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

Today we said farewell to the Slot 2 participants at the train station in Kralovany. It’s a wet, rainy day and would not have been good for transect walks anyway, as the rain has washed away much of the remaining snow, making tracks hard to find. This emphasises how lucky we have been with the weather over the last week: Although we have had no fresh snow, the snow from the previous week has remained on the higher slopes in the valley and enabled us to collect important data.

Samantha, our youngest participant at 13, from the USA, has managed to find wolf tracks on each day she has been out. This should provide plenty of inspiration to pursue a potential career as a wolf biologist in the future. Yesterday we also found fresh lynx tracks in the Jabalinska side valley, the tracks headed off down a ridge in one direction while an older set of tracks from a wolf pack were heading up the ridge. Tomas installed a camera trap at this great location and we have a further four camera traps installed in the valley, which will be left in place for another month and then collected by Tomas to add to the dataset collected on this year’s expedition.

Thanks to all our participants’ hard work this year, we have walked a total of 460 km on 33 transects through 26 survey cells (each cell is 2.5 x 2.5 km). In total we recorded 32 wolf signs, 5 lynx signs and 4 bear signs. We also collected 5 wolf scats and 1 wolf urine sample, which will be DNA-analysed to confirm our suppositions. In addition to the large carnivores, we recorded tracks of pine marten, badger, otter, squirrel, stoat, wild boar, red deer and roe deer. Sightings included roe deer, red deer, black woodpecker, three-toed woodpecker, nutcracker, dipper, rose finch, hazel grouse, raven, golden eagle, buzzard, fire salamander and red squirrel.

Phil and Paul will spend the rest of today packing up the equipment and Tomas is on his way back to Bratislava with all the samples and datasheets, which will be carefully analysed before the final expedition report is produced later in the year. We hope that everyone has a safe journey home and hope to see some of you again on future expeditions. Once again many thanks for your dedicated efforts in the collection of scientific data and for your time and money contributions, which have made the whole expedition and science work possible. Dovidenia, until next time!

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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)

Slot 2 participants arrived on the train from Bratislava on Saturday and had a busy afternoon with safety and science briefings. In addition to Katie, who has stayed on from slot 1, we now have Tiffany and daughter Samantha from the USA, Voja from Australia/UK, Vincent from Sweden, Yvonne from Switzerland and Nadine from the UK. On Sunday Tomas, Paul and Phil ran the equipment and data collection training including some navigation and GPS skills. In the afternoon we hiked the transect up to Lake Blatna under a blue sky and sunshine, a rare opportunity to bring out the sunglasses. We reset our camera traps at Lake Blatna and were lucky enough to see a pair of roe deer, although, unlike last week, no lynx or wolf tracks could be found near the lake.

The heavy snowfall that we had near the end of last week seems to have brought the red deer lower down into the valley as indicated by an increased number of tracks. It is likely that the wolves follow the red deer, their main prey item and today’s Transect 2 group with Paul, Tiffany, Samantha and Vincent found tracks of a five-strong wolf pack close to the main valley road towards the middle section of the valley. No sunshine today, although the temperature is relatively mild with some rain in the night that has removed snow cover from the lowest parts of the valley. Tomas and Katie came back today from there transect with some pictures of black woodpecker and red deer. Noro and Yvonne came back from their transect with an empty flask of Noro’s famous ‘plum juice’.

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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)

Yesterday we undertook three transects in the valley through fresh snowfall, which had covered all but the most recent tracks. This was a good opportunity to use the snow shoes and hike through a white wilderness. We also retrieved the photo SD cards from the camera traps. At the debrief yesterday evening Tomas summarised the findings from the week and our pin board showing data recorded in each of the study cells is now looking nice and full with 22 cells surveyed and wolf recorded in 12 cells, lynx in 3 cells, bear in 7 cells and golden eagle in 3 cells. We had a great result on one of the camera traps which had filmed both a fox and a wolf, although the images were blurred by the rapid movement of the animals it clearly shows the difference in size of these two canine inhabitants of the valley.

Blurred wolf camera trap picture

Blurred wolf camera trap picture

The evening evolved into an end of slot party with Frantishek playing his guitar including a fine rendition of Yellow Submarine, which we were able to sing along with some other Slovakian tunes that were also appreciated.

Today we said a sad farewell to Louise, Chrissy, Jac, Edward, Georg, Doris and Lawrence at the train station in Kralovany. Katie, our most experienced Slovakia expeditioner is staying on for Slot 2. Karolina, our Slovakian student placement, has also headed home, but told me that she wished she was able to stay on for the second slot and her experience will help her talk with her friends and hopefully pursue a career in biology and wildlife conservation in her beautiful and diverse country.

Phil is heading to Bratislava with Tomas where Phil will meet the Slot 2 participants in the main hall of Bratislava train station at 09:00 tomorrow. His mobile number in Slovakia is 0918 748 291 if you need to contact him. Paul (0915 512 437) is remaining at base to prepare for Slot 2 and is looking forward to meeting everyone tomorrow when you arrive in Kralovany around 13:00.

A big thank you to Slot 1 for all your hard work collecting such important data over the last week! We look forward to Slot 2 providing a further week’s data, which combined will enable Tomas to produce another robust report concerning the status of large carnivores in our Lubochnianska valley study site.

