Wait a minute, it’s Thursday already? And we are off tomorrow – so its pseudoFriday? SCORE! Seriously, where did this past week go? Not that I am complaining, I am overjoyed at the thought of a beer and pizza night then sleeping in tomorrow. Sounds brilliant.

We had planning on conquering the Cannonball River via canoe on Tuesday. Problem. Don’t tell him this, but Rick isn’t a “real” truck. He’s only a Ranger, and our canoe is quite large, thus there is no way it would fit in the bed or fit in the bed angled over the roof. Well there goes our Tuesday plans. We took some measurements and headed out to Lowes for lumber. With much help from Willy and Dan and a few hours later, voila – Rick now has a nice, sturdy wooden frame in the bed capable of holding the canoe.

Since half the day was used up by construction, we decided to spend the rest locked in the office working on paperwork, contacting land owners, etc. Fun.

Okay. Hump day. Finally we get to canoe! Problem. Apparently while both of us were at one point self-proclaimed experts at ratchet straps we both have apparently forgotten all aspects of properly using them. After much random knots, cussing, stopping at a truck stop to buy more straps and attempt to retie the canoe, a very nice trucker came out of the diner and offered to re-teach us the art of the ratchet strap. Okay. Canoe successfully (and safely) strapped down we hit the highway and headed southwest to Mott where our portion of the Cannonball River is. Problem. The bank of the Cannonball is about 10-12 feet tall, sleek, and pretty dang step. Well… balls to the wall, we slid and slided the canoe down to the water and off we were surveying for beaver signs (which there were TONS of) and otter signs (which there were none of). I would like to say we took our time for the sole reason to make sure we were thorough (which we were), but we definitely enjoyed ourselves canoeing up and down the 1km stretch of our study area. The sky was cloudless, the sun was shining, and it was great!

Problem. Now we had to get the canoe UP the step bank. After slipping, struggling, cussing, and more cussing, we used our massive muscles and hauled that dang boat up the bank and back onto the truck. Success. On to the next site. Problem. The left hand turn we were supposed to take is not there. Fact: 70% of North Dakota’s roads are not paved and have tendencies to disappear. Well, that was just dandy because our next turn happened to take us to South Dakota and into a town called Lemmon where we found him…


Epic, isn’t he? Yes, he is a cowboy RIDING a triceratops. Probably the coolest metal sculpture I’ve ever seen. Well done, Lemmon, well done.

The rest of the day went by pretty uneventfully as we finished up our surveys. Megan did run into a skunk and before you ask, no, it did not spray her. Today was more or less the same as Monday, except I think we are already starting to fine-tune our bridge surveying skills. One of our streams decided it no longer wanted to be there and has dried up since our gazetteer was created, giving us some free time to log data, reply to e-mails, and work on our human dimension surveys some more.

With that being said the week is over (until Saturday). And after the gym, I have some cold beer and hot pizza calling my name. (Yes, I realize it pointless to work out if I am just going to eat junk food. Think of it at canceling each other out. Besides, it’s pseudoFriday).

Peace out, homies.

Nothing… well almost

Damn, well I had a whole post typed up, did something and deleted it all. Let’s try this again while hitting the save draft button numerous times!

Alright, well I did not post anything from this weekend because let’s face it this weekend wasn’t too exciting. Although it was critical. We did all our paperwork, survey printings, and planning this weekend. I figured no one really wants to hear the gritty details on that, right? Yeah, that’s what I thought

Today was our first day out in the field by ourselves and it was… successful, as in we successfully found nothing at any of our bridge sites.
  
Raccoon (Procyon lotor) tracks and the beautiful yellow flowers of the canola fields which are popping up everywhere.

We learned that navigating steep slopes of rivers and creeks through chest high grasses concealing various holes and erosion cliff sides can be quite difficult. (We bought a machete today to help combat this problem. And because machetes are badass.) And then when you finally find a trail you can follow next to the river, it dead ends causing you to have to back track 150 meters and find a new route. Oh and did I mention ticks LOVE high grasses? And apparently me as well. Okay, I feel like I’m completely complaining, but all was not as bad as the above paragraph seems. Also concealed in the grasses was this guy…

He is a bullsnake (Pituophis catenifer sayi) which is a new species for me. Unfortunately the grasses also hide Prairie Rattlers, which are awesome, I just would like to see them way before I’m right up next to them.

