Paul Smelter's Diary
Mammals of Nova Scotia

July 12-13, 2009: On my way home
July 9, 2009: Full traps
July 7, 2009: A fine day in the field
July 5, 2009: Weekend excursions
July 2, 2009: Experts at scatology
June 30, 2009: Cook's Lake
June 28, 2009: Touchdown
June 26, 2009: 12 hours out
June 24, 2009: What the heck is a vole? and other questions
June 22, 2009: First post
July 10, 2009: Final field day
July 8, 2009: Mammals in the sky and on the ground
July 6, 2009: Back to the trapline
July 3, 2009: the Jolly-Seber Model
July 1, 2009: Getting down to it
June 29, 2009: Signs of life
June 27, 2009: Flying into summer
June 25, 2009: A tale of two ecosystems
June 23, 2009: On the importance of rain

July 12-13, 2009: On my way home

We packed up early on Saturday morning ready to go to the airport so some of the members can catch their flights out of Halifax after this trek. Some people started to pack on Friday night after having a get together with a few drinks as well. We sat down to chat about our experiences whilst on this trek over the past two weeks and we all hope that what we have learnt on this trek we can pass on to others in our own community and work groups. We will try to pass it on to the younger members so they can hopefully pass it also to their parents, and they in turn can help. In time, maybe we will see some of the changes we are trying to make come to pass, and development will have less impact on wild regions and wildlife like the mammals of Nova Scotia. So as everyone leaves on their flights over the next three days we promise to  try to keep in touch with each other over the weeks and years.
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July 10, 2009: Final field day

Team_photo Today we head off to a Provincial Park named Thomas Raddall where we again put our skills to the test. But before we leave to do this we have a meeting to collate our results from this week. We have come up with some strange results: a lack of mice and voles compared to past teams doing this. One of the reasons for this might be the climate at this time of year, cooler than in the past. Now back to the park where we have lunch first, then set off in teams of four to walk around and look for sightings, prints and other signs. The teams come up with deer, chipmunk, raccoon, mink, snowshoe hare, porcupine and seals. Overall this has been a rewarding experience, but low in count of mammals. If this is due to climate change, only time and more research will tell.
Hopefully Alcoa can continue to assist Earthwatch in this way, letting more of its workers help with projects not only in Canada and other countries. As we wrap up this experience, I'd like to say a big thankyou to our team leaders Dr Chris Newman & Dr Christina Beusching and their pet dog Lykos, for teaching us the skills to aide us on this trek. Hopefully when I return to Australia, these skills can be used to count mammals there. Also, I'm lookingf gorward to passing on what I've learnt here to others at work and the local community and schools. By doing this I will be doing my part in helping continue and fruther this important envrionmental research.

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July 9, 2009: Full traps

Jumping_mouse The day started as usual: breakfast first up and then on the bus for about 40 minutes on the way to Cook's Lake for a short day checking our traps to see how we go. Boy, what a day we had with trapping! We came across jumping mice (times three,) chipmunks (both recaptures) and a couple of voles. All the mammals we captured today seem tobe in very good health, but overall our number of mice and voles were down. On the other hand, we had a greater number of chipmunks. With the final check complete, we packed up our station and traps to return to the bus to have lunch. Then off to Cherry Hill Beach for a survival session in the wild. We had to start a fire with a twig with rope and a piece of timber set up like a bow -- not much success. Then Chris showed us how to set a trap to capture small animals to eat if you are lost for a long time. Then we took a stroll along the beach and finally got a view of the Atlantic Ocean. (Mostly the weather here has been overcast or very foggy, so it was good finally to see out a long way.) Then back to the house to see if we had captured images on our field cameras. There were indeed some great shots, a raccoon and some deer, but they came from the other teams' cameras, not ours ... we believe it had not been working from the start. Now Chris is getting dinner ready, so I have time to jot down a few notes. In all it's been a very successful day with the results to go through tomorrow morning before we head off to another national park (Randall ). As to why we had a good day with the traps, we wonder if it might be due to the improvement in the weather. Maybe we will get an answer after the next team goes through the same process next year. I will keep in touch with our team leaders over the year to see how the results go and then maybe we'll have some sort of idea.
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July 8, 2009: Mammals in the sky and on the ground

