Thursday, January 27, 2011

The Trials and Triumphs of Marmoteers: Field Observations

After reading a few of our blog entries, you may begin to suspect that the life of a marmoteer is by no means glamorous. I (Yvonne) can help confirm your suspicions.

Consider the picture on the right of my fellow marmoteer, the Leon.

Leon is making his third hour of observations in the River colony on a hot, mid-July, and absolutely marmotless afternoon.

As Dan wrote in an earlier entry, observing marmots is all about patiently waiting. This waiting could result in sitting through sun, rain, hail, snow, flesh-eating flies, and sometimes all of the above within half an hour, in repetitive succession. BUT. As soon as that first patch of brown fur darting through vegetation is glimpsed, discomforts are temporarily forgotten, replaced by a mild sense of victory as this observation is quickly recorded.

On a typical summer morning, marmots come out of their burrows at around 7:00. We try set up at our assigned observation sites before they emerge so that we don’t miss out on any of the action. Binoculars are useful for quick scans of the area for marmot activities. But the enhanced magnifying capacity of a spotting scope is usually necessary for identifying the individual’s mark.

Every marmot’s location, action, and interaction must be recorded in order to generate as complete as possible a database on which numerous ongoing studies are dependent. Thus, we dutifully record the time, location, and a detailed summary of each event, such as when Five Dice Dots cheek-rubbed (scent marked) the rock on Six Dice Dot’s burrow (oh snap!); or when IX alarm called 283 times for fifteen minutes straight because first some kayakers and then a fox (predator!) swung by its place; or when Happy Face was foraging by tower mound but then Mickey Mouse chased and beat the bejeezus out of (play wrestled with) him.

Observation sessions usually run for about two to three hours. After the morning session, we regroup, trap marmots, break for lunch, then do it all over again in the afternoon. Long hours of waiting are rendered exciting by the occasional spectacular showdown. On my last day of observing up valley, I watched, as if in Planet Earth high definition slow motion mode, an eagle swoop down and snatch a marmot pup off a rock just 20 feet away!

It was legit.

There are other rewards, of course. Consider, for instance, the view that Leon enjoyed during that marmotless afternoon.

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