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.
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!
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.
Melissa Hafting captured these wonderful photos of Eowyn at Mt Washington earlier this month.
Eowyn was named by Toronto Zoo staff after a character in J.R.R. Tolkien’s Lord of Rings book. The character in the books is a fierce warrior, but we hope our marmot understands that discretion is the better part of valor. Marmots should “take on” predators with a brave whistle to warn the rest of the colony, followed by sensibly ducking into a nearby burrow, dug for just such an occasion.
Eowyn was released to Mt Washington on July 5th. She is just 1 year old, but hopefully in couple years she will have pups to share with us.
These marmots aren’t fighting, they are “pair-bonding.” While they push and pull, you can also see them touch noses throughout the video; a classic Vancouver Island marmot “love you boop”.
These marmots are on Flower Ridge in Strathcona Provincial Park. Marmots were extirpated from the Park by the 1990s, but with the funding from the Fish & Wildlife Compensation Program, and the support of donors like yourselves, we’ve been able to re-introduce the marmots back to a number of their historic colonies sites, including this one!
Their survival in the Park, and the wild, is still fragile, but if the romance continues between these two, perhaps we’ll see a population boosting litter of pups next spring!