Picnic Last night we went bat hunting (by sound) on the local bat population in Cherry Hill. We used a sound echo machine to listen to the sound recording of the little brown bat. There weren't many bats out, but enough to get an idea of what they sound like through the sound machine. We will try again tonight after a meal at Chris & Christina's house. Before we go there we have more field work to do, checking traps and doing more work on the boardwalk. Today our team captured a chipmunk and a vole in the morning and another vole in the afternoon. Much to our surprise, one team finally captured a field mouse. This was the first one in the two weeks of trapping, so you can imagine the elation from not only us but from our research leaders!!! In the afternoon we built some more boardwalk and cut up some old wood to assist in making the pathway a little easier to get through. This area is still under water. The women in the team went off to widen the pathway in Cook's Lake so as to get cars up as far as they can in order to build a new equipment storage shed. The type of critters we are capturing are different from other years. This could be due to the cooler weather. The numbers we have captured are different from the last team's. Both Chris and Christina have said we have placed our traps in just the right positions to trap mice, but they seem not to be using them. It's very odd for there to be so many chipmunks and voles (and the odd shrew or red squirrel) in our traps. It will take more years of research to determine whether this change is significant, whether it correlates with the weather, and whether that in turn is trackable to climate change.


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July 7, 2009: A fine day in the field

Woods Things are going well. We are back in the field to check our traps and (yippee!) we have found a chipmunk in the second set of traps in the forest. Then back to our meeting point where we then set out to do a survey in a different area, collecting samples on what type of mammals are in the forest. We come up with a deer per hectare, and some hares as well. Then some lunch before heading back to the roadside to collect some material for building a boardwalk to keep people from sinking knee-deep in the muddy tracks.
Then back to check our traps in the afternoon. This time we find some shrews and another chipmunk, but to the surprise of our two research leaders, no mice yet. This might be due to the weather having been a little more damp than other years. We have been told that last year they were in a drought. Hopefully we will have some more insight by the end of our research. Now after our evening meal there will be a meeting about ecology, and maybe a bat walk and study, weather permitting. The weather is quite fine, so off we go to the local church which is about half a kilometer away so we can hear them.

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July 6, 2009: Back to the trapline

Tree_cam Here we go, starting off the second week setting our traps in a different area of the farm. Also, to make sure that what we learned last week is still in our mind, so we all set off on a two-hour nature study walk, noting down any signs of mammals on and around the edge of the trails. Our team came across signs of deer, rabbit, coyote and signs of porcupines raking the trees, and we spotted a red squirrel as well. After this we went back to the forest area to check our camera traps and to see if there was any bait left on the ground from Friday afternoon. All our bait was gone, so we do have photos on the camera ... but of what we will find later on in the week. We wrapped up the day with tea back at the main house.
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July 5, 2009: Weekend excursions

House We spent the weekend visiting a little fishing town called Lunenberg, where some of the group went whale watching. I didn't make that trip but still went around this heritage listed town and also went through the fishery museum. This whaling village's history dates back to as early as 1740, when the first house was built. By comparison, life in Australia is still very young in history.

Then today we went to a national wildlife park called Kejimkujik, where we hoped to find deer, beaver, otter and other mammals, maybe even a bear? But all day long, not one critter from the list above, so not much joy there to get a photo to add to our blogs. Still, it was a very interesting Roots park. Some of us did get a glimpse of a red squirrel running along a log. Very hard to get a photo, but I did get it in the end, before more sightseeing and a tour of the local Indian tribe of this area. Whilst we were there our leader, Chris, asked us to do a survey on the deer population in the park with the technique we've learned -- marking out  some areas and counting the amount of deer droppings in each area. We came up with a one deer per hectare.

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July 3, 2009: the Jolly-Seber Model

Paul_n_Yolanda Here we are at the end of our first week of field research and it is time to check our results after all our trapping and recapture of all those voles and couple of chipmunks. We will be using a formula called the Jolly-Seber Model, to come up with our figures. According to our data, voles are 5.3/hectare. Also the amount of deer is reaching a number of 19.18/hectare in the Cooks Lake farm area. We are now having a lecture on mammals as well as ecology of the region with Dr Chris Newman. He has great knowledge in this field so he can deliver these talks with great ease. His partner Dr. Christina Buesching has knowledge with the field work and therefore they complement each other and the team can and will be able to come away with the knowledge that the work we are doing will help with the research on climate chnage in this region of Nova Scotia.
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July 2, 2009: Experts at scatology

