Saturday, February 28, 2009

19 February 2009

My phone rings at 8:30, my first thought is that we've trapped a coyote. I hop out of bed to see that it is just my mom calling. It's a cold, windy, snowy morning. One of those days that is good for sleeping in. And because my day job is in the afternoon and evening I tend to stay up later than most, but sleep later than most, too.

Ben returns from taking my step-son to school, and we join each other for breakfast. Coffee and toast--nothing complicated. By 10 am I find myself lounging in my pajamas a little too late. Ben answers a call to my cell phone, and it's Carrie.

I fly upstairs to find...what do I need? What am I looking for? Well, I need clothes for starters. Do I need warm clothes? Is it really cold out? Does it matter--should I just put on whatever? Or just go out the door in my pajamas? Wool pants, where are my wool pants? Fleece top, long underwear--yes that's a good idea--winter coat...Okay, the camera...where's the camera? Thankfully, where it belongs of course, on the dining room table!

Ben runs out to clean off my car, turn it around in the driveway, and pack all the camera gear in
 the back.

Where are my wool pants? Ben is still loading the car. Finally! Right where they belong...

I decide to change to a fresh battery and load and stripe a new tape in the camera. As I close the tape cover on the camera and look into the viewfinder--I see a symbol of a tape with a line through it. Ah, Coyote, you're getting the best of me! I unthread the tape, pull it out to find a long black streamer coming out of the camera. Great. Well, at least I'm not trying to do this in the field. I scrap the tape, pull out the head cleaner, then load a new tape and cross my fingers. Seems okay. Color bars recorded, I'm out the door.

Why is it that when you're in a hurry the car in front of you goes 10 mph below the speed limit?

I arrive at the park to find Carrie had just arrived herself. Dave had checked traps this morning, and had made the initial call. We wait only a few minutes for DCNR employees to arrive. Ben has to be at work -- so I enlist my friend Kathleen to hold the boom pole. Okay, now, Ray can you take still pictures? Great.

Kathleen and I head in first to set up the camera for the approaching shot. Our coyote is quite frightened at being so close to people. We set up the tripod at a decent distance so the animal doesn't panic to the point of pulling out of the trap and ruining the entire process. I go through the essentials in my head: level the tripod, check focus and exposure, composition...

We wave the team in, and Brian and Carrie approach the worrisome animal. He pulls at his foot which is held in the trap. Mostly, he cowers in fright. No growling, no gnashing of teeth, no aggression at all. Brian slowly and easily slips the noose over his face and around to his neck, tightens up on the line just as Carrie covers his face.

We work quietly and quickly. It's a boy! The teeth reveal no indication of the animal being less than a year he must be at least 21 months...and because we're well into mating season and even perhaps after...he should be a resident animal. But 20 pounds? We weigh a second time...20 pounds. He certainly looks much bigger than that. I would have guessed at least 40.

Carrie carefully fits the collar, and two others check the tightness. Too tight and the animal can be harmed, but too loose and the collar could come off at any time, and our efforts ruined. The magnet is removed from the battery, and the quiet beep, beep, beep from the receiver can be heard. That's our lifeline into this animals behavior. One, two, three...and he's gone into the brush just moments after we release him. Gone. But now we can know where he spends his time, when he goes and what habitats he seems to prefer.

19th January 2009

It's snowing like mad again, but at least the temperature is in the twenties today. I had hoped to take my step-son with me for the short hike, but I think the deep snow will be too much for him. Fenris will accompany me up to the bottom of the dune, where I will tie him up and then proceed on my own.

17th January 2009

Carrie and I had intended to set traps today, but it's 10 degrees and 15 mph winds. I think, and she agrees, that we need to wait for the temperature to rise and the snow to cease for us to have any kind of success. It's a waiting game for the lake to freeze and the lake effect snow to stop burying our traps. 

16th January 2009

Arriving at the trail-head, I decide to strap on my snowshoes to make the trip easier and faster. It's so cold that my boots squeak under my footsteps. I rush out to the trap site not just due to the cold but because I have another obligation to get to as soon as possible. On Friday nights we host a wildlife film festival at the TREC theatre, and I'm already late. The sunset is beautiful and crisp; bright colors wash the sky.
My chin burns with the cold wind's bite. I'm kicking snow up onto my back and up my legs from running with snowshoes on. I realize that my pants are becoming wet with the snow building up on the back of my legs. My hamstrings are so cold I barely notice. 
There are small flocks of sparrows attempting to forage in the deep snow. Grass stems bow over with the weight making the prized seed-head more accessible to the small birds. They seem to not mind my approach until the last possible moment, and then burst into flight. They don't go far. It's too cold even for them to use excessive energy. Warmth is more important.
I climb the dune and peer over to where we have set four traps. The now must be buried in six inches of snow. So much effort for very little chance of trapping; but we still have to try. They are empty again.

