Thursday, August 7, 2008

Keji 2008: Christmas in July

Keji has not only the well put-together species at risk program that I am a part of, but also an extensive interpretive schedule. Every day and evening there are different interpretive events – the evening programs especially, are quite entertaining (I’ve made a point of going to all of them).
On July 25th, we had a Christmas in July bbq/potluck at our place… or at least we tried to! Only two people showed up, and not for long, so the three of us headed over to the evening program that night (which my supervisor and another interpreter were in)… to make the evening a bit more interesting, I dressed up as an elf, complete with pointy paper ears, a toque, tights and bright red crocs, and paid a surprise visit to them on stage (I popped up in front of the crowd and wished the two of them a happy Christmas in July, and gave them burgers!)
The park had its 39th Birthday on August 2nd, a day full of birthday festivities. I ran one station (of four) as part of a special walk in honour of the birthday, where two team members (one blindfolded) find a tree in the forest, which was fun to watch. How it worked: the blindfolded person was led by the other team member to a tree in the forest, the person feels the tree and is led back to the starting point, the blindfold is removed and that person (without help) has to find the tree they were led to, based on touch. That evening, I took part in a species at risk play on the beach: Campsite Crime Scene Investigation (CCSI). My role was minimal, but very important because Bertha the shy Black Bear (me) came forward at the last minute to reveal the sneaky condo developer who crushed the piping plover eggs. It was a riot to watch and take part in!
Lately, the conditions have been favourable for snakes, and I’ve caught a couple of Eastern Ribbon Snakes, a Threatened species. These are black, with three yellow stripes down their back, and spend a lot of their time on the water’s edge or in the water. The snakes themselves are not very big (about the width of your index finger, with even smaller heads), and are very tricky to find and catch (cryptic). There’s only estimated to be about a hundred of them in the main area of the park, called Grafton Lake. Snakes, having no arms or legs are very difficult to permanently mark. The least invasive way to mark these ones has been to clip certain scales on their bellies to identify individuals, the codes only lasting for about a year or two (depending on the frequency that the snake sheds), which makes population estimates even more difficult. There’s so little known about this species, that everything we are collecting from the habitat they live in, to individual characteristics contribute to a greater understanding of these animals and how to better protect them.
Another snake related project that I am helping with is using coverboards. These are squares of varying material that have been placed in various areas where snakes have been known to inhabit. Not much luck yet, but we’ve been experimenting with plywood, metal, shingles, landscape fabric, and soon, cotton t-shirts. It’s being done for an undergrad thesis project, to see if snakes prefer a certain type of cover, in what kind of habitats, what species use them and in what temperature range. Data collection is the most important thing for all of the research that gets done… so lots of writing on data cards, pictures and measurements need to be done (even if we don’t find anything). What we may not find useful now, might be useful one day, for another project in the future.