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Updates from the Team

First look at our Winter’s Work

A quick glance at the Mt Washington Alpine Resort webcams confirms that snow has arrived on the mountains of Vancouver Island. Fortunately, all indications are that the marmots headed into their hibernacula for their long winter nap right on time. While that means that the marmots may be tucked away for the season, the humans at the Foundation still have plenty of work to do!

One of the first aspects of winter work that we want to highlight involves Mount Washington. We are thrilled to have marmots overwintering in the high elevation Tony Barrett Mt Washington Marmot Recovery Centre for the first time in several years. These marmots will be released next year, and having them at the Centre gives them a head start on acclimating to the conditions they will encounter on west coast mountains. Veterinarian Malcolm McAdie is caring for the marmots during the winter, and he’ll be giving them periodic health checkups and monitoring their hibernation cycles to make sure they are doing well.

Your support has made it possible for us to take this step – thank you so much for helping!

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Will the last marmot awake please close the door and turn out the lights?

Our survey this week at Mt Washington showed most of the marmots are in hibernation. In fact, all but one: just Violet is still awake. We’re still waiting for her to plug her hibernaculum and settle down for her long winter’s nap. 

The timing this year is pretty typical, but we do hope to see Violet go into hibernation soon. Our team would like to see marmots tucked in safely within the next couple weeks, because as autumn progresses, vegetation dies back. With less food, marmots still awake may begin burning body fat just to stay active, and that could reduce the energy available for them when they emerge from hibernation in the spring. To be clear, having a few marmots still awake in late October is completely normal, and we are not concerned for Violet’s well-being. 

But, really, Violet, it is time for bed. Just go to sleep. Goodnight…

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With a lot of help from our Friends: Restoration at Mt Hooper

Last week, with more than a little help from our friends, we were able to restore a big section of marmot habitat at Mt Hooper. We need to thank Cam William-Johnston and Matt Kelly from the Port Alberni Thunderbirds Fire Fighting Unit, and Trudy Chatwin, retired Species-at-Risk biologist, for volunteering their time to work in this challenging terrain! Thank you also to TimberWest for facilitating the work, and Environment and Climate Change Canada for funding it! 

This crew was working to restore open sightlines by removing brush and low branches from the marmot’s habitat. Marmots rely on these open sightlines to spot and avoid predators, and this restoration work will help keep the delicate balance between predators and prey intact. 

The crew removed “stalking cover” – shrubs and low branches that predators such as wolves and cougars use to sneak up on marmots. This should happen naturally as avalanches sweep this material out the marmot colony, but extremely low snowpacks for several years have resulted in a lot less avalanche energy. In turn, we have seen an increase in the stalking cover. When we mapped where marmots were predated at Mt Hooper, it almost always occurred where this stalking cover had grow up.

From left to right, Norberto Pancera and Mike Lester (Marmot Recovery Foundation), Trudy Chatwin (biologist), and Cam William-Johnston and Matt Kelly (Port Alberni Thunderbirds). Not shown is Trevor Dickinson of the Foundation.

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First hibernating marmots of 2017 confirmed

Another sure sign that autumn is upon us: we have confirmed our first hibernating pair of marmots. While most marmots are still active, we expect to see more and more of them headed underground in the next few weeks.

Our early birds are Clapton and Aberfeldy, who are now tucked into a new hibernaculum at Greig Ridge in Strathcona Park. Aberfeldy was released to Morrison Spire in 2015, but made the 4.5km trip to Greig Ridge the following year. In fact, she surprised us by showing up during our planning trip the day before we released Clapton!

Marmots of this age that hibernate together often have pups the following year, and we have our fingers crossed that these two raise a happy family!

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Meet Macallan

We often talk about marmots who get lost and need help, but many marmots travel through their mountainous landscape and somehow manage to find another marmot colony. Macallan is one such marmot. 

Born at Mount Washington in 2014, Macallan was moved as a yearling to Mount Albert Edward in Strathcona Park. Our plan was that he would help this young colony re-establish, but Macallan had other ideas. Instead, over the next year, he made his way back to Mt Washington. At first glance it may not seem like a remarkable trip: Mt Albert Edward is only 12 km from the colony on Mt Washington as the crow flies. But it would be impossible for anyone, or any marmot, to make the trip in a straight line through a the mountains, valleys, and lakes that separate the two colonies.

It is fortuitous that he returned. The Mt Washington colony needed another breeding aged male, and Macallan fits the bill perfectly.  We know better than to move him again!

Jordan Cormack, Field Crew member and Marmot Keeper at Mt Washington, shared this photo of Macallan preparing for winter at his new, old home.

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Marmot Recovery Foundation

Spot the Marmot! (this one is very hard).

A bit of backstory to this photo: we received a report of a Vancouver Island Marmot on a residential property on Saturday. Field Coordinator Mike Lester went out to have a look and found this frightened guy hanging out in the woodshed. Mike was able to trap the marmot, and transport him to the Tony Barrett Mt Washington Marmot Recovery Centre.

This fellow will be re-released to a colony once he has a clean bill of health.

He is easy to spot once Mike caught him, but see if you can find the marmot's fur in the first photo.
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Happy Father's Day to all our Marmot Dads! Vancouver Island Marmot fathers play an important role in rearing pups. They play guard and teach socialization skills to the energetic youngsters.

We still have another few weeks before we learn who is mom and dad this year, as the young marmots will not emerge from the burrow until early July, but we're hoping for lots of new dads out there!

Thanks to Alena E.S. Conservation & Photography for the photo.
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Field Coordinator Mike Lester spent part of his Sunday catching this Yellow-bellied Marmot that was accidentally transported to Nanaimo. This marmot is now at the North Island Wildlife Recovery Centre waiting for transportation back to the Interior.

Why don't we want marmot tourists on the Island? First, marmots are most likely to thrive in areas where there are others of their species. Second, we don't want to transmit diseases between marmots species that would not normally encounter each other.

Just how are these Yellow-bellied Marmots getting to the Island? We don't know for sure, but we suspect they arrive in construction materials and large hay bales that may look like good burrows. Once these items start to move, the marmot may just hunker down for the ride. Another possibility is that they crawl into the underside of cars, which Yellow-bellied Marmots are known to do. Again, they may just hunker down until the end of the trip.

Regardless of whether it is a Vancouver Island Marmot or Yellow-bellied, if you see a marmot on Vancouver Island, let us know!
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