11th January 2009

Carrie and I reset traps in a different location. We're now using a formerly successful trapping area on Presque Isle, which is currently showing signs of coyote activity. We start off at about 2:30, pulling the ridiculous amount of equipment we need in a sled behind us. I feel better about where we are putting the traps, but am concerned about the amount of snow we are getting. It's not the best weather but trying is better than not. The sled is stacked full with traps, stakes, lures, 2 sledgehammers, setting tongs, trappers cap and fork, buckets, sifter, shovels and trap antifreeze. We decide on the trap site, and Carrie digs the first hole.
We work together--so I set the trap and hand it to her with trapper's fork in place. These precautions are beginners tools: fork, cap, and setting tongs; but it makes the job easier, faster and most importantly, we can work a little bit more confidently that our fingers won't be part of the catch.
She drives the stakes in, and I silently wish that we could skip the noise. At least a dozen cross country skiers pass on the trail below, and although I enjoy talking with people about coyotes, I don't like to be bothered when setting traps.
Two hours earlier, I go through painstaking effort to descent myself. Using special soap in the shower, I wash my hair and body with a liquid that is supposed to make you nearly invisible in the scent world. Coyote's sense of smell is 40x ours, so this step is important. 
Because it's so cold out, I blow dry my hair. This is something I never do otherwise, but keeping warm when it's in the 20s is important. I pull on layers of clothing that were descented in the washing machine with a special soap. All this descenting leaves my skin dry and cracking in places. I can't wait to reverse the process.
Carrie finishes staking the trap, and I hand her cotton balls, the trappers cap, and wax paper. She packs the trap as best as she can with sand mixed with trap antifreeze, and sifts more over the wax paper that sits on top of the entire set. Setting in sand has lots of problems, so using wax paper on top prevents sand from working its way down underneath the pan--which would render the entire set useless. Finally, the finishing touches. She makes a mouse-sized hole and shoves a cotton ball soaked with gland lure to the bottom. A squirt bottle with coyote urine marks the backer and in front of the set. Call lure is placed high in an overhead branch. A stick as decoration in front of the set and we're done. Off to the next set. We drag the sled and start again.
Carrie and I have lots to talk about, and before we know it two hours have gone by and we've only set four traps. We had intended to set more in another area of the park, but it's getting dark. 
As we make our way back to the road, we hear the coyotes howl. They're in the area, not far at all. We plan to set again as soon as we can.

9th January 2009

Carrie pulled the coyote traps this afternoon. The location hasn't attracted so much as a rabbit or deer, despite all the coyote activity at the head of the park. We plan to move them later this weekend.
I think that coyotes are cautious about new smells in confined areas. The traps were in some pretty thick brush, and if I were a coyote, I'd probably not want to go in to a confined area to investigate the smell of an unknown coyote.

2nd January 2009

Well, setting traps is like riding a bicycle. I'm quite confident with what I'm doing, but am slow to remember some important details. It's been almost ten years since I last trapped coyotes, and I'm anxious to focus on filming animal handling this time around instead of dividing my attention.
Carrie and I are joined by my husband, Ben, who takes photographs of us as we set. 
The wind is unbelievable. I'm thankful for what little cover the trees offer. Carrie begins on the first set, and I decide to start on one down a game trail a short distance from her. The cold makes wearing rubber gloves quite miserable, and soon, my toes are just as cold due to standing in one place. 
The most nerve-wracking part of setting is the one that can ruin your entire set. After packing the inside and outside of the set trap with dirt, I tap the pan down until it is level with the ground. A hair trigger is the only thing that'll catch a wary coyote. But one tap too many on the pan and the trap snaps shut and you have to remake the set all over again. 
Years ago, when Tom taught me how to set I always made him nervous with how much I tapped the pan down. He always said he would have stopped one or two taps before me. I just keep an eye on the trap dog edge, and make sure there is as little contact as possible. One tap too many and the result is a face full of dirt.