Please travel with me to Nova Scotia to study Mammals and Climate Change!

Monday, April 26, 2010


This trip would not have been possible without the generosity of HSBC bank. I want to say thank you to them for giving me and my students an incredible experience!

The requirements of this fellowship include the design and implementation of a community action project with my students. I will soon be sharing this with visitors here and at my education blog, Teach Dirty More photos from this journey can be found here.

Thank you for joining me on this adventure!

Friday, April 23, 2010

Day 13

Today, we got to see what our camera traps took pictures of. As a team with 6 traps, we photographed raccoons, a red fox, and at least two porcupines. Pretty cool! My partner and I did not get any pictures. Our batteries died the sane day we set the trap! Here is a picture of a racoon from one of the traps:

This afternoon, we went back to Kejimkujik National Park, to tour the seaside adjunct. It was a decent day for it.

We saw harbor seals swimming in the ocean and we stalked two porcupines eating in the bushes. As usual, Sue got some amazing shots. I will try to get some to share soon. When I do, you'll see how adorable they are. It breaks my heart that people here are hunting them just to kill them. Many people here believe the porcupines are over-populated, meaning there are lots and lots of them around. The truth, though, is that no one has ever done a study to see how many there really are. The scientists
I am working with don't believe there are very many because unlike snowshoe hares, porcupines can only have one baby a year, just like humans. They can have twins, but it doesn't happen very often.

The Scientists are working on figuring out ways to help tree farmers keep their trees safe from porcupines without farmers hunting and killing the porcupines. It turns out, porcupines really love to chew birch bark. Birch trees are really only used for firewood and they grow
everywhere. The Scientists wonder if farmers would plant birch trees all around the trees they need to make into lumber or sell as Christmas trees or save for the fruit they grow, if porcupines would leave the other trees alone since they would eat the birch bark instead. They can't be sure this would work, but it is one idea they have.

This evening, after dinner, we went on a bat hunt with a cool bat detector. I showed it to my class during our last videoconference. The bat detector turns bat squeaks into sounds we can hear. Most bat squeaks are too high pitched for us to hear. The vibrations of their sounds are just too fast for the human ear. Sadly, we did not find any on our hunt. Dr. Newman thinks it is still too cold for them to hunt for insects to eat, so they are still hibernating. Did you know that even in the summer, insect eating bats hibernate every day? They wake up at night to hunt for insects. In the winter, when it is too cold for insects, they hibernate for months without waking up. Their body almist completely stops working so they will stay asleep. This way, they save their energy and live longer.

Tomorrow, we are leaving. I am sad about this because I am going to miss my new friends. I'm happy though, too, because I have missed my old friends and my students a lot.

Room5, please add 2 harbor seals and 2 porcupines to the data you are collecting. I can't wait to see what it looks like when I get back on Tuesday!! Don't forget to check the comments from the last post to see what the answer was!

Thursday, April 22, 2010

Day Twelve

Beavers, Ants and Survival Skills

Watching the beavers last night was awesome.  My friend Sue has an amazing camera that zoomed right in to the beavers.  Click on the picture she took to see it big.  I got a fantastic view thanks to my amazing binoculars! It was cold sitting on the bank of the water being as silent as we could be, but it was worth it.  I saw three beavers and one muskrat swimming and eating and grooming themselves.  The beavers were big and really cute! One beaver was watching us, trying to figure out what we were.  He kept swimming laps in front of us and he wouldn't take his eyes off of us. The beaver lodge they lived in was a really nice one.  I didn't have a super zoom camera like Sue's, but I did my best taking a picture of it.
The opening to the lodge is on the right.  The island on the left is the area where they would swim to and eat some twigs.  It's the same one the beaver is sitting on in the picture Sue took.  I really wish there were beavers in Green Lake so I could take my students to watch beavers.  A couple of times, the beavers would get worried about us and slap their tails on the water.  It was so loud, the first time it scared me and I almost dropped my binoculars!

Today, we learned some survival skills in case we might ever get lost in the middle of nowhere. We learned how to make fire and how to catch an animal for food using sticks and twine.  I took two videos.  The first one shows Dr. Newman trying to make fire and the second shows Emma volunteering to be the trapped animal in our animal trap.  She was a good sport.  I think she had fun!

I took one more video when we came upon a very unusual ant hill yesterday.  The ants were all covering the hill instead of just a few running around.  I tried to take a picture, but it didn't look like anything except a black circle.  In the video, if you look carefully, you can see these are ants and you can see them moving around.

Weird, hm?  We have no idea why they weren't inside the ant hill.

