Field posts, 2015

Saturday, Sept 19th



Tuesday, May 12th

Transit day! I left Logan to keep the Hells Canyon project under control and headed back through the Lochsa to Bozeman this morning to prep for the Montana leg of this project. Before I left, though, Logan and I got to see 149.849 deliver her lamb on Bracken Point in Asotin.

Bracken Point is a pretty sweet place to view. The ewes like to tuck into some pockets in the cliffside low on Bracken Point (a place Miggy and I dubbed the “lamb caves” during the 2013 iteration of this project). We can watch the sheep at the lamb caves from a mesa about half a mile away. From that vantage point, we’re above them, so we get a really excellent view.

149.849 was at the lamb caves alone yesterday. In my mind, “alone-ness” and “lamb caves” bear a high association with lambing at this time of year, so we speculated she’d likely deliver soon. Logan went out at 6:30 this morning to check on her, and saw that her water had broken. We both went back together after that to watch. By 7:30, the ewe was having regular contractions on about 5-minute intervals. We could see lamb feet starting at 7:54, and the lamb was born exactly an hour later, at 8:54 this morning.

149.849 was up and down quite a lot while we watched. Her contractions were very clearly obvious, and she experienced most of them while bedded. Her tail and hindquarters would flex in undulating cycles of maybe 5 sets of 15 seconds.  After each round of contractions, she would stand and stretch.

Following birth, the lamb was moving and struggling almost immediately. It had its head raised within a minute of birth, and was standing (albeit not very well) when we left at 9:06. The ewe passed the placenta about 8 minutes after the birth, and ate it and umbilical cord pretty much immediately. She did not immediately pay a lot of attention to the lamb. While we almost always see ewes bedded against their lambs in the first few weeks, she did not immediately associate with it. I assume this was because she was still in pretty intense physical trauma from the birth, but I’m not entirely sure. Logan’s going to give me an update after a day or two.

Sunday, May 10th

We camped at Mountain View last night. No new lambs there, but we did see a very pregnant-looking 1160 off by herself. I’m hoping Logan will find her with a lamb in a couple days! We spent a while watching 779, 739, and an uncollared ewe with their lambs across from the Grande Ronde Lodge. The lambs are SO small. They barely look like sheep right now. 739’s in particular seemed to have quite a lot of energy: it was climbing all over its mom.

We’re having a little trouble with the set of ewes on the big feature across from the mouth of Grouse Creek. They like to tuck back into a canyon that we can’t really see from anywhere. So far, we’ve been lucky and caught them when they’re on the face, but I’m not sure how long our luck will hold.

Friday, May 8th

New lambs for 779 and 1409 in Mountain View!

Thursday, May 7th

New lamb for 145 in Asotin today (the first Asotin lamb this year). She was just above the Y along Asotin Creek Road. We got a look at them when the lamb was very new: dry, but not moving very well yet. Saw everybody else in Asotin, but no other lambs. Logan is headed to Mountain View alone tomorrow for  a little baptism by fire (and I get to spend the day cleaning data…).

Wednesday, May 6th

First lamb! 150.739 had a lamb at Mountain View today. I know she didn’t have it on Monday when I saw her, since she was the sheep out for the spontaneous swim in the Grande Ronde. I suspect she had it Monday night or yesterday, since it was up and moving (and dry) when we saw it this afternoon. It is SO SMALL: it can stand under her fully, with its head up, and not hit her belly.

We also saw everybody else at Mountain View, except 151.409 (who’s probably off lambing somewhere).

We got to see the house at the mouth of the Wenaha River that we can use if the weather is too wet to camp. It’s pretty sweet: gas stove, gas fridge, gas lanterns (that we won’t use, since they’ve burnt the paint on the ceiling…). It also has a really neat water-heating design: there’s a tank that afixes to the side of the wood stove with a spigot on it. You can fill the tank with water and then light the stove, and the stove will heat the water.

The Oregon refuge manager told me that the Grande Ronde is currently running around 2000 cus. Typically at this time of year, it’s 5-6K. Could be a smokey summer.

Tuesday, May 5th

Today was Logan’s first day. We worked Asotin, and saw pretty much everybody (but it did take us the whole day). There were 17 sheep on Bracken Point (including the ram 1240), six down with 145 at the forks of Asotin Creek, five in Charley Creek with 1389, and nine up at Lauffer Spring with 1851 and 1220. The Lauffer group took us forever to find: they were tucked back into some draws, and we could occasionally hear 1220, but weren’t getting 1851 or 360 (who was also with them).

Monday, May 4th

Today (my last solo day — my tech Logan starts up tomorrow), I worked Mountain View and Shumaker in Black Butte (see the map). Saw almost everybody in both places. I got lucky with this group of five yearlings and two ewes in Mountain View: they had no collars among them, but they were right in the middle of the road (looking for trouble).


I also saw this little guy cruising along on some cliffs just above them (it’s possible he was pushing the sheep group, although they didn’t seem particularly worried).


Still no lambs, anywhere, but who knows what tomorrow will bring!