Mouse_or_vole? On this day we do the same thing as yesterday, but with much more knowledge as we have to check our traps again in both the morning and afternoon with about the same results: about five to six voles but still no mice, which is strange according Christina. We also capture a couple of chipmunks, with one escaping first thing before we could check if it is a recapture or a new. There's a good chance we will trap it again, as there are a few traps in both the clearing and the forest areas with a total of one hundred -- fifty in each area. We also have set up our surveillance cameras in four spots with three members per team placing cameras about four feet off the ground on a slight angle towards the ground, hoping to photographa bear or coyote. Then on the way home we stop at a pond area for some beaver watching. We spot a family that have been living there for about four years now. We also spot a muskrat swimming in the same area. With the fog coming in quickly, we sit down for about an hour watching the beavers leave their home to gather sticks for their dam, which is rather big now. After that back to the houses for tea at 9PM. Doctor Chris Newman gave us a presentation on climate change, which was a very interesting talk but very late after a long day in the field. Cheers -- that's all for now.

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July 1, 2009: Getting down to it

We_bagged_a_chipmunk Once again we started the day with a good breakfast before heading off to the research site to check our traps from yesterday, really hoping to find a mouse in the traps. Well, no mice, just voles and a couple of chipmunks. The latter are rather big to fit into our traps -- but they do, so we have to add them to our record sheets with what trap and which line we found them in. After that we reset the traps and place them back into the field or back into the forest areas hoping to trap more throughout the day. After lunch we set off to do different tasks in two teams. One team works to clear the track into Cook's Lake Farm, and the other sets off with the other Better_mousetrap research doctors of to count ... deer droppings? Yep that's right, deer droppings. What for, you ask? Well, by counting all different types of poo from a deer, rabbit, porcupine, etc., we can find out how many type of each mammals are in the area. The way we do this is to place a marking pole into the ground and radiate 90-degree angles from this point and back again for a distance of 10 meters square, and then bend over to study the ground to find if there are droppings from any mammals in the section we have marked out. The results will be calculated on Friday with Doctor Chris Newman who has been there to supervise us and assist each member to make sure are making the right call, as some of the poo looks like very old pine cones.
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June 30, 2009: Cook's Lake

Rs_mozzie The day started like the last couple, but 30 minutes earlier due to more walking and study of the local area around Cook's Lake, our research site. Whilst walking into the area we came across a baby porcupine and we all took a photo of this animal climbing up the tree, something I did not know until now that they where able to do. Then we stopped in the forest for a quick Q&A and study of a pair of animal skulls we found there. As we continued through the countryside, I was struck by the amount of water that surrounded us. I've just come from a whole country in drought, and the amount of water here would not only help us out but also fill our dams to a level not seen in a long time. While walking into this area we also came across a whitetail deer and a frog -- toad to the some of the people here -- also lots of baby mozzies. The ticks we came across were from the deer in the area. Our two groups competed with each other finding these parasites and dispatching them on the ride back to camp. Today will be the first day of real researching and setting traps and then placing them into the field where we hope to catch mice and voles.
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June 29, 2009: Signs of life

We started the day with an introduction to the Mammals of Nova Scotia from Dr. Cristina Buesching before heading off on a walk to the local beach and coastal area to get all the team used to the terrain. On this 10 km "stroll," we learned about the various types of animal droppings we will have to keep track of and what type of mammals they are from. We'll use this information while we do our field observations and set traps for the smaller mammals tomorrow. We will have to know the difference between scat from porcupine, beaver, skunks and otters. They are all similar in size, so they have similar size waste. Being able to identify droppings will help us locate and hopefully sight one of the many mammals in this beautiful unspoiled region, and add our population data to the climate change study. The team came across coyote droppings as well some whitetail deer. We spotted one of the deer on the way back to our base.
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June 28, 2009: Touchdown

We have arrived in Cherry Hill, the site of our research project, and are just starting to settle in. We will shortly have a get-acquainted meeting at the main house. I will be staying in a house with four other members of the team. We've had a brief rundown as to what we will be doing each day, along with safety requirements, before heading off to bed. Tomorrow, we will be the first group have to get a full briefing on the monitoring we will be doing.
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June 27, 2009: Flying into summer

I have spent most of the day flying after leaving for the airport around six with my family. Going through customs in Melbourne was done with out a hitch, then the 14 hour flight to L.A. and now on the way to New York and finally on to Halifax, where I will catch up with the other team members. But first, some much needed sleep, because so far I've had a total of about 30 minutes all up!!! The weather here in North America is fantastic:the clear blue sky is just like back home but the climate is warmer -- this is summer and we are in winter down south.


