Monday, October 29, 2007

Woodland Critters (A Weekend at Arnot)

This weekend was the Arnot Teaching Forest weekend field trip. This wonderful expanse of land run by our Natural Resources Department sits in a little pocket of Schuyler county, 30 minutes southwest of Cornell, and hosts a big Sugarbush providing Cornell's maple syrup production. Mmm... maple syrup... but I digress.

This weekend, our class was instructed in many field techniques, including clinometry, compass work, using topographic maps, herping, and field sampling. The crux of the whole trip was intensive small mammal trapping. We split into three groups, running Sherman live trap lines in three locations: the sugarbush, creekside, and an old field at the top of the big hill. I immediately volunteered to take my group up to the old field, because the big fields hold some nice views and good herping (at least in the summer, when it is warmer than 50 degrees).

Organizing and baiting the traps

I took my group on a bouncy, rough ride in the van up to the old fields. It was still early morning, cold, wet, and clouds were clinging to the top of the hill:

We set up a trap line of 50 traps spaced five meters apart. We tried to make it as straight as possible, but still ended up with a weaving line through the field and brush. "If this were a real study, we would make the line straight..."

Interesting finds on this early morning walk that left us soaked from the waist down from dew:

A very cold and nonmoving Garden Spider
Perhaps the most proudly displayed box of Coyote scat ever

We returned to the lodge, tried to dry ourselves off by the fireplace, then began our days activities. Our three groups rotated between three activities: mapping, orienteering, and herping (led by me!).

Lounging between activities (ignorant of Marcus's rooftop shenanigans)

I did a loop with each group, covering multiple specific habitat types: field, forest floor, marshy pond edges, vernal pool, rocky slope, and creek. It worked quite well, and was able to have them find a variety of species of salamander, most other herps having been burrowing in for the winter with the recent cold. Some highlights from our woodland walks:

Me teachin' (Photo by Chris Bentley)

A slug exuding slime where someone touched it.

A decent sized spider dropping down from the trees. Look near the bottom of the pic for it hanging. You couldn't feel the silk thread, but grabbing at where it should be allowed us to pass the spider around.

When the spider hit the ground it curled up.

A very nice patch of lichen and sporulating Lycopodium.

Another class had this bridge collapse while they crossed it a week ago.

(Photo by Chris Bentley)

After the days activities were all through, we made another quick run at dusk to the old field to check the trap line. We came up empty mammal-wise, but we had gunning the van through expanses of puddle on the road and got some nice views of the setting sun lighting up the fall foliage on the hills.

The rest of the night was taken up by dinner, after-dark trap checks (cold and blustery on the hilltop!), s'mores, and bonfire (naturally).

Marshmallow fun (Photo by Chris Bentley)

The next day, we collected the traps (closed during the night to prevent further capture) and had the groups summarize and present their findings.

Herp Totals:

Thamnophis sirtalis - 1
Storeria occipitomaculata - 1

Rana clamitans - 3
Pseudacris crucifer - 1

Plethodon cinereus - 10+
Eurycea bislineata - 11+
Notophthalmus viridescens - 5+
Gyrinophilus porphyriticus - 2
Ambystoma maculatum - 1
Plethodon glutinosus - 2
Desmognathus ochrophaeus - 4+

Rana clamitans

Plethodon cinereus

Notophthalmus viridescens

Plethodon glutinosus with missing upper snout.

Gyrinophilus porphyriticus

Ambystoma maculatum

Presenting the herp totals

Mammal totals:

Red-backed Vole, Clethrionomys gapperi - 9
Meadow Vole, Microtus pennsylvanicus - 1
Short-tailed Shrew, Blarina brevicauda - 1 DOA
White-footed Mouse, Peromyscus leucopus - 3
Deer Mouse, Peromyscus maniculatus - 1
Peromyscus sp. - 2

As it turns out, old field didn't yield any mammals

Meadow Vole

Peromyscus sp. - extremely difficult to ID

Red-backed Vole - Adorable. They huddle together in a pile and sound like squeeky toys.

We did fairly well on birds too. We added a new species to the Arnot checklist - Red-bellied Woodpecker. We also heard a Fox Sparrow singing in the exact spot we mist-netted one two years ago. Mitch heard some Pine Siskins, and Raven were flying around all day.

Can you tell which van is mine?

What a great weekend and a great class.

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