Tuesday, August 4, 2015

Kid’s Nature Camp meets our local marmots!

Lilah Hubbard writes:

A very important part of conducting research is teaching the public about what we do and what results we find. One of the most important and fun groups that we teach are the children at the Kid’s Nature Camp located here at RMBL. This summer, Tiffany and I have been lucky enough to spend some time with the camp and show them what we do!

Photo by Julie Byle

Last week, we trapped 4 of this year’s pups and showed them how we identify, handle, weigh, and measure the animals. We also used RMBL’s taxidermy specimens to let the kids see a marmot up close and feel its fur!
Photo by Julie Byle

We each had a lot of fun working with the campers and answering all of their great questions about marmots. One of my personal favorites was a question that came up after I showed the kids how we measure a marmot’s hind foot: “So when will the marmots get their shoes?”

Photo by Julie Byle

And here is a shot of Gothic Mountain from a rainy morning last week!

Sunday, July 19, 2015

Encounter with the albino marmot!

Hello everybody, I have exciting news! I was off last week and had the most fantastic marmot-related experience yet! My partner was visiting from Scotland and we were driving up valley to go hiking. We stopped along the way to have lunch and at some point he beckoned me to walk over quietly to where he was standing, whilst excitedly pointing down the hill. I thought he had seen a mule deer, a chipmunk or some other form of wildlife that I had come across many times before during my time here in Gothic, I certainly never expected him to point at an albino marmot, sitting on its back legs, staring at us. I quickly grabbed my camera to capture the moment, and I’m sure most people would agree that this curious animal amidst the wildflowers of Colorado offers a beautiful sight (see picture below). The marmot was spotted and photographed last year as well, however it remains a rare sighting, and of course albino marmots are a rare occurrence in nature in general. I am thrilled that this year, I was lucky enough to see this wondrous creature (we called him Alberto, though I’m not sure whether or not it is a male animal), especially because this is my last field season in the Rockies. 

Marmot-y greetings to you all! 


Friday, July 17, 2015

Nevada's marmot monument!

Check out this news piece about a marmot monument carved into a cottonwood tree stump at a golf course in Reno, NV.  Gotta love that club!

Thursday, July 16, 2015

Woodchucks and marmoteers in the news

Susan and Joe Sam's woodchuck filming has been featured in a local newspaper.  Check out the article in the Tri-City Times.

Thursday, July 9, 2015

More woodchuck videos...

Ok, first and admission: I am not on Facebook.  There, now that that's done, if you like good marmot videos Sue and Joe have been creating many really interesting stories about the woodchucks that live in their backyard and have been filming the 'chucks and their behavior for a while now.  They have a Facebook page Woodchuck Wonderland that contains many of these stories.  Worth a look!  They've seen a lot of really interesting social behavior in this species that is typically considered not that social.

Tuesday, July 7, 2015

Marmot Matchup: “Five-dice-dots” vs. “Female-sign”

Lilah Hubbard writes:

Usually all the marmot drama happens in the early season (April-May), but last week I was lucky enough to witness a close-up marmot fight between two of the biggest males at one of our colonies!
The contestants? “Five-dice-dots” vs. “Female-sign” (I know, something isn’t quite right about putting that fur mark on a male…).

While I was walking around the area to see if any litters of pups had emerged, I came across these two rolling around and aggressively biting each other right around the area where their two territories connect. Although I was only a few meters away, they didn’t seem bothered by my presence and continued fighting for a couple minutes. The most surprising part of the fight was that, aside from some loud ‘puff’ noises, they were completely silent!

Check out the video to see if you can distinguish the marks and identify the champion!

The ultimate champion? “Five-dice-dots!”

Welcome to Gabriela!

Hello, I am Gabriela Pinho, a new member of the marmot team! I started my PhD studies at UCLA in fall 2014 and am advised by Prof. Dan Blumstein and Prof. Bob Wayne. I am from Brazil, being funded by the Science Without Borders program, and will be working with marmot genomics for the coming years. At the present moment I am having the great opportunity of coming to RMBL, collecting data on yellow-bellied marmots, and have loads of new experiences!

I have never seen snow before, and I arrived at the field site in mid-April, so there was plenty! It was super hard for me to cross the 3.7 miles with soft snow using snowshoes, and it is not easy at all to do field work under snow and a (very) cold weather. Being used to live in a city where the lowest temperature during the daytime in the winter is about 75 °F, it was a difficult adaptation. But this place is so beautiful and the snow changes the landscape in such a marvelous way that it's totally worth it!

Another new experience for me was conducting field work in a temperate environment. During my undergrad and Master's studies I worked in the Atlantic and Amazon forests, and obviously the differences are striking! In tropical forests it's always a big deal to observe mammals, due to their cryptic behavior, so it's pretty hard to collect behavioral data there... but here I see marmots everyday! It's super interesting how individuals have different personalities and sometimes you can even predict some behaviors, quite fun! Also, it is a unique experience to observe the changes in landscape with the seasons: to see everything white and quiet, to listen to the first bird songs, and to watch the vegetation grow with so many colorful and beautiful flowers appearing.