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June 26, 2009: 12 hours out

G'day all,
Well, the countdown is on. Just 12 hours before flying out, on my way to the research site to meet up with the other members of the team in Halifax. Here's hoping that all goes well with the flights and that they are all on time because I do not wish to miss out on any of this experience. Today has been a very quiet day compared to the last week or so. It's been hard the last few days, saying goodbyes to my two special daughters, because this is the first time that I will be away from them for seven weeks and I will miss them very much. This will a trek of a life time for me and they understand. Still hard though. Cheers all! Tomorrow I fly.

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June 25, 2009: A tale of two ecosystems

Today has been rather slow and easy as the countdown begins till I fly to Halifax. I'm excited about exchanging the countryside scenery I've known all my life for the very different environment of Nova Scotia. We have lots of gum trees here, such as the one I saw today on my two walks with my dog Gus. From what I can tell at this point, the trees there are small compared to the ones in the forest regions around here in Victoria. I'm excited about observing the different wildlife species as well. I can't wait to get there and see this all for myself. I had to go into work today to do a few more things, and some of the people are already reading these blog entries. They said they will follow the blogs very closely to see what they can learn from what we write. So it's getting late. I'm going to sign off because I need to be in tip top shape to be able to do what is required from us. Feel free to conact me through the blog or through the address set up in the Alcoa Update every week.
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June 24, 2009: What the heck is a vole? and other questions

Wow, questions already! I'm still at home packing and trying to get ready to leave this Saturday. Well, the first question is relating to one of the creatures we will encounter whilst on the expedition. Shane Carter asks: "What's a vole?" The answer to this question is that voles are a type of field mouse and are commonly viewed as pests. According to the web page I investigated, there are at least 70 types all over the world, so when I reach Canada I will try to get a photo of one and place it into the blog.
 
Question two is relating to water and what Alcoa is doing to help conserve it as we are still in drought mode here in Victoria, Australia. As far as I know we are looking at ways to recycle our water supply, therefore reducing the need to have water pumped to our site from the local dams and leaving more water available for the local community and homes where it needed. 


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June 23, 2009: On the importance of rain

I'm now on leave and running out of time to put things in place before flying out on Saturday. Travel time from here to Halifax is about 21-22 hours of flying time plus four more hours in between flights, the total being a lot. While packing, I'm finding a lot of things that can be recycled, so the recycle bin is filling up very quickly. My trailer is also filling up with recyclables just as quick, so it looks like a lot of trips to the local recycle centre. 
The weather here in Australia is starting to cool down quickly, though still with very little rainfall for this time of year. That's not good, as the population is growing in our region and water is becoming a very important issue. We are still in drought down here, and what we need is a lot more rain and less sunshine so that our water supplies, which are very low, can be filled before we head into another long hot summer. Here's hoping that whilst I'm on this trek we receive lots of rain to assist with this vital issue.  Nova Scotia, where we are going, it will be early in the northern summer, and from what I've heard the water supplies are just right. Lucky people! It's been a long time (1995) since water levels have been right here in Australia.

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June 22, 2009: First post

Hi one & all, my name is Paul Smelter, from Alcoa's Point Henry smelter here in Geelong, Victoria, Australia. I would first of all like to take the opportunity to thank Earthwatch and Alcoa for giving me and other Alcoans a chance to go on this expedition, assist the research, and have a chance to help improve our ways of doing things. Today is the first day of my blog for this expedition, and so far it has been a very busy day, with packing up items at home to take with me: clothing, footwear, first aid kit, etc. All flight arrangements have been finalized as well as accommodation and I'm just waiting to go and meet up with the rest of the team members in Halifax on June 28 at the airport. I have been in contact with other members via email for the past three to four weeks or so, and they all sound like we will get on well and should learn a great deal from this trek together.
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Click image to enlarge.


Paul Smelter, maintenance technician Pt Henry smelter, Victoria, Australia