This evening, we are having a birthday party for the earth.  My team is also giving gifts to the scientists to thank them.  I brought gifts that have animals on them that live in the Pacific Ocean near my home.  If we have time, we will use bat detectors tonight.  I hope we do.  I'm very excited to see some bats!

Room 5, please add 3 beavers and 1 muskrat to the data you are collecting.  Also, I just realized no one answered my question from the other day: My partner and I set 20 traps total. We set half in the grassland area and half in the woodland area. How many traps did my partner and I set in the grassland area and how many traps did we set in the woodland area? Remember to tell me your strategy and not just the answer! If you haven't done so already, check the comments from the field sign challenge the other day to see what the answers were.

Happy Earth Day!

photo courtesy of NASA

I am so grateful to live on such an AMAZING planet.

Wednesday, April 21, 2010

Day Eleven

Today we checked our traps and Spunky had climbed into the same trap as yesterday.  Sometime during the night, though, she died in the trap.  We felt very sad to find her that way this morning, but it's normal for a vole to only live a short time. We are pretty sure she was hurt by something like a bird of prey before she went into the trap. She had a big black mark on her back.  We didn't catch anything else today.

In a little while, we are leaving to go see beavers.  I will tell you all about it tomorrow.  I hope to get some good pictures!

Room 5, I am excited to celebrate Earth Day with you!  Think of what you would like to say to the Earth to show your appreciation. Please also add two red squirrels to the data you are collecting. Talk to you soon!

Tuesday, April 20, 2010

Day Ten

Yesterday, we set another 100 traps- but this time at Cook's Lake. Cook's Lake is a very large lake and it has different kinds of habitat around it. There is a wetlands area, a woodland area and a grassland area. My partner and I set 20 traps total. We set half of them in the woodland area and half in the grassland area. The woodland area is covered in trees. What do you suppose the grassland area is covered in? If you said grass, you're right! The grass in this area isn't like the grass in our yards, though. It's long and a mix of green and yellow. It is bushy and perfect for small mammals to hide in when they run around.  Here is a photo of our traps in the grassland area and another picture to show more of the bushy grass.
 We are hoping to catch woodland jumping mice, meadow voles and small-tailed shrews.  My partner and I are the only ones who caught something today!  We caught a female meadow vole named Spunky.  She was cute!  A meadow vole is different from a red-backed vole because it is brown and just a bit bigger.

We also did a field sign transect today.   We walked the whole area and looked for field signs.  I took pictures of what I could.

Room 5, I am going to challenge you again to tell me what these signs mean.  Remember that field signs help us know how many animals and what kinds are in a certain area. What animals have been or are now at Cook's Lake?

1. What do you think this skull belonged to? I will give you a hint.  This area used to be a farm and this skull did NOT belong to a horse.
2. Here is another field sign that lets me know that a certain small mammal recently had a meal here. It has left two neat piles of acorn shells.  What do you think left them here?
3. In this puddle in the mud lies two sacks of baby eggs.  The second picture shows a close up of one of the sacks.  A mammal obviously did not leave this, you know, since mammals don't lay eggs.  What do you think these eggs will grow up to be? Hint: this kind of animal needs to be in water as a baby and near water as an adult.
4. Here is a track I found.  I thought Lycos had made this footprint, but the fingers are too skinny on this paw.  What could have left it?
5. One picture below is part of a skull. The other picture shows a pair of bones we found from the same animal. They are from the jaw.  See the teeth?  What kind of animal is it?
6. This scat is not a kind I have seen before on my trip.  It belongs to an animal that is smaller than a coyote, but has a similar diet.  What do you think it could be?
7. For your last challenge question, how many traps did my partner and I set in the grassland area and how many traps did we set in the woodland area? My partner and I set 20 traps total, but only half of them in each area.  Remember to tell me your strategy and not just the answer!
Room 5, I have added answers to yesterday's challenge in the comments of yesterday's post. You guys did a GREAT job! Please add one chipmunk and one vole to the data you are collecting on my animal sightings.

Dr. Newman

One of our lead scientists, Dr. Newman, has a special song for you!

Monday, April 19, 2010

Day Nine

Yesterday, we visited Kejimkujik (Kedge-uh-muh-COO-jik) National Forest. Kejimkujik means 'Land of the Spirits' in Mi'kmaw (Mick-Maw).  The Mi'kmaws are the native people who lived here long before the white people came. Some Mi'kmaws still live here.

In the forest, Emma and I spotted many things. Take a look!

First, a picture of Emma and Lycos cuddling on the trip to the Forest.  They are such good friends!

