February 7th 2020
Well I meant to write a blog post about my second field season at Rocky Point Bird Observatory (I banded my first northern pygmy owl!) but things have been a little bit crazy for the last 6 months because I've lost my mind, moved to Kelowna, and started a PhD.
I'm researching cougar-prey dynamics in southern British Columbia!
Why cougars? Well, when I was working for fRI last winter we caught a few cougars on camera playing and sniffing around our deer traps. And I was more excited by this than any other large mammal field work moment I've encountered, for some reason. Cougars are just so mysterious, stealthy, and not really talked about a lot in wildlife management.
In my Master's thesis acknowledgements, I thanked my lab mates Gillian and Sandra for their help and support throughout my time at UVic, and said I hope we get to collar large cats someday.
That day is here, or at least on December 13th 2019 it was when I collared my first cougar!
I officially started my program in January 2020 at UBC Okanagan with Karen Hodges and Adam Ford. To date, we've collared 11 cougars between the west Okanagan and the east Kootenays, and next week we are going to try to deploy some collars in the Boundary region in between.
At this point, I am busy doing literature review, collaring cougars, and trying to visiting GPS clusters of the cougars we've collared to examine their kills and hunting habitat. I have not flushed out my thesis chapters yet, but I want to look at predation risk by cougars to mule deer and bighorn sheep and understand what habitat characteristics and features make these prey susceptible to cougar predation. I also want to examine habitat connectivity for cougars, density of the population, and the effects of wildfire and roads on survival, predation rates, and habitat selection.
Stay tuned for a website dedicated to this project, and how you could be involved in this research!
Once I visit more clusters I'll write a post about the field work and what we're finding :) so far, it's an uphill battle to snowshoe to the sides of mountains in the hopes of finding a half-eaten deer. What fun!