Updates, Uncertainty, a Couple of Bears, and a Moose

Once in a while, the whole world implodes.

About three months ago, I started the process required to get a study visa in order to return to Mongolia. I am at the point where I have to do this, for various complicated bureaucratic reasons, the details of which I will spare my readers. When I left Mongolia in June, I anticipated a nice month in the States catching up with family and friends, picking up cameras and supplies for the wolverine/snow leopard project in the Darhad, and heading back to get the project started. Through a series of circumstances, however, the visa application – a single step from completion – fell through, and I found myself stuck in Bozeman, Montana, while I tried to figure out if I could return to the country this year. As places to be stuck go, Bozeman is lovely, but the state of mind generated by the total uncertainty about what you will be doing a month in the future is not. If there’s a kryptonite to the sort of personality that enjoys running around in the mountains chasing wildlife and writing about it, it’s bureaucracy. The past few weeks have passed in a haze of paralysis over how to sort all of this out, what to do with regards to the camera project (I had planned on being in the Darhad working with the protected areas’ rangers as of last week, and time is getting short), and so on. I don’t need to bore anyone with the details, but it’s also not a very good mental place from which to spin engaging narratives about one’s pursuits in the world of wildlife research. So the blog has been hibernating. I’m close to resolution, though, so hopefully (although this is still an optimistic interpretation) I will soon be reporting on my pursuit of wolverines and snow leopards from Mongolia.

In the meantime, though, I’ve been hiking up into the Bridgers to retrieve camera traps that I set up there this past winter and spring, in affiliation with the Forest Service, and with the WCS wolverine project, whose director Bob Inman was good enough to loan me some of the parts to make the stations. I haven’t written much about this endeavor here on the blog, but I wanted to test my cameras before taking them to Mongolia, and the wolverine status of the scattered, so-called island ranges of Montana remains relatively uncertain. The Crazies, to the east of the Bridgers, would have been my preferred range to test, but lacking a four wheel drive vehicle (yes, I’m still driving a car better suited to the streets of Boston than the back roads of Montana….) I had to settle for a more accessible site. The Bridger range is very small, tiny in wolverine terms, and could probably hold one, or at most two, reproductive females. I doubted that we would find any wolverines, but I was curious to see what might turn up (and exactly how much effort it takes for a single individual to run a wolverine camera trapping endeavor across even a small swath of the landscape.) In February, I set up five cameras, two on the east side of the range and two on the west side, all just below the ridge. I set up a fifth camera in the Bangtails, the rolling, low range just to the east of the Bridgers, where a woman had taken a photo of a wolverine while mountain biking last year. I took down two of the cameras in mid-March, shortly before I departed for Mongolia, but the other three remained in place until early July.

As expected, I did not detect any wolverines – this doesn’t mean that they aren’t there, though, because there were a number of things about the study that were not optimal for wolverine detection. In a more focused update, I’m going to write more about what I learned about wolverine camera trapping from this project, but in the meantime, here are some images that did turn up, and that I particularly enjoyed as they popped up when I was sorting through thousands and thousands of photos of carnivorous squirrels.

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Ghost bear in the Bridgers. I was taken aback by this photo when I first saw it, but the camera exposure can substantially invert or alter tone, so despite early hopes that I’d discovered a rogue polar bear population in Montana, this is a black bear. (The trees on which I set up these cameras were too close together, one of those lessons that I’ll discuss soon, but ideally you should be able to see the run pole and the ground beneath it, to record visits of animals that don’t climb the run pole.)

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This may be the same bear, several days later, paying a visit with her cub.

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This critter contemplated the bones for several frames, displaying only its ears, and I was worried that it would never give me a portrait so that I could tell whether it was an elk or a moose.

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Luckily it did eventually reveal its identity – and took advantage of the wolverine apparatus to scratch its nose.

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3 thoughts on “Updates, Uncertainty, a Couple of Bears, and a Moose

  1. I am an undergraduate student at the University of Guelph and a long time gulo enthusiast. I’ve been keeping up with your blog for a while now and just wanted to pile on some more fan mail. Your writing is a good compliment to course material and often stimulates a unique line of thought through which to view the content. I especially enjoyed your post “The Art of Wolverine War”. Best of luck for a speedy return to Mongolia, keep up the writing and keep up the great work!

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