Friday, May 1st

I worked Mountain View today, and it took me the whole day to get all the collars. No lambs yet. I’m still trying to figure Mountain View out. There’s a great paved road along the Grande Ronde, which gives us pretty easy access from below… but watching sheep from below is a bad idea. They like to lie right along edges, so that they’re stacked in. You might see a couple horns from below, when from above you could see that animal, plus five more bedded behind it. There’s an option to get up high at Mountain View, and look across the Grande Ronde from Grouse Flats (see the map here), but today a big group of ewes were tucked back into a draw that wasn’t visible from across or from the river. I caught a glimpse of them from the south side of the Grande Ronde, but I was probably looking over several miles. I could see collar colors, and make a reasonable guess at demographic group, but that was about it. Fingers crossed that they don’t decide to rear their lambs there!

Thursday, April 30th

Still no lambs at Asotin, but I did miss 1851 today, and she went early last year. I checked the spot where she lambed last year, up Lick Creek, but didn’t get any signal. Everybody else was cooperative, which was good since I needed to work fast today: Frances and I met for a few hours in the late afternoon to work on her paper describing the introduction of the new Mycoplasma ovipneumoniae strain and the ensuing epidemic at the mouth of the Grande Ronde in Black Butte last summer, so my field time was a little abbreviated.

We talked briefly about the count discrepancies we’ve been getting at Shumaker. Apparently Frances and Nick saw eight rams with the lone Joseph Creek ewe on their flight this week, and they think some of those rams are from Shumaker. Joseph Creek is the third part of the Black Butte population (along with Shumaker and the mouth of the Grande Ronde). The ewes don’t mix a whole lot between the three groups, but they share rams, and apparently also share pathogens. Frances and Nick think maybe the ram lamb who got lost his horn in the capture had been with the Shumaker rams, but when the rams split (for whatever reason) for Joseph, the ram lamb stayed behind and switched to the ewe group. We really need a closer look at that little guy (and a picture!) to determine if he’s actually ear tagged. All three of us thought we saw one, but none of us are totally convinced since the light was pretty bad (and I’ve only ever seen them from pretty far away).

Frances thinks Shumaker’s going to be rough to work during lambing. The ewes have cleared way out of Cassady’s land to lamb in the past, moving up river of Shneider Bar, or down further onto private land where access is pretty bad. She suggested we have Shumaker be our third priority, after Asotin and Mountain View (which she thinks should be tied for first priority; I’m not 100% convinced, since I like Asotin so much. I’d put it first, but only slightly, over Mountain View).

Frances also asked about 1891. I guess she didn’t move for a few weeks in March, and Nick had noticed that she was pretty thin (I’ve also noticed this, and her molt is ahead of everybody else’s). Frances and Nick thought she might have miscarried then. We took a look back at her old records (she’s been collared since 2008, but her frequency changed from 431 to 1891 during the winter of 13/14). She has a pretty bad track-record with lambs: none from 2008-2011, then one she lost in 2012, then two successful rearings while I’ve been here.

I’m trying a new schedule tomorrow, starting at Mountain View, then Shumaker, and then Asotin (namely, 1851). We’ll see how it goes.


Wednesday, April 29th

I was in town this morning for a check-in call with Pete, my advisor, and spent about three hours there moving and cleaning data, circulating plots, and checking in with other collaborators. I went to Shumaker and Mountain View in the afternoon, and did okay: saw everybody at Shumaker (no lambs yet… but I am still seeing 15 sheep, 9 ewes, 4 yearling rams, 2 yearling ewes), and got all but two at Mountain View (no lambs there either). Mountain View is going to be tough. It took me two hours to get home from the Grande Ronde Lodge to Asotin, and that alone will make for long days. Planning to start camping there every other day or every third day to cut down on the drive.

Saw this pretty guy on my way home (I took a close-up of his tail before getting out of the truck, just to check).


On my trip home, I saw a group of eight bull elk (big guys!). I don’t often see them in this phase. Their antlers remind me of well-trimmed Bonzai trees right now. The pictures are pretty granulated because it was pretty dark when I saw them, but you get the idea :)


Tuesday, April 28th

A short day in Asotin today. I saw 38: 13 yearlings and 25 ewes. 444, 149.849 and the ram 151.240 were up on Bracken Point with a bunch of yearlings. I saw 145 and fifteen others at the Y, a group of 7 including 1891 up Lick Creek, and 1851 and four of her friends at the mouth of Dry Gulch. Lots of good follows and scans, but no lambs in Asotin yet.

Monday, April 27th

Spent today with Logan, Frances, and Nick visiting Mountain View and the field house at the Wenaha, and checking in on the ewes at Shumaker. We got everybody except for two tagged yearling lambs at Mountain View, and saw everybody at Shumaker. The Shumaker light was pretty bad while we were there, so we didn’t get 100% confirmation on age structure, but we definitely saw 15 sheep. Frances and Nick were really excited that one lamb that they thought might have died shortly after capture appears to have made it – they hadn’t seen him since the capture, but it looked like he was in with this group today. I’d been really confused about his identity: he’s missing half a horn, so I was calling him the “half-uni ewe” earlier this week, but they think he’s a ram lamb. I’m shooting for a better look next time I’m out there.

