Monday, April 26, 2010

Natal den site

Last year Carrie was able to locate the natal den with radio telemetry. When we found the pups, they were four weeks old or less--eyes barely open and bright blue. Getting to them was horrendous. Pushing through endless Phragmites in thigh deep, tea colored water for over an hour was exhausting to say the least. This is the kind of mud that steals your shoes. And it stinks--literally. Tussocks make the landscape a mini mountain range and footing very uncertain. We grasp at the dead Phragmites stalks for balance. It's hot, and I'm carrying my tripod, camera and pack--about 40 pounds of gear in all. To top it off we wear waders. Too bad mine leak. The rush of cold water is welcoming--but again it stinks--really badly. The natal den is on a tiny island. Adult coyotes would certainly have to swim to reach the pups. Absolutely amazing!
There were four pups in all: probably two male and two female. Far too young to be playing outside the den. We return to this site to investigate it a year later. Could it be the home of this year's litter?
This time, we have a different mode of travel. Ben and I heave our canoe off the roof of my car, and begin to pack our camera equipment into our boat: camera, extra lenses, batteries, tapes, tripod, sit-upon, trash bags (in case it rains!), still camera, video camera and finally paddles and pfd's. It's about 55 degrees and I wear sandals on purpose--remembering the deep, thick mud from last year.
We push off--or at least try to push off. The first 50 yards or so are completely matted with vegetation and it's a struggle to get to open water. We force our paddles to the bottom and leaver our way forward.
Carrie travels separately--in her own kayak. This allows me to get some beautiful shots of her paddling through the spatterdock. The only landlords are pairs of geese -- each spaced out along the shoreline in preparation for the coming clutch. A beaver lodge sits seemingly inactive: no new vegetation on the top of the mound. We pick our way around more dense vegetation across the pond: probably covering twice as much distance than if the water line was high like last spring. We arrive at the opposite shore of the pond to find a familiar site: deep, thick, smelly mud. Out of the canoe to sink right in up to my calves. Heave the boat way up on the shoreline, and push through sawgrass, thorns, and more mud for a mere five minutes.
There is fresh dirt at the entrance so we are hopeful. Carrie peers in only to find it empty.
I'm not surprised that the same natal den was not used a second year in a row. Even though the deep water has subsided, we're missing one important element: the collared female. Towards winter, her signal was intermittent at best: often times after a hard rainstorm the signal would disappear for a couple of days. The damage to her collar could be an indicator: the battery chewed into, and the antenna completely gone.
Surely the resident male could have found another mate since she left at least four months ago. But we don't know.
A nearby siren wails in the distance as we begin to push our way back to the boats: no response. Only time in the field will reveal if there is a new female here with pups.

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