Soon after we began our hike through the forest, we saw a waterfall! Dr. Newman says this water is brown because of the tannins from the pine needles.  Tannins are acid inside of the needles and when they mix with the water, they change the color of the water.

Lycos found part of the forest burned.  This was a controlled burn, which means Park Rangers did it on purpose.  They burn it to get rid of a lot of the low lying plants and brush on the ground so new seeds have room to grow.  They put the fire out as soon as the part they wanted to burn was finished.

Emma found a cool mushroom!  I couldn't let her eat it though.  Some mushrooms are poisonous.  It's safest not to eat anything you see growing in a forest.

This is a tree that grew in the forest on top of a rock.  It grew in the moss on the rock, then when its roots got long enough, they found their way into the ground. Pretty cool! Look how tiny Emma is compared to the tree!

This is one of my favorite things about the National Parks in Canada.  They have a bear-proof can for trash, one for compost and 5 for different kinds of things you can recycle.  What a great way to help people take care of the Earth!

We also saw signs to tell us to be careful and not hit turtles that are crossing the road.  They are endangered because so many people run them over by accident and also because people are using the land where they live to build on.  We didn't see any turtles, but I thought the sign was cool!

We also found lots of field signs in the forest. Field signs show that animals have been in the area, even if you don't see the animals themselves.

Room 5, Can you guess which animals left these field signs?

1. Look carefully at these trees. Was this a Porcupine or a Beaver?

2. Does this scat belong to a snowshoe hare or a deer?

3. What kind of animal does this belong to?  What is this?

I saw field signs today at Cook's Lake, too, and I will share those with you tomorrow. I did not see any animals yesterday or today, so you can't add anything to the data you are collecting.  I think it is just too cold for animals to be out.  I think they are all hiding in their burrows.  I don't blame them!  The wind blew 34 mph today!!  That is faster than the cars are allowed to drive in our neighborhood! Tomorrow, we will check the shrew and mouse traps and maybe I will find some friends.  I'll let you know!

Sunday, April 18, 2010

Q & A

Room 5, Hi friends! I had a lot of fun in Halifax yesterday. Today we visited a National Forest where Emma helped us find some great things. I took pictures and will post them soon. For today's post, I just wanted to answer your questions.

Saoirse wants to know: Why did you give the Vole a haircut?
Good question, Saoirse! We gave the vole just a little haircut to be able to tell if we catch it again. If we see that it got a haircut already, we can tell that it is not a brand new vole and we won't count it twice.

Sofia wants to know: Have you given the Chipmunk a haircut too?
Hi Sofia! We did not give the chipmunk a haircut because he got away before we could. He was very fast!

Josie wants to know: How much did the voles eat while inside the trap?
Josie, the voles usually eat the piece of apple and up to a small handful of birdseed. That's enough to keep them happy for 2 days or so.

Enzo wants to know: How are you going to research the bats next week?
Great question, Enzo! We are going to use bat detector machines to find them. Try to ask me this question again at the videoconference so I can give you more information, okay?

Chey wants to know if you have seen any chipmunk scat?
Hi Chey! Chipmunk scat is super tiny. It's just too hard to see in the forest. Great question!

Zak wants to know if you have heard any coyotes at night?
Zak, I haven't been outside at night because it's so cold here. The scientists say I would probably hear them if I took a walk late at night, but I haven't done that and I don't know if I will. We do see a lot of coyote scat, though!

Maddie wants to know if you have seen any bears?
Maddie, the only bear I have seen is Emma. I am sad about this because it would be neat to see a bear, but I am also glad because bears are really dangerous if they try to protect themselves when they see you.

My Team

I promised to introduce you! Here they are:

Friday, April 16, 2010

Day Six

Today, we checked our traps and we caught a brand new female vole we named Bear.  Here you can see me checking her hair with Dr. Buesching to see if she was a vole we had caught before.  She didn't have any markings, so we knew she was a brand new capture.

We also trapped a deer mouse. We named him Mighty!

See how long his tail is compared to the voles we've caught?

Almost all of the other 98 traps were empty because raccoons had torn them apart overnight.  Those pesky raccoons!  There was hay all over the place.  Oh well.  We collected all of our traps because we will be trapping in a new place next week called Cook's Lake.  We will have to set the traps all over again.  I am excited to see what we catch!

After we collected our traps, we went on a horse-drawn cart ride! What a treat after all of our hard work this week! Our horses were named Kim and Sam.

Aren't they beautiful?

They carted us through a huge organic tree farm where they grow Christmas trees and also sell trees for building things. They also have free-range sheep and cows.  Free-range means they get to graze all day in a huge area of the farm.  They are never locked up or put in small barns. The cows are black with big white stripes. They are called Galloway cows.  I have never seen this kind before.  They are very stylish, I think!