Saturday April 25, 2015

Today was a classic spring day: rain, snow, and hail, plus plenty of sun.  I saw all the Asotin ewes (except 1180…) this morning. A little bad news from those girls, though: 150.319 and 151.361 were both coughing (319 quite a lot, just a couple singleton coughs from 151.361). I’m pretty worried about how the Asotin lambs will do this summer, given the symptoms I’m seeing.  Fingers crossed that they pull through okay.

I ran across this group of elk up on Smoothing Iron at about 7:00 this morning.  They weren’t too bothered by me.


Saw my first chicks this morning too, at the park in Lewiston, and heard through the grapevine that some of the other Hells Canyon sheep populations have lambs on the ground — I guess spring is really here!



Wednesday April 22, 2015

First day at Shumaker today, checking in on the Black Butte ewes. Saw 15. They seem to have had reasonable overwinter lamb survival, but some of the ewes are pretty scrawny.

Added bonus: the drive from the Asotin field house on Smoothing Iron to Shumaker is absolutely gorgeous. Should make for fabulous morning commutes:)

Saw this beautiful pair of herons on the Grande Ronde this morning while sheep-watching.



Tuesday April 21, 2015

Yesterday, I did some preliminary relocations, but today I really hit the ground running on scan samples (9) and focal follows (8) in Asotin. Tomorrow, I head to Shumaker (trying out the back-roads through Anatone; we’ll see how it goes).

I started the day with a group of 6 ewes, 151.561, 151.891, 150.145, 150.319, 151.600, and 151.361, up Charley Creek. They were headed down from the top of Charley, and I watched them from across the drainage on the west side. I got good locations, molts, and body conditions for all of them, and spent a little over an hour with them doing scans and follows.

Next was the group of 16 on Asotin Creek Road,  just downstream of the mouth of Charley Creek (initially, this group was only a couple hundred meters from the other group, but they pretty definitively split when I started collecting data on the 151.561 group). This group had a bunch of yearlings, (at least) two two-year-olds (orange 15 and yellow 41), and 151.251, 151.180, 151.220, 150.360, 151.851 and 150.020. I had a rough time getting molts and body conditions on these guys and reading eartag numbers since they were so high. Tried again in the evening, but they’d moved into Dry Gulch and the light was awful. Got some reasonable scans and follows during my morning visit, however.

Spent the afternoon with the group of 15 on Bracken Point, including 151.240, 150.444, 151.915, 151.389, 149.849, 151.811, and a BUNCH of 2-year-olds and yearlings. 151.240 (a two-year-old ram) was coughing, so I spent a long time watching for symptoms here. I contacted Frances, who reminded me that 151.240’s tested positive for Movi in the past. We’ll be watching for more symptoms down the road. Fingers crossed!  Got some scans and follows as well.

I saw leadership today from three sheep in particular in Asotin: 151.561 (leading a group with 145, 1891, 1600, 1361, 319), 151.251 (leading a big group with 1220, yellow41, orange15, 360, 151.851, 1180, others), and 149.849 (leading a group with ram 1240, 1389, 1915, 1811, 444 and a bunch of yearlings).

I’m having trouble distinguishing the yearlings from the two-year-olds, especially when trying to sort out the eartags. Hoping this becomes clearer with practice (and molt), and maybe some two-year-olds will have lambs….


Monday April 20, 2015

First day! Found all Asotin collars except 444 in three groups: downstream end of Bracken Point (15), just upstream of mouth of Charley Creek on Asotin Creek Road (20), and just downstream of mouth of Charley on Asotin Creek Road (3; different time of day than group upstream from mouth of Charley). Group of three was 020, 1851, and Orange 15. Hit the “sort” button on the relocations sheet and messed up all the points, but I think I’ve got them straightened out now.

Charley group had 5 years and a couple 2-year-olds. Got some pictures of them playing in the middle of Asotin Creek Road (just like the ones near the end of last summer when they were lambs).


Identifying animals when there are so many collars will definitely be a challenge. It’s possible to read the ear tags at close range, but takes time. 360’s and 1561’s collar both have almost no tape left. 180 was in with the Charley group, but her collar isn’t transmitting.

Had one class I ram (151.240) in with the group on Bracken Point.

One set of scans and three follows. Scanning with IDs will be rough since a lot of the taped collars are losing their markings; hoping for better tomorrow.

Pair of bluebirds are trying to nest in the upstairs of the Schlee house (flying repeatedly into upstairs windows), and a flicker is scoping out nesting in the corner of the porch. Saw some swallows (probably barn but I wasn’t 100% sure). Seeing lots of quail, chukkars, and hearing lots of meadowlarks (but haven’t actually seen one yet). Couple nice tom turkeys driving around yesterday. About 95 elk in yard of Schlee house when I pulled up Sunday night. Group of 7 beautiful mule deer up above the overlook on my run this morning.

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