seems that humans weren’t the only animals impatient for spring to start!

Since it is May 1st, we must wish you a very happy Vancouver Island Marmot Day! To celebrate this year’s VI Marmot Day, we are thrilled to have something extra-special to share with you. While working out in the field and conducting inventory at marmot colonies, our field crew have gathered hundreds of hours of video footage of Vancouver Island marmots in the wild…and so we created a YouTube channel so that we can share some of these videos with you! We will post just a few videos at first, but check in with us over the course of the field season, and we’ll post new ones as often as we can. We hope you will enjoy watching them as much as we did.

http://www.youtube.com/channel/UCq9BDTTw9n9_3njOL277VIw

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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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