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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)

Over the last couple of days our map pin board of lynx, wolf & bear signs has been steadily growing. On Tuesday our four groups roamed all over the study site from the green, lush and snow-free valley floor up to the snowy heights of the ridges and mountain tops, where the killer squirrel is found. On Wednesday Scottish weather moved in and we were rained out by noon, when Tomáš called it a day and organised an afternoon excursion to nearby Orava castle of 1922 silent classic “Nosferatu” fame. Scottish rain has now turned to Slovakian snow and we are hoping for a white, clean sheet to work from tomorrow.

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From our snow leopard volunteering expedition in the Tien Shan mountains of Kyrgyzstan (http://www.biosphere-expeditions.org/tienshan)

Trainings of trainers in Batken province

Rahat Yusubalieva was a placement programme recipient on the Tien Shan snow leopard expedition with Biosphere Expeditions from 22 June – 4 July 2015. In December 2015 Rahat shared her knowledge and experience as part of the environmental training sessions in the rural schools of Kyrgyzstan’ s Batken province, the most south-west and remote part of the country bordering on Tajikistan.

On 16 and 23 December 2015 trainings of trainers (TOT) sessions were conducted in the villages of Andarak and Iskra in Batken province. Participants included school students of grades 7 to 10, as well as teachers of biology and geography. The sessions focused on ecosystem conservation, management of water, forest, land and pasture resources in relation to climate change impacts. Participants discussed how local ecosystems have changed in the last two decades and how people can conserve them. The goal of the TOT was to inform local educational institutions on the current state of the environment, methods of conservation, and for local community members to reflect on how they are influencing their own environment, and to integrate their own observations and new scientific knowledge into the school curriculum.

The TOT also covered the snow leopard, its habits, prey animals, threats to its survival, as well as the historical and cultural meaning of the snow leopard for the people of Kyrgyzstan. A documentary film “Irbis, legends of snow covered mountains” was shown and followed by a discussion. Participants were also informed on research findings by Biosphere Expeditions in West Karakol and Kyrgyzstan’s action plans for snow leopard conservation.

Residents of Andarak and Iskra villages depend on the resources of their mountain environment and Sarkent National Park, where people graze their animals and collect wood. Endangered species, which are under government protection also inhabit the park, including snow leopards. According to the director of Sarkent National Park, tracks of snow leopards are often seen in the park, as well as remains of mountain goats preyed on by snow leopards. However, due to the remoteness of the area and lack of finances, the park does not have equipment and camera traps to monitor them. Local people said that about a decade ago, a snow leopard’s pelt was found and the poachers were caught. Now hunting of mountain goats in the park is prohibited both for local and foreign hunters until 2017, when the moratorium is up for re-consideration.

 

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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)

Today we split into four groups and covered various part of our study site.

Survey group 2 - from left: Tessa, Louise, Paul & Lawrence

Survey group 2 – from left: Tessa, Louise, Paul & Lawrence

It is warm (around 4 degrees) and the bears are still about. We tracked them and wolves on almost every group. Backwards only, we hasten to add 😉 , so everyone is safely back at base.

At the end of the day we enter the data collected into the computer and Tomáš, our scientist, downloads our trip data into Google Earth to visualise our survey routes and waypoints of things we have found, such as tracks of wolf, lynx and bear, as well as their prey such as wild boar, roe and red deer, and more. As each survey group recounts their walk and findings, we also create a permanent record of the expedition’s main findings through colour-coded pins on a map, so that everyone can see the expedition’s progress and achievements at any time. The study site is divided into 24 coded 2.5 x 2.5 km cells and what we find in each cell, and how often we have surveyed it, is recorded by pins. The de-brief is shown below, as well as an explanation of our cell methodology (also used on our Tien Shan and many other terrestrial expeditions). The manual that the methodology video below refers to is available here.

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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)

Day two is the last training day of the expedition. And what a day it was. Within a gentle stroll of around 6 km up to picturesque Blatná lake, we found wolf tracks twice, lynx tracks of large, medium and small animals (we presume a family), as well as otter tracks by the side of a brook. Not bad at all for our first day out in the field and of course excellent training for recognising and recording tracks.

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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)

Team 1 arrived safely at the Švošov expedition base and just as they did, Slovakian carnival celebrations interrupted.

These celebrations are about chasing out winter and welcoming spring, being merrily disruptive to passers-by and a whole lot more besides. And as you can see on the video, the snow has indeed gone for now.

So after dancing and merrymaking and having to drink cherry schnaps before our cars were allowed to pass, there was lunch, introductions, lectures, dinner and going to bed. Welcome to Slovakia and the 2016 wolf, lynx and bear expedition to Veľká Fatra National Park.

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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)

After everyone met up at base yesterday, we went for dinner at a local restaurant. It started snowing and snowed through the night, so now everything is white.

Today we are setting up, so all the equipment is unpacked and being sorted, GPSs are being reset, the menu is being sorted, snow shoes and poles made ready, etc.

Paul is meeting group 1 at 09:00 at Bratislava train station. He’ll be in the main hall, which is not very large, so look for a group of people. You have his mobile number, if there is a problem.

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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 Phil left England at 06:00 yesterday on he Dover to Dunkirk ferry.

Ferry ride

Ferry ride

Last night was spent in Linz, Austria after a 1,400 km drive though Belgium and Germany. Today we will arrive at the expedition base in Švošov and meet up with Matthias, Tomas and Noro this afternoon to prepare the expedition kit and set up the base. Paul will meet the slot 1 expeditioners in Bratislava on Saturday morning and we are all looking forward to an interesting, fun and productive expedition.

It’s snowing on the higher ground, but not in the valleys (see this webcam). The forecast (lower down on the webcam site) is for sunshine and sub-zero weather.

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