From our conservation holiday volunteering with lynx, wolves, bears and wildcats in the Carpathian mountains of Slovakia (http://www.biosphere-expeditions.org/slovakia)

The second group of the Slovakia wolf, lynx and bear expedition has now departed.

After a very successful expedition, the team travelled back west by train, and spilt off to their own destinations all over the world; one travelling as far as Singapore…

Again another sad departure, Steve, Sergii, Marc, Alex ‘leather pants’, Chris, Uwe, Katie, Aly-Cat, Nadine, Sarah, Emma and Heather (Angel) were an excellent group. With their sharp wits, minds and claws they compiled a good amount of data, again exceeding expectations in the ‘steep and deep’ snow.

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Here’s a summary: 22 of our cells were covered in 17 transects. Records from this team include three golden eagle sightings, four otter tracks, ten lynx tracks, six lynx scats, eight lynx urine samples, 23 wolf tracks, six wolf urine samples, seven wolf scats, one wolf hair sample, eight camera traps placed (two of which are still deployed) and a large selection of carcasses, thanks to our carcass queen Katie.

Frantisek shed a tear as the train left, mostly because Alex ‘leather pants’ fluorescent orange ukelele went with it.

Paul and Astrid will remain here at base for one more day to collate data and pack up the kit, potentially squeezing in one last hot chocolate…

Tomas, Paul, Noro and Astrid wish you all a very safe and trouble free journey home, we thank you for your incredible efforts in the Velka Fatra National Park and your fantastic humour and spirit (not spirits) back at base. Hopefully we will meet some of you again in the future!

Best wishes

Paul & Astrid

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From our conservation holiday volunteering with lynx, wolves, bears and wildcats in the Carpathian mountains of Slovakia (http://www.biosphere-expeditions.org/slovakia)

The second slot of the Slovakia wolf, lynx and bear expedition is now well underway.

All members of the group arrived on Sunday to a very wintery Svosov – another snowfall meant all the tracks (both human and local wildlife) were covered. Cleaning the slate and making the path clear for fresh findings, and more trail breaking.

After a thorough induction from Tomas, Paul and Astrid, the group left for their first day in the Velka Fatra National Park. After discussions with the local foresters, we were directed to the remains of a wolf kill by the L’ubochnianka river on the valley floor.

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The team adjusted well to the tough going snow levels and the use of snow shoes. We all hiked as one group, in one line up to Lake Blatna making a ‘highway’ (path) in the snow as we went. The intention was to make an ‘easy route’ for animals to travel down, making their presence in that specific area more likely; (they like an easy route as much as we do, and will take the path of least resistance). We placed camera traps down two side valleys on our ‘highway’ and again, we will collect these in a few days.

Today we went out in four small groups of four, with one leader in each. One group were successful in finding wolf tracks from a pack of around three individuals, as well as wolf urine. Another group found boar and otter tracks.

We have been assured some very amusing photos in our debrief tonight, some people get used to snow shoes quicker than others and so today there were a few very close encounters with the valley floor. (For very close inspections of tracks you understand, not because anyone fell over unintentionally….)

This Slovakia expedition is responsible for many great things, needless to say – among the list though are two firsts: the first encounter with snow for two Australian participants (2014 and 2015) and their first ever snowman.

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From our conservation holiday volunteering with lynx, wolves, bears and wildcats in the Carpathian mountains of Slovakia (http://www.biosphere-expeditions.org/slovakia)

The first week of the 2015 Slovakia expedition seems to have flown by and this morning friends from the first slot boarded the train to Bratislava (except Helene who has a nine hour drive ahead). Katie and Sarah will be staying on for the second slot and will be joined by nine new faces and a returning participant, Aly, from the 2014 expedition.

It was sad to say goodbye to Rosie, Johan, Nick (not Ian), the three ‘friends’ (Savi, Peter and David), Helene and Barabara. Everyone has got on really well and exceeded expectations in the amount of ground we have covered on the transects, given the deep snow conditions. In all we completed 17 transects and a total of 209 km between us. Records include tracks from one bear, one wild cat, one otter, one badger, eight lynx and 21 wolf track locations (we believe we have locations recorded for all three wolf packs thought to be using the valley). We have also collected three lynx urine samples and two wolf urine samples. This is a really great result and your energetic efforts wading through the snow are very much appreciated.

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Frantisek, our host at Chata Dolinka, was also sad to see everyone go this morning, especially I suspect his guitar-playing buddy Nick. Today he has been very busy getting the base ready for group 2 arriving tomorrow. All of us still at the base wish you a safe journey home and hope to see you again.

We also look forward to meeting up with group 2 on Sunday (Astrid will be in Bratislava to meet everyone at the train station at 09.15 on Sunday morning) to continue collecting some valuable data on the large carnivores in the Lubochnianska valley.

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From our conservation holiday volunteering with lynx, wolves, bears and wildcats in the Carpathian mountains of Slovakia (http://www.biosphere-expeditions.org/slovakia)

The Slovakia expedition is now well underway with slot 1 collecting some great data.

On Tuesday, after spotting wolf tracks and blood, we located a red deer carcass predated by wolves very close by. The team returned to place a camera trap there, which will be collected today to be checked for results.

Wolf tracks along the valley floor, as well as old lynx tracks, and a wild boar carcass have also been located. The deep snow conditions makes hiking the transects hard work, but of course rewarding and enjoyable in this spectacularly beautiful valley.

