Friday, May 4, 2012

2012: A Den Odyssey

I watch as Chris crawls under a fallen pine that has been down long enough for the bark to begin to fall freely from its dry yellow trunk. He is out of sight now, and still. The wolf’s signal fluctuated and got weaker just before Chris crawled under the log, but I did not hear her move off. I begin to move forward when he calls quietly, “I found it.” I move on up not worried about the noise at this point. As I crawl under the dead pine log I see the bare dirt of a day bed where she lay just prior to moving off. She was less than 15 feet from Chris when she spooked. The day bed has tufts of belly fur in and around it. The wolves begin to shed their belly fur just prior to giving birth to ease the pup’s access to the teats. Chris is another 15 feet beyond the daybed sitting at the entrance to a dug den. Black brown peat soil forms a slight mound at the entrance, naturally forming a high spot that prevents water draining into the den. I wonder if the mound and its function are intentional, a product of natural selection.

[The den. Photo credit: C. Lucash/USFWS]

I move forward and get the gear ready. Chris sees two pups and then scoots down the entrance head first. It turns out to be five pups, three males and two females. We carefully get a few drops of blood and implant a transponder in each pup. Chris and I have done this routine so often we don’t even need to speak to know what the other needs. He holds the pup while I draw blood and implant the transponder. He opens the cryovial while I pipette the blood from the needle. I drop in the pipette and transfer the blood while he holds pressure on the pup’s leg to stop the bleeding. I hold the cryovial while he screws on the cap. Everything goes smoothly; the pups are quiet for the most part. Mom must have fed them shortly before we arrived. They appear to be 5-7 days old, nice and plump. We place them in the fanny pouch to make it easy for Chris to transfer them back into the den. In go the pups, and Chris right behind them. Chris hands the bag back out and I grab his ankle to help him out. We gather gear and get location information. Getting out is quicker, but not always easier, than getting in. We quickly and somewhat quietly head back to the trucks. Mom will return shortly to check on the pups. She was waiting the whole time just a short distance away.

[The pups. Photo credit: F. Mauney/USFWS]

Back at the trucks Chris and I pick ticks and strip off our protective gear. Chris gets the blood, transponder information, and den coordinates together for Art. We load up in our trucks and head our separate ways. The first den of the year is done, but the year’s den work has just begun. -- Ford

1 comment:

  1. Very cute and they look to be healthy. Hopefully a good sign for the year. Thanks for sharing the pic.