Researcher’s Log: Searching for Squirrels!
July 19th, 2016: During my first few weeks at rare beginning as an Ecological Monitoring Intern, I went along on a hike through Indian Woods with a class of young students. Walking down the Grand Allée trail, a squirrel crossed our path and ran up a neighbouring tree- not exactly an unfamiliar sight. One of the students near me squealed with excitement and stopped to stare at the tree, searching for another glimpse of the squirrel. She told me she had never seen a squirrel so close before. That moment has always stuck with me, as very early on I felt I work at an organization where I could really have an impact and help people form a bond with nature. More than four years later, I got an opportunity to have a truly close encounter with squirrels at rare and I couldn’t help but think of that young student and her squirrel-induced delight!
Mason Stothart is a graduate student at University of Guelph working under Dr. Amy Newman studying Eastern Grey Squirrels. Along with other locations including the University of Guelph campus, Mason trapped squirrels in several areas of the rare property throughout the summer. I was thrilled to tag along one morning as we went to check traps set up in the Hogsback (and I was lucky enough to skip the 5am trip to set the traps!). We started by walking a grid of traps baited with peanut butter and sunflower seeds to see if we had any successful captures. Traps need to be moved around somewhat frequently since squirrels start to learn that this free food comes with a “catch”. I was happy to have three squirrels caught, and the locations within the grid where they were captured were recorded.
Mason is interested in the ecological and physiological differences between squirrels found in urban vs rural environments (if you want to learn more about Mason’s work, check out citisci.org or raresites.org). We recorded some basic information- the colour of the squirrel (Grey squirrel is a bit of a misnomer as they can be grey to black and everything in between), whether it was male or female, and some basic size measurements including weight. We also took a hair, blood, and a saliva sample from each squirrel for further testing. The final touch was adding a pair of ear tags to each individual. A unique colour combination for each squirrel allows Mason to tell the individuals apart, similar to the way birds get banded with colour bands. We recorded the colour on the left and the colour on the right with the hope someone will see that squirrel and submit the colour combination observed on the website here.
It was fun to release them at the end and see them scurry off. Most headed right up the neighbouring tree and were out of view quickly, sporting a nice new pair of earrings.
By: Jenna Quinn
Featured Image: Grey Squirrel with ear tag Photo by Mason Stothart