Predator Tracking Update

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Predator Tracking Update

January 30, 2017

Tanner Banks and Tyler Carlin share an update on productive winter predator tracking efforts.

MPG Ranch Tracking Update December 1, 2016-January 16, 2017

Tracking updates will help organize monthly effort and provide reference for the future. Information within each report will summarize significant events.

December snow conditions were ripe for long distance tracking. We accumulated day-bed and den site locations of mountain lion, bobcat, gray wolf, and red fox. Buckeye cameras help us pinpoint predator movement. Two days after this lion trudged past the Woodchuck Creek camera, trackers followed its fresh prints to a dead mule deer buck.

On December 21st, Tyler Carlin discovered this mule deer buck in Lower Whaley draw. The cached carcass and lacerations on the nose indicate that a mountain lion had killed the deer.

Craig Jourdonnais had photographed the mule deer and mountain lion several days earlier.

Tyler backtracked the freshest prints and was surprised to find a second dead mature mule deer buck (site 2, below) 200 yards from the first kill site. The mountain lion had fed more on this carcass than it had on the previous buck. Coyotes devoured the first buck (site 1, below).

01/05/17- Trackers followed up on a bobcat image captured at Sheep Camp Tank. Fresh tracks led trackers to a close interaction with the animal, which climbed a Ponderosa pine for safety. They spent the remainder of the day filming and photographing the bobcat.

Tracking efforts identified seven mountain lion kills in the initial month: six deer and a cow elk. Consumption of cached carcasses varied depending on how long ago the predation event had occurred.

Four different teams of trackers accumulated 4 miles of tracks on a mountain lion tom from December 18th-23rd (green line). This lion made one attempt at hunting, but did not kill an animal.

We explored the path of a female mountain lion with two kittens on several dates and at various locations. On December 31st, trackers located two white-tailed deer she had killed in the north and east fork of Davis Creek.

 Google Tracking of a lone female mountain lion began on January 11th at the west boundary of MPG. It ended five days later on the east boundary of the newly acquired land in Miller Creek. The lion made eight unsuccessful attempts at harvesting snowshoe hare or deer and bedded down six times along the way. Snow depth on January 14th was 21 inches in Davis Creek (4400 feet elevation). A second measurement the following day from Davis Point (5500 feet) was 27-28 inches. The snow was deep enough that the lion’s tail imprinted the snow beside her tracks (below). To date, this is our longest continuous track of a mountain lion.

Trackers discovered four new mountain lion den sites in the first month. Mountain lion tracks led to the dens, but hair samples may indicate that multiple species use the same den. In winter, animals escape from bad weather conditions in dens. In spring, animals use dens to raise young. We installed cameras at five of the eight sites.

Trackers collected 33 scat samples and 64 hair samples during this tracking period. Rocky Mountain Research Station will process hair and scat samples for genetic work at the end of the winter. Mountain lion scat is on the left; wolf scat is below

 Consistent snowfall throughout December and early January in the Missoula and Bitterroot Valleys provided tracking opportunities that did not exist over the last two winters. Snow accumulation made it difficult for trackers to travel but it provided the opportunity to log longer tracking distances. High pressure systems brought consistent temperatures at or below freezing, preserving snowfall for longer time periods. On a few occasions, warm temperatures degraded track quality as snow began to thaw.

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