Friday, July 13, 2012

Introducing Alex Hettena

My name is Alex Hettena. 

I recently graduated from Vanderbilt University with a degree in Ecology, Evolution and Organismal Biology.  This is my first summer doing research with RMBL.  For my project, I am looking to see if mule deer can discriminate between predator vocalizations.  This entails leaving my cabin while it’s still dark and trying to sneak up on an unsuspecting deer to play a call of a wolf, coyote, mountain lion, or pied butcherbird.  If I’m lucky enough to actually keep the deer within a close range long enough to play the call, I sometimes observe the infamous escape gait known as stotting, common to pronghorns and other ungulates. 

I have come across a number of groups of deer repeatedly and inspired by the marmoteers identifying and naming their rodents of unusual size, I have named some of my subjects with unique attributes.  Before I knew what a botfly bubble looked like, I named one otherwise handsome buck “Bubbles, the botfly-infested buck”.  I later learned that the globular mass on his hip is a tumor.  

Poor Bubbles.  Chamudi (Hebrew for cutie) is another slightly tattered yearling doe.  Others include Teardrop, Goofy and Pluto (a pair of does), and Sty (a friend of Bubbles). 

The project has been an adventure traveling the 401 bike trail (for experienced bikers only, doesn’t include me), the 403 trail, Deer Creek trail, Snodgrass mountain; unexpectedly trudging through almost knee-deep mud; traversing Aspen groves; and sliding down the rain-drenched side of Picnic, one of the marmot sites.  All of this has been challenging but completely worthwhile because I have seen much of the other wildlife that is active at the same hours.  I’ve come across two black bears, been startled by multiple grouses, been road-blocked by a beaver and his branch, and seen spectacular sunrises and sunsets.  The most worthwhile part though is the progress of my project.  Earlier this week, Dan and I analyzed the data and found that what we have produces interesting results.  The next challenge for me is writing up the final paper.  I look forward to completing my project in due time.  In the mean time, I really hope I finally get to see one of the fawns that hangs out in the town of Gothic.  

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