Friday, June 12, 2015

Back at it!

My name is Evan Griffith. I’m a recent graduate of Grinnell College and this is my second summer working with “team marmot” at RMBL. I was really excited to come back to Gothic, because I love living in the mountains and of course I missed all of my marmot friends! Last year I mostly focused on the relationship between coat color and behavior in marmots. This involved performing flight initiation distance (FID) experiments, a measurement of boldness, and taking pictures of marmot backs during trapping. This year I’m working with Kwasi (an undergrad from UConn) to expand the FID experiment to include escape speed (of the marmot) and relative refuge angle, that is, the angle between the marmot’s path to a burrow and the walker’s path. This involves some serious camera work, but I think Kwasi and I are up to the task!
            There’s nothing quite like being in Colorado for the summer. Every morning I head up Gothic road on my bike. After running out of breath from biking up the steep hill at the north end of town I have to stop, not only to catch my breath, but also to admire the view. The green valley, rimmed by mountains, is cut down the middle by the steely East river, flowing strongly due to all the snowmelt. To the right are the red-stained slopes of Avery, begging to be climbed. In front, the snow-covered crown of Bellview glistens in the early morning light, and of course, the familiar gray cliffs of Gothic mountain fill the western portion of the sky. No matter which way I look the view seems to get better. Ruby-crowned kinglets, yellow-rumped warblers, mountain chickadees and a plethora of other birds defend their territory and advertise for mates at the top of their lungs. It takes about 15 minutes to bike to Picnic, but the trip is a quick one due to the natural scenery and the avian opera that takes place every morning.

            I get excited every day to see the animals I know so well. One of the neater aspects of working with marmots for an entire summer is that you become very familiar with each individual. For example, at picnic I know that “five-dice-dots” (an alpha male) will be hanging out at aspen burrow, “alien,” “line-dot-line,” and “taurus” will probably be around triple spruce, etc. All of these animals have personalities and by the end of the summer after watching them for 100s of hours you really get to know them well. Tiffany had us in hysterics describing “cat’s” (an adult female) antics when spooked. She jumps clear off the ground and spins 360 degrees, which Tiffany demonstrated quite convincingly. I’m looking forward to the rest of the summer and learning more about these incredible creatures. Here’s to more adventures!

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