Each evening we download our data points from the GPS and photographs from the day’s surveys, which Tomas presents at the debrief session before dinner. Each team shares experiences and findings from their day, backed up by interesting and often some very amusing photographs.

Today is our last day of surveying transects before team 1 departs on Saturday morning.

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From our conservation holiday volunteering with lynx, wolves, bears and wildcats in the Carpathian mountains of Slovakia (http://www.biosphere-expeditions.org/slovakia)

The first team of the Slovakia lynx, wolf and bear expedition arrived safely at base yesterday.

After lunch they were thoroughly inducted – enjoying two of Tomas’ wonderful films: ‘Lynx liaison’ and ‘Wandering Slovakia’, as well as training in target species track, scat and feeding remains identification. Following further map, compass, GPS and snow shoe briefings this morning, the team ventured out into the Velka Fatra today.

Snow conditions were knee-deep powder, so snow shoes were essential. We had frequent alternating volunteers to lead the way, breaking trail in the fresh snow, the toughest job), with the others following in line behind. This is an energy-saving strategy also adopted by the wolves we are studying, who often follow in each other’s footprints, making it difficult to know how many wolves have made a trail! The beautiful view at Lake Blatna was worth every step….as was the hot chocolate at Pod Lipami on the return to base.

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The group quickly got to grips (after a few tumbles) with the wide gait needed to walk in snow shoes. We predict sore (toned) thighs by the end of the week.

One wolf track was discovered and two camera traps placed, ready to photograph any activity in the area over the next few days.

The team are learning fast and will head out tomorrow in four small groups of two and three.

Not before hot showers and a hearty traditional Slovak meal – oh, and Tatra tea!

Stay tuned…

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From our conservation holiday volunteering with lynx, wolves, bears and wildcats in the Carpathian mountains of Slovakia (http://www.biosphere-expeditions.org/slovakia)

Paul and Astrid (expedition leaders) collected two shiny new Discovery Sports in Vienna

vienna

and then met up with Tomas (expedition scientist) at the base camp here in the village of Svosov on Thursday.

team

We received a warm welcome from our host Frantisek who treated us with his hot herb tea. Since arriving we have been busying ourselves with expedition preparation, including sorting the kit and paperwork. It’s not been all work though! Tomas treated us to a showing of footage that he has been shooting over the 18 months for a new documentary on the wildlife of Slovakia – some amazing shots that I am sure he will be happy to show again once we are all gathered.

It snowed a lot yesterday, and again last night so we have 30 to 40 cm on the ground, which will be great for the tracking. Everything looks beautiful around base camp.

base snow

Today we will make a foray into the valley to see what the snow conditions are like there.

Paul will be getting the train to Bratislava at 04.35 in the morning (Sunday) for our rendezvous with the Slot 1 expedition members at 09:00. Then we have a three hour, 20 minute train ride back to Kralo’vany, which is 15 minutes in the expedition vehicles to the base. We are looking forward to meeting everyone on Sunday.

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From our conservation holiday volunteering with lynx, wolves, bears and wildcats in the Carpathian mountains of Slovakia (http://www.biosphere-expeditions.org/slovakia)

Hello everyone! This is the first of a series of diary entries for the Biosphere Expeditions Slovakia 2015 expedition or for the full title: True white wilderness: tracking lynx, wolf and bear in the Carpathian mountains of Slovakia. I hope you are all as excited as I am with the anticipation of embarking on this adventure.

So let’s get the introductions out of the way: My name is Paul and I will be your expedition leader. Although I have led expeditions to Slovakia in previous years for Biosphere Expeditions, these were in the summer and studied the impact of wolf predation on the chamois population of the Low Tatra mountain range. I will be ably assisted by Astrid, a veteran of this very expedition for the last two years (she will be the one who heads off in the ‘correct’ direction from the base on the first day! Don’t worry though I am a fast learner!). Tomas is our expedition scientist with whom we will share interesting tales and who will guide us through our research objectives and methods during our initial training day. Then most importantly ‘you all’ without whom none of this would be happening, including some of you ‘coming back for more’ (so it can’t be that bad!).

Astrid and I are flying out from the UK to Austria tomorrow. Some kit is being packed in Germany as we speak (see below) and the rest is already in Slovakia.

kit

The German kit, Astrid and I will unite in Vienna with two brand spanking new Land Rovers tomorrow, kindly supplied by Land Rover Austria, and then we’ll push onto base, where we will meet with Tomas and our host Frantisek. We’ll then have a couple of days to prepare before one of us (probably Astrid) will meet group 1 at Bratislava main train station at 09:00, as per your dossier. Once in Slovakia, we’ll check our mobiles and send you our local numbers for emergency communication too.

The good news is that there is snow in the Veľká Fatra study site (see webcam http://www.panorama.sk/sk/sprievodca/webkamera-malino-brdo/2462) and the forecast is for more snow and subzero temperatures (https://www.meteoblue.com/en/slovakia/weather-veľká-fatra).

So I will leave you to carry on with your preparations (pack warm!) while we do the same at our end. If you are all packed and ready to go you can always fill your time watching ‘You Tube’ videos of how to turn around wearing snowshoes without face planting in the snow. Let the adventure begin!

Paul

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