During the time I've been here I've seen coyotes, foxes, deers, porcupines, snowshoe hares and a badger. This last one was super cool because it was visiting marmot burrow entrances until a marmot (named “clover”) started alarm calling. That was the first time I saw a badger, which is not a common sight here, and it is generally hard to determine the reason for marmots to start alarm calling, so for me it was pretty exciting! I was a little far away, but I could take a photo of it:

Finally, the summer brought pups! There are pups everywhere... squirrels, deers, snowshoe hare and, of course, marmots! Pups really make life happier, so I am also adding here a photo of one that Svenia and I captured. Keep posted for the next news about this field work!

Svenia (right) and Gabi (left) with a pup.

Great woodchuck observations and videos

I've been corresponding with Susan Sam who, with her husband, have been filming woodchucks in their backyard for over a decade.  They've got great videos including males and young interacting (not thought to be too common) and other social interactions.  Check them out at their YouTube channel: Chuckland!

Sunday, July 5, 2015

We have pups! (And Dandelion, the ultimate marmot dude!)

Hi everybody,

For those of you who do not know me, I am Svenja Kroeger, a PhD student from the University of Aberdeen (Scotland, UK), and this is my second field season at RMBL. I was here last summer already to help with the data collection for this amazing long-term study, and I am excited to be back again this year! It is fantastic to be close to the marmots again, especially my favourite: ‘Dandelion’. He is a handsome adult male in Gothic town (in fact he is the only adult male in town that we know of), and he has become quite a celebrity at RMBL, as he is rather comfortable with people nearby.

I had the honour of naming Dandelion aka ‘Dandy’ last year, and the reason why I chose this name is due to his fondness for dandelions (see picture – ‘Dandelion with a dandelion’). When I arrived here a little over a month ago – to my delight – he was foraging outside my cabin, it was the best welcome I could have hoped for!

Regarding the pups - I spotted this year’s first litter at our ‘River’ colony on the 24th June, which is 10 days earlier than last year’s first litter, I believe! When I caught the first pup, there was a little more excitement than I had bargained for however. I was waiting for my trapping partner Gabi to arrive, so that we could process the pup together. Unexpectedly though, the weather turned on us very quickly, and we were caught in a thunderstorm that started right after we were done with measuring and tagging the animal. It was stressful and pretty scary, luckily though the marmot pup was safely back in its burrow before the rain started, and Gabi and myself were saved by Dave, who works at RMBL and kindly gave us a lift back to the field station in his truck. It is amazing how fast the weather can change up here in the mountains and it should not be underestimated!

So far we have caught and named 7 pups at the ‘River’ colony, including ‘filled-in heart’ (which is the pup I am holding in the picture below), ‘ice-cream’, ‘crescent moon’, ‘cherries’ and ‘007’! There is at least one pup that we have not caught yet, but I am determined to capture it, hopefully next week!

Wednesday, June 24, 2015

Introductions: Jahaziel Guiterrez

The 5 W’s of Jaz (who, what, when, where, and why)

My name is Jahaziel Gutierrez, but people seem to like calling me Jaz for simplicity. I am an undergraduate transfer student at UCLA going into my third year. I truly began to like science when I started community college and now it has become an essential part in my life, specifically biology and physiology. I have been interested in animal behavior for a good while now. It was an area I knew so little of but wanted to learn so much about. A spark was initiated when I presented my first literature paper of my choice in my biology classroom. I chose to present a paper on how metabolic rate and body size are linked with perception of temporal information by Kevin Healy. After this experience, my curiosity expanded and that’s when I became good friends with search engines. As I got older and a little wiser, I began to understand the intentions of research and the value behind it. I wanted to be a part of it one day so my bio professor Dr. Jimmy Lee suggested that I apply to RMBL and get some research experience there, so I did.

My first year at RMBL I was an REU student with my own individual project. My initial plan was to work with animals but instead was introduced to work with plants while taking a methods in field of ecology course. I knew very little about ecology so the course really helped me get a sense of different processes. My project focused on below and aboveground functional traits of dominant and sub dominant plant species along an elevation gradient. It was my first project out in the field with its own official lab. My mentor, Quentin Read taught me some tips, tricks and techniques you wont find in the books. Although plants are very interesting, my heart kept beating for animals. Nevertheless, I had such a positive and life changing experience out there that I decided to apply again this summer.

This summer at RMBL I got to work with one of my favorite mammals, yellow-bellied marmots. I am a research assistant for Dan Blumstein and a member of the marmot team. Things don’t come easy and although long hours can be spent in the sizzling sun collecting data from observations, trapping, etc., I enjoy every moment out in the field (except for the mosquitos and flies). I’ll be scanning with my scope or binos for marmots and expect to see something different each time. There are times where I am able to predict an individuals behavior based on how well I know the animal’s personality traits. Marmot interactions are the most adorable when the yearlings are play wrestling and boxing. It seems like some prefer to forage together in small groups for better awareness of predators. And other individuals like to be by themselves and sun bathe on a rock until it gets cool enough to forage. But regardless of the marmot, they usually alarm call if they sense a posing threat, which is one of the reasons I think it is a great factor of their fitness ability. I am gradually learning about the lives that marmots have to go through and appreciate all the knowledge that Dan and the rest of the marmot team get to share with me. The experiences and stories I have here at RMBL are tremendous and I am grateful to have been introduced to such a beautiful place with such great people. I cannot wait to hold my first pup and name it, which should be coming up really soon One thing that I am glad I got to experience the past week was Gabriela’s first bike ride in the rocky road to picnic. She did so good that the road has to watch out for her now instead. Cheers to another great summer!!