Even though this farm is organic and is doing a lot of good things, the farm workers here are hunting the porcupine because the porcupine damages their trees when it eats the tree bark. The scientists I am working with are doing research on this so they can help save the porcupines and also make the farmers happy.  I will tell you more about this soon.

Tomorrow is our free day when we will go explore the big city of Halifax.  Halifax is the capitol and also where the airport is.  I am excited to eat in a restaurant and go to museums and SHOP after being in forests every day.  I'll let you know how it goes.

Room 5, Please add one deer mouse and one vole to the data you are collecting.  We won't count the horses or cows because they aren't wild.  Thank you for sending me great questions.  I promise to answer them this weekend.

Thursday, April 15, 2010

Day Five

Well, it didn't snow today but the scientists decided we should wait to do bat and beaver research for next week.  Instead, today we checked our traps in the morning and afternoon, surveyed trees for porcupine damage, and searched the forest floor for snowshoe hare scat. Searching the forest floor means crawling through poky, thorny branches and over moss and mud on our hands and knees for hours .  My face and hands are scratched and my whole body hurts.  I am very tired, but you know what? I'm having fun and I'm learning a lot.

Here is a picture of us moving through the forest.  See how poky the branches are?  Ouch!

As a team, we found over 5000 pieces of snowshoe hare scat today.  That tells us that this particular area of the forest has a lot of hare living in it and must be pretty healthy. 

Today, we caught the same voles we already caught yesterday. Burt has been caught 4 times!  I think he likes the traps.  Dr. Buesching thinks voles remember being caught so they must not mind if they keep going into them.  Tomorrow morning will be the last time we check the traps at our current site.  Next week, we will place them in a different area near a lake. We might even catch jumping mice with really long tails!  I can't wait.

We also caught a chipmunk today, even though we are not trying to.  Sometimes they try to get into the traps because they smell the food. The pictures of the chipmunk show him in a plastic bag.  That is the only way we can remove him from the trap.  Chipmunks can bite very hard and it hurts!  We named him Flash because he got away "in a flash"!

I am super tired.  I don't remember the last time I worked this hard for this long every day outside in the cold.  I'm glad I have such a fun team.  I will let you meet them all soon.  Here is a picture of me with Ms. McNulty.  She teaches 4th grade in San Francisco and she is my roommate here. 

Room 5, Please add one red squirrel and one chipmunk to the animal sighting data you are collecting. Today I would like you to come up with some questions for me that Ms. A can post in the comments.  I will do my best to answer them this weekend.  Have fun at the play and remember to show Ms. A how responsible you can be on field trips. I miss you a lot, but I'll video conference with you again on Monday!

Wednesday, April 14, 2010

Day Four

Meet Burt.

Burt is the first vole my partner and I caught today.Voles have a lot of neck skin and when you hold them by it, it is just like a mother vole does with her baby.  Don't worry!  It doesn't hurt them at all.

Trapping Small Mammals

Trapping voles helps us see how many live in the forest and how healthy the forest is.
Yesterday, we set 100 traps in the forest.

To do this, we had to think like mice do. We know that mice like to stay hidden, so we tried to find the most hidden parts of the forest: usually along the sides of boulders, under low hanging branches, and in the middle of a bunch of small trees. Can you see where I hid the trap in this picture?  Look carefully!

I am proud to report that we found ALL of our traps today and we caught 7 voles. 5 of them were new voles and 2 of them got trapped twice. We checked our traps twice today and we will check them twice again tomorrow and the morning after that.

When we catch a vole, we measure it and then we give it a little haircut before we let it go. This way, if we catch it again, we will notice its haircut and we won't count it twice.  Here is a video of Dr. Buesching marking Burt with scissors:

This is how we knew we had caught the same vole again in the afternoon. He had the same haircut we gave him in the morning. Hopefully, Burt stays out of the traps for a while. I know the hay and grain and apple make a nice place to visit, but we would rather meet new voles.

Room 5, thank you for answering my scat challenge questions yesterday! You were very close. The answers to yesterday's challenge were A) porcupine B) coyote C) raccoon and D) snowshoe hare. The reason "A" is porcupine scat is because it comes in two shapes. Sometimes it looks like cheetos and sometimes it looks like a pearl necklace. You can't see the pearl necklace very well in the picture I gave you, but here is a good shot. The "string" holding it together is really shredded bark. Today, please record in your expedition field journals that I saw another red squirrel and 5 voles. I hope you're having a great week!

