June 7, 2017

Dispatches from field camp: Meeting local wildlife

Posted by Lauren Lipuma

By Brian Balta

Although the area where we’ve been mapping is pretty dry, dealing with wildlife in various forms has been pretty constant. This is potentially on my mind as today I set my personal best by peeling 6 ticks off of me. Our camp is pretty large and has broken into separate groups, each group shifting between different areas. One area has a lot of rattlesnakes. My area is tick country. No matter how much bug spray you put on, it doesn’t seem to do anything if you walk into the right kind of brush. Anything that is low to medium height; low trees and brush both count, if you brush up against them you’re going to have to keep an eye out. One of our students is approaching 40 he’s taken off of him during this field camp.

Thankfully, not all wildlife encounters are of that variety. Here’s a sampling of things we’ve encountered:

Credit: Brian Balta.

Apparently, having to stop and wait for a cattle drive is a Montana thing. In fact, these cows were being moved to different land for grazing – land that our students mapped about 4 days before they were moved there. One of the cows, interestingly enough, seems to have been caught on the wrong side of a fence. We weren’t able to convince it to move close enough to a gate to help it and we couldn’t leave a gate open since other cows could cross going the wrong way, so here it is looking sad.

Credit: Brian Balta.

Here’s a clip I found interesting – a big ant pile that for some reason also has a chunk of quartz on top of it.

And one more we find – our field site has had a hawk managing a nest each of the last 4 years. Here you get to see it flying around as we’re packing up for the day. On occasion we’ve seen the little ones fly out as well, and the mom even once had a snake caught in its mouth that I assume was on its way to becoming dinner.

Finally, many of the ranches around here also have other animals. Here’s a pair of my TAs getting to know a couple of friendly local horses.

Credit: Brian Balta.

That’s all for today, see you again tomorrow.

Brian Balta is a a visiting professor of petrology at Texas A&M University. Follow his twitter feed at https://twitter.com/theearthstory for more content.