The only river that we found that had obvious beaver signs happened to be unwalkable. So this means tomorrow morning we are planning to strap our canoe to Rick (the truck) and take our surveying to the water. Yeah, I am pretty dang stoked about this! That should make things a little be easier than navigating the bank sides.

Well now the weirdness of wildlifers comes out. On our way back we saw a perfectly fresh roadkill male ring-necked pheasant (Phasianus colchicus). Pheasants are EVERYWHERE here by the way. I think I flushed about 4-5 while doing our survey today. Well this guy was in perfect shape, he must have just been nicked by a car and broke his neck or something. So being the wildlife people we are, we stopped on the side of the road and plucked some beautiful feathers – he doesn’t need them anymore. We are going to find some craft to make with them so they will not go to waste.


Yes, I posed with him. Isn’t he beautiful though?

And further down the road we came across a coyote (Canis latrans) pup roadkill. I’ve never seen a coyote pup before so this was kinda cool, if not a bit sad. I’ve been debating posting a picture of him, but he wasn’t in the greatest shape by the time we passed him so I’ll save you from those images, unless of course I get some requests in which case I will gladly post them.

On a side note, I found a new gym to take up my free time. The local YMCA. It’s HUGE and perfect! It has everything I need from tons of cardio machines, suspended track, weight machines, free weights, group classes, even a pool, hot tub, and sauna! I am really excited about this since I am a little bit of a gym rat and have been going crazy having not worked out the past two weeks. Already my body is achingly sore and I love it! Between a hard two hour session at the gym and hiking river banks all day I am more than ready to call it a night – even though its 2130 and completely light outside still. So goodnight all! 🙂

Fire in the hole!

Okay, so we spent the entirety of the day yesterday doing bridge surveys with Dr. Serfass so he can show us what we need to be looking for and how to conduct the surveys. We found lots and lots of raccoon signs and scat, beaver signs in almost all of the sights we surveyed, but unfortunately, no otter signs. I really was not expecting to find beaver dams on some of our sights. One of them had virtually no trees within a good distance of the dam. It’s amazing how they were still able to find food and material to build their dams. Most of these sights they had bank holes instead of lodges, which make sense.

 

We had a huge storm flirting with us all day, but it only ever rained on us. Occasionally we could see distant lighting and even saw a beautiful rainbow. Unfortunately the L.L. Bean hiking boots that I have had for the past three years and have had issues with for the last three years decided to destroy my feet yet again. So I am waving the white flag and have decided that I will never be able to break these boots in. So that means I’m currently in the market for new hiking boots. Suggestions??

Now today was pretty dang sweet! USDA Wildlife Services invited us to help out on a dam removal that they were hired to do by the railroad company. There was a beaver dam that had backed up a creek running alongside of the tracks causing potential danger of flooding over the tracks, or the water weakening the tracks stability which could be disastrous. The beaver were removed from the area not to long ago, but the dam remained. John gave us a nice chemistry lesson in the explosives that they use for dam removal. We used five 1 1/2 pound explosives with three main chemical components. They even let me mix two of the explosives!

Each explosive was inserted into the dam at specific locations to ensure the safest, most controlled blast. Then we wired up the fuse to a safe distance, Jeremy hollered “fire in the hole!!” then the button was pressed and BOOM!!!! The dam exploded mud and wood high into the air. Instantly the impoundment water started rushing down stream and the water lever dropped rapidly. It was really impressive.

Before…

… after

After all the excitement we went back to the office and did the boring work of typing up the surveys that we will use for the human dimensions aspects of our work. We did learn of another project that we could do if we wanted. I jumped on it! Dr. Serfass offered to let me do a diet analysis of fishers (Martes pennanti) which has not been done in North Dakota before. This would include dissecting a sample of fisher stomachs and analyzing the contents. While that might not sound to glorious to a lot of you, I am very excited about it. I am hoping to find something that I can possibly create a thesis off of instead of doing my thesis of the results of the surveys on different groups’ opinions of beavers.

Oh and I forgot to mention, I saw a jackrabbit last night and again today. I’ve never seen one before. They are HUGE! At first it was dusk and I had absolutely no idea what this odd creature was running in the road in front of the Ford Ranger (who Megan named Rick, get it Ranger Rick?). So pretty neat, another new mammal to my list.