Tonight, it is supposed to snow.  If it doesn't, we will go watch beavers tomorrow and do bat research!

Tuesday, April 13, 2010

Day Three

We did a lot of hard work today, including building walls for a cabin at a field site and setting 100 vole traps in a forest where we had to climb over boulders and climb over, under, and between branches and poky brambly bushes.  It was a lot of work.  I'm going to tell you more about that later, though.  Today, the topic is scat. 

Whose Scat is that?

Now, scat, in case you were wondering, is animal poop.  My students know this because we've talked about it.  When people talk about poop sometimes they think it is gross and sometimes they think it is funny.  But really, scat and poop are both really normal things that all animals get rid of from their bodies.  It's really just what's left over from the food we eat that our body doesn't need.

When you are studying animals and their habitat, poop, or scat, is super important! Identifying animal scat is one way of seeing what animals live in the area. The more scat we find, that means the more animals there are. The more animals there are is a great indicator that the habitat and ecosystem is healthy. The less animals there are indicates that the habitat is not healthy enough for them and tells us we need to do something to change that.

Today, I challenge you to identify the animals that produced the following scat:

Four animals left this scat.  One belongs to a racoon, one belongs to a snowshoe hare, one belongs to a coyote and one belongs to a porcupine.

I'll give you some hints.  In raccoon scat, you can usually see what they've eaten--especially when they've eaten seeds.  Snowshoe hare scat looks a lot like rabbit scat or deer scat, but it is brown instead of black. Coyote scat looks a lot like dog poop. Porcupine scat can have the same shape as cheese puffs and can also look like a pearl necklace, but brown.  One scat above is white because it is so old.

Try to match the animal to its scat and post your answers.  I will tell you the correct answers tomorrow.

Room 5, I loved seeing you and talking to you over the computer yesterday!  I miss you so much! You had some really great questions and I especially loved it when you used a big voice to ask me things.  Thank you!  Please work on the scat challenge today and record that I saw another red squirrel.  It was chattering at us while we were setting the vole traps in the forest.  Tomorrow, I will let you know how many voles we caught and tell you more about setting traps.

Before I say goodbye, I wanted to share with you the sounds of the spring peeper frogs we can hear at night from our house.  You will need to be very quiet to hear them.  I recorded them while standing on our back deck.

I think they sound really nice.  Maybe I will see some soon.  

Monday, April 12, 2010

Day Two

(I'm posting a lot of pictures in this post so I'm posting them small.  You can click on each one to see it larger, if you'd like.)

Today, I went with my group on a 6 mile hike along the coast. It was wonderful to see the beautiful ocean. 

We also saw some amazing creatures.  On our walk, I saw 16 whitetailed deer all in one meadow! I also saw two red squirrels and 1 porcupine. I have never seen a porcupine in real life, so I was very excited! He was busy and we had to be very quiet so he wouldn't climb the tree and hide. My friend Sue has a fancy camera and she took these great pictures of the three animals we saw.
You can't tell, but red squirrels are really little. -much smaller than the gray squirrels we have in Seattle. Now check out the eye of this beautiful porcupine!!

Before we saw the porcupine, we saw the damage one had done to a nearby tree. Some people hunt them because they are considered pests. Can you tell where the porcupine has chewed the bark off the tree?

We also saw some raccoon footprints, letting us know one had visited recently.  This is another way to "look" for mammals.  We could tell these belonged to a raccoon because of the 5 skinny toes.

When we were walking on the rocks, I saw these bones.
One of the Scientists, Dr. Buesching, told me that she thinks they are the bones of a seal pup.

Another person on my team found this. It is the skull of a duck.  I wonder what ate it.  Any guesses?

This animal is one I have seen a lot of.  Do you think it is a wolf or coyote?
Did you guess? Well, I'm just joking. It is actually a dog that belongs to the Scientists that live here.  They are not sure what kind of dog he is, but he sure does look like a really big coyote!  A lot of wild animals think he is one too and they run away from him when he takes a walk with us. He is actually really nice and his name is Lycos. On my first day here, he gave me a big wet kiss. He also tried to play with Emma, but I had to tell him she is not a toy. He was kind of bummed.

We saw a lot of something else today, called scat, that also helps us know which animals have recently visited that area.

Room 5, Do you remember what scat is? Tomorrow, I will tell you more about it and even show you pictures of it.  We will be working with scat a lot while we are here.

Thanks for letting me know how you will collect the data on the animals I see. Tally marks sounds like a great idea! Please help Ms. A record the animals I saw today on chart paper and then copy it into your Field Expedition Journals after we have our videoconference. By the way, I am so excited to see you!! I hope you have some great questions for me!