We are starting to wrap our collecting season here in Wyoming as we finish the last of our forb and grass collections and wait for our sagebrush sites to go to seed. All we have left to collect are black sage (Artemisia nova) and Wyoming big sagebrush (Artemisia tridentata ssp. wyomingensis), which typically go to seed in October or November – right around when I am set to leave. While we have been monitoring these collections, we’ve been getting to work in our little herbarium and go out with – you guessed it – some more wildlife biologists. I’ve enjoyed our time here in the herbarium as I worked in the herbarium at New Mexico State University and loved it. We also will get to visit the Rocky Mountain Herbarium at the University of Wyoming later this month to confirm the ID of the vouchers we’ve collected.
Our biggest project this month was getting to do black-footed ferret surveys with Wyoming Game and Fish in Shirley Basin. We went nocturnal for our BFFs, working from about 7pm to 7am, spotlighting for the ferrets in trucks and on foot through about ten different plots. We learned how to recognize the different eyeshine of animals in the area – ferrets have a turquoise eyeshine, pronghorn and foxes have green, and rabbits and badgers have red. It was pretty fun to chase all kinds of animals into their burrows trying to correctly identify them, and feel a whole new kind of excitement seeing that little black mask that meant you definitely had a ferret! They’re pretty curious creatures, and would readily pop out of their burrows to investigate who was shining a light on them and interrupting their night hunt. My partner and I even had a few who turned trapping into a game, jumping out of their burrow and running from one to another as we chased them around with a spotlight and a metal trap. Once we successfully set a trap on top of a burrow, we plugged the surrounding burrow holes with containers and left the sites immediately to give the ferret a chance to check out the trap. For every trap set, we came back every hour to see if anyone had been curious enough to get themselves stuck. At that point, we nudged them into a transfer tube and took them to the processing trailer where the non-game biologist would do all the handling and assessments.
After going under anesthesia, we took body measurements, hair for DNA samples, gave rabies and distemper vaccines, and PIT tagged every new ferret that was found. We also used hair dye to draw unique marks on each of their chests to be able to identify them at a later time. Everything we did those three nights was virtually unchanged from when this surveying started back in the 80s, right after black-footed ferrets were listed as endangered in the 70s, so it was really cool to be part of a reintroduction program that has existed for so long. It was definitely one of the more taxing experiences I’ve had in this job, but with that, it was one of the most rewarding.