Our monthly Lunch and Learn Webinars are quickly becoming my favourite thing! Our September webinar: Understanding Distribution and Selection, was a great way to get back to work after the summer. From bats, to wolverines, to little owls, this webinar discussed distribution and behaviour of animals we know relatively little about. The talks were truly on the front lines of creating new information about some very interesting species (added bonus – this may be the cutest webinar we’ve ever had)!
Erin Low (University of Calgary): Effects of Forest Fire on the Bat Community in Waterton Lakes National Park
Robert Anderson (Alberta Conservation Association): Characteristics of Wolverine Dens in the Lowland Boreal Forest of North-Central Alberta
Lisa Takats-Preistley (STRIX Ecological Consulting) – Year-Round Northern Saw-Whet Owl Movements Through a Banding Station in Central Alberta, Canada
Read the speaker abstracts.
Our first speaker, Erin Low, presented some of her graduate work from the University of Calgary. Climate change is increasing fire risk around Alberta, and in 2017 a large portion of Waterton Lakes National Park burned in the Kenow Wildfire. There are seven species of bats in Waterton; Erin was primarily interested in habitat selection of little brown bats in burned and non-burned areas after the fire. Fires can have positive and negative impacts on bat habitat; they can increase habitat by creating more burned trees, which are great for roosts, but they can also result in extensive habitat loss. Erin radio tagged bats and compared their locations to the extent of known or possible roost trees in burned and non-burned areas. In 2019, she had 10 little brown bats “on the air”. She found that reproductive females appeared to prefer roosting in buildings around the town of Waterton. Interestingly, some of the bats in her study would go 20-30 km round trip from their roost to foraging locations! There was no significant difference between roosting availability in burned and unburned areas; buildings were important for maternal colonies. Male bats were tagged in 2020 and appeared more likely to roost in natural roosts and did not fly as far between roosting and foraging locations. Erin’s work sheds light on how little brown bats select habitat after a significant forest fire event. Erin’s work helps us better understand, predict, and prepare for the effects of wildfire on bats.
Next up, was Robert Anderson from the Alberta Conservation Association. Robert conducted some interesting research about wolverine den selection patterns in the boreal. Wolverines living in the boreal have a very different ecosystem to work with than mountain wolverines, and their den selection reflects that. Robert’s study is one of the first to look exclusively at wolverines in the flatter, wetter, forested lands of the boreal. Although mountain wolverines prefer to den in areas with at least 1m snowpack, areas in the boreal rarely have that snow depth. With 4 radio-collared females, Robert captured some interesting data. He found that wolverines were very sensitive to disturbance and gathered most data with remote cameras and site visits after wolverines had left the area. His presentation contains an amazing video of a female wolverine moving her kits to a secondary den in the cover of darkness. Seven of the 8 dens he visited were located in the hollow created by a root-ball from a fallen tree; dens were about 1 m3 with a ~30 cm entrance. He found one den in logging debris in an old cutblock. Dens were located in wetland, high windrow ecosites. Beaver and snowshoe hare appear to make up a large portion of the wolverine winter diet. Robert hypothesized that the moss covering the dens provides the required insulative capacity, which may compensate for the lack of deep snow. Robert’s work is being applied by logging companies to plan forestry activities around conserving representation wind throw areas in mature forest.
Our last talk of the day came from Lisa Takats-Priestley who shared her research on saw-whet owl migration patterns. Previous data efforts on this little owl were focused in the U.S. Lisa aimed to fill in some of the data gaps on the Canadian side of the border. She worked with other banding stations across Alberta and Saskatchewan to great success. In all, she banded 148 owls in Beaver Hills in Alberta. Those birds have now become part of an inter-provincial research study involving 15,099 in owls in Alberta and another 9,000 in Saskatchewan! Her research shows that late September/early October, around October 2nd and 3rd, are saw-whet owl migration prime time. Migrations were mostly in south and south east directions; the largest migration recorded was 1,411 km! Some saw-whet owls are true migrants in the fall, traveling various distances and following habitats. The results from the spring were less consistent with lower movement levels and less precision regarding the date of migration. Lisa found that young birds were different from adults, perhaps being more nomadic. Thus, there may be individual strategies between young and adults; some owls are true migrants, others are partial migrants, and some more nomadic. This research helps to create a more continental understanding of saw-whet owl movements and habitat selection.
This webinar was attended by 47 people and 96% of them thought the webinar was useful. All participants would recommend ACTWS webinars to others, which is great! Thank you for that!
Join us in October for our next webinar! Details to come.
A video of the webinar is posted in our members area.
We are always looking for corporate sponsors for our webinar series. Call Sarah if you’d like more information.
Professional refers to someone who works with wildlife and/or their habitats in a professional setting.
In this context, it is not in reference to a legal professional designation.