Monday, April 14, 2008

College Students at Selah for Field Work

Trinity University students come to BRP for field studies.

Dr. David O. Ribble of the Trinity University brought a small number of his students out for a field trip last weekend (April 4, 5, and 6). The class is studying Vertebrate Evolution, and the purpose of this field trip was to learn field techniques for collecting data on vertebrates, and starting a census of native animals here on the ranch.

David O. Ribble, Ph.D., is a Mammologist, and studied small mammals for this doctorate research.

Whitney McCarthy, Latoya Comer, Claire Edwards, and Rachel Johansen worked hard to trap small mammals. Claire is holding a Sherman trap which is used to trap mice and other small mammals in the field. They are "have a heart" traps for little mammals.

Claire and Rachel look for the traps that were set out with dry oatmeal as bait the night before. They set out 120 traps each night, so it was difficult to remember exactly where each one was placed.

Whitney and Latoya help look for traps too. If the door of the trap is closed the trapped animal is examined, measured and identified. If it is open it is left there to hopefully catch something later in the day or during the upcoming night.

When the animal is removed it is put in a plastic bag so it can be handled safely. People that handle wild animals get rabies vaccinations so they don’t have to worry about getting rabies.

Dr. Ribble weighs the mouse while it’s in a baggie. The weight of the baggie is subtracted from the total weight to get the mouse’s weight.

Mice can be held behind their head so they can’t bite or scratch you. This is a White-ankled Mouse (Peromyscus pectoralis) and we believe it is the most common mouse on the ranch. They even come in our houses and we trap them in Sherman traps which don’t hurt them. We release them in areas that are far from our houses.

Dr. Ribble looks at the specimen to see if it is a male or female.

The length of the mouse’s body and tail are measured on a ruler.

Length of its back foot is measured, as well as ear length. If all the information needed is collected in the field then the mouse is released.

Other native rodents that were captured in Sherman traps were one Hispid Cotton Rat (Sigmodon Hispidus) and one Northern Pygmy Mouse (Baiomys taylori).

Track plates which are sheets of aluminum with carpenter's chalk on them are put out with bait to see if larger mammals are out and about. The prints on this plate are fox size and most likely made by a Gray Fox. Some of the prints are quite clear.

As we were driving to a new site, Dr. Ribble braked, jumped out of the van and picked up a Rough Green Snake (Opheodrys aestivus). It is a tree or bush dwelling snake that is usually not far from water. They eat crickets, grasshoppers, larvae of moths and butterflies, as well as spiders.

On Friday and Saturday evenings Bat Mist Nets were set up over a creek to catch bats flying around that might be swooping down to get a drink of water or catch insects emerging from the water. Four male Mexican Free-tailed bats (Tadarida brasiliensis) were captured on April 5th. Here Claire Edwards holds a bat.

In this picture one of the bats is held with its wings held so they can be seen.

The students went out early in the morning each day to listen and look for birds.
Seen and/or heard:
Mourning Dove
Ladder-backed Woodpecker
Northern Cardinal
Wild Turkey
Carolina Wren
Bewick’s Wren
Black-capped Chickadee
Field Sparrow
Lark Sparrow
Rufous Crowned Sparrow
White-eyed Vireo
Red-eyed Vireo
Tufted Titmouse
Black Vulture
Turkey Vulture
Brown-headed Cowbird
Common Grackle
Ruby-Crowned Kinglet
Black and White Warbler
Golden-cheeked Warbler
Black-chinned Hummingbird

All of the information gathered by a field trip like this one not only provides inportant baseline data for the ranch, but will also help scientists in the future understand how climate change is affecting known habitats that have data collected over a period of time. We have been talking with some UT professors about doing ongoing research of insect populations. Hopefully Dr. Ribble will continue to bring students here for vertebrate field studies.

The four students were good enough to write me some of their impressions from their short but exciting stay here at Selah.

Whitney McCarthy said, "I enjoyed the beautiful terrain of the ranch; what's even more amazing is all of the restoration of the grasslands that has taken place here. I enjoyed setting traps for mice at various areas and seeing what we came up with the next day."

Latoya Comer said, "I didn't know what to expect coming into this adventure, but I sure didn't expect the sprawling beauty, the silencing beauty, of the Bamberger Ranch Preserve. My purpose was to learn the trapping techniques of small mammals, but I found my pleasure in hiking and finding niches of paradise in the land. Thank you for the opportunity to "pause" this weekend."

Claire Edwards said, "This is an amazing ranch! There is so much to do and to see. I really enjoyed getting to see all the animals. We caught a lot of mice and bats. My favorite part was getting to held the bat and releasing it into a tree. It scurried up the tree and eventually flew off into the night. It has been a very peaceful, enjoyable experience."

Rachel Johansen said, "It is very comforting to know not only there is such great natural beauty in Texas, but that there are genuinely great people trying to preserve it. Personally I really enjoyed the wonderful birds and their beautiful songs. I definitely think bird watching might become a new hobby of mine."

We enjoyed having you at the ranch. It is not only exciting that you all see and learn about the ranch, but we are getting good documentation of the animals that live here and where they are found.

Thanks to you Dr. Ribble, and to your students!

1 comment:

Bob said...

Bravo, Margaret and David. You are at it again, hosting students and gathering data. (Actually letting them gather data) You work hard to preserve such a beautiful place and then go and share it with young scientists. Their comments show their wonder. Thank You for inspiring them.