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And so it begins…

The field season is here! The field season is here! Yippeee!!!!! And all the biologists rejoiced.

And Mother Nature said: “HA! I hope you like snow!”

Playing around in the snow for remote camera volunteer training... it's not all fun and game out there, but it's a lot of that!

Playing around in the snow for remote camera volunteer training… it’s not all fun and game out there, but it’s a lot of that!

The First Camera Deployment

Cameras have started to go up on some of the low elevation trails in Banff National Park. As a biologist who is really only in this for the field work, that makes me pretty excited. This year, I’ve got a long field season running from May 1 to October 15. Here in the Canadian Rockies, that truly covers the spring (also known as end-of-winter), summer, and fall seasons. And what a spring it’s been so far.

Running in a few sheep putting cameras up in the sun...

Running in a few sheep putting cameras up in the sun…

Last Thursday, with the help of a volunteer, I put some cameras in sunshine and 21 degrees. The next day, we couldn’t even find the trailhead for all the snow off the side of the road, the day after that I was post-holing in knee-deep snow as I put cameras up in a winter wonderland. It makes me giggle just thinking about it. The weather can change so fast around here, but one thing is always constant – winter never goes out meekly and easily, it always goes out with a bang as if to reassure you that it will be back shortly. Summer is a more patient season, it waits for winter to have its little temper tantrum before coming out in all her glory.

But I digress…

It’s interesting putting cameras up this time of year. These cameras will truly capture the shift in the seasons as the snow melts and the trail becomes more attractive as a movement corridor for people and bears alike. I’m keen to see what kinds of images I get back from these early season cameras. I wonder if I’ll capture more bears as there will be less people, or if I’ll just have less images of everything overall.

Putting these cameras up is a little logistically different as well, mostly because I don’t actually know where the ground is. I put the camera up to have the trail in the image, but as the snow melts, the trail will be lower than it is now. I hope I’ve got the camera low enough that the trail is still in the image and I tried to use my hiking pole to see how deep the snow was… but was I just hitting an ice crust? Or was that actually the ground? Will it snow more? Things are more uncertain and unpredictable in the spring, and that is part of this season’s magic.

A May winter wonderland... only one day after a glorious "summer" day!

A May winter wonderland… only one day after a glorious “summer” day!

Intimacy with the Ecosystem

Being a field biologist gives me an interaction and intimacy with an ecosystem that I might not get otherwise. The sampling schedule that I’ve put together is based several things – none of them weather. The trails are randomly selected and the order in which they are sampled is also random. Then I look at the calendar and knowing how many cameras I’ve got and how long they have to be up for, I plot the dates of when cameras will be set up and taken down. I don’t look at days of the week and I don’t consult the weather forecast. Once that schedule is made, it’s made. It doesn’t matter if it’s snowing and -6, if cameras are scheduled to go up, they go up.

When I’m not doing field work, I don’t usually choose to go out and hike in crappy weather. When I’m doing field work, it’s not an option. As a result, I end up outside, seeing and experiencing this ecosystem in all kinds of weather: snow, rain, shine, or anything in between. These experiences increase my understanding of this ecosystem and how it works on a daily basis. While I may not appreciate exactly how these experiences will be useful, they will come in handy when I attempt to explain my results in a meaningful way.

Last year’s flood, for example, affected the ecosystem around here in multiple ways. But it was only when I got out on hikes that I could see how some drainages changed their paths, or how some landslides buried berry patches, or how some alluvial fans expanded and covered more undergrowth.  Standing at the bottom of an alluvial fan post-flood, and taking a moment to think about how that change is impacting bear movement and habitat use is a crucial part of the science. When I’m in the forest, it’s all hypothetical and just allowing my imagination to run with an idea. But those moments create more questions that I can research when I get home or brainstorm with my colleagues. And that’s a benefit of field work that just isn’t captured on data sheets or on remote camera photos.

So here we go. Rain, shine, or snow. Cameras go up. Cameras come down. They take pictures. I breathe in the wilderness and watch the Rockies go from spring to summer to fall. And it’s amazing.

Man… I just love this job! Even post-holing through knee deep snow is fun when you’re into it!

Once we find a place to put a camera, we test it's location. If I was a small bear poking around the corner of this tree, would it take my picture?

Once we find a place to put a camera, we test it’s location. If I was a small bear poking around the corner of this tree, would it take my picture?

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