Here’s a selection of images of the expedition:
This year’s expedition is over and we have all left our cosy base in Švošov. Tomas and I dropped the team at Kral’ovany station and waved everyone goodbye when the train left for Bratislava. We spent a couple of hours more at base checking and sorting out equipment, putting some of it in storage for next year and packing the rest to be taken back. I arrived back home yesterday, dropping three equipment boxes into the Biosphere Expeditions storage facility on the way.
Before saying farewell, let me tell you what happened on the last couple of expedition days: Three teams each day collected camera traps in Rákitov, Blatná and Turecká valley. The main Lubochňa valley was surveyed once more in two sections. Another attempt of finding the green connecting trail in Raková valley failed. 😉 New on the species list we recorded a trout found near Blatná lake – frozen, unfortunately.
As usual, Tomas summarised the second group’s results after the de-brief on Friday evening: Team 2 surveyed 22 cells and 13 transects walking a total distance of 177.7 km, an average mileage of 13 km per team per day, respectively. Lynx was recorded 6x, wolf 19x and bear 32x. Compared to the week before, the number of wolf recordings is much lower. “It is very likely that two out of the three resident wolf packs have moved to the other side of the mountain ridge”, Tomas explained. The tracks that were found in Turecká valley and reports from forester friends both corroborate this hypothesis. By contrast, the bears are active, because plenty of food is available (i.e. beech nuts), so there is no reason to hibernate. Of couse Tomas will look much closer into all data collected in due corse, when writing the expedition report.
Preliminary overall results after two expedition weeks are: We recorded 20 lynx, 66 wolf and 98 bear signs, the latter number a record in the six years the expedition has run at this site. The 8 (wild)cat tracks we discovered reveal the presence of another small predator in the Velka Fatra National Park. Nesting golden eagles were seen three times. And we also collected 10 samples of wolf, lynx and bear urine and/or scat for DNA analysis. Finally, another great result we found on one of the camera traps: Once more a lynx was photographed, this time during the day and in colour. The picture is good enough for identification of the individual, it shows the whole animal and its unique coat patterns.
So another successful expedition and a big thank-you to everyone involved in the project. František and Ludmilla, thanks for making us feel at home and keeping us very well fed at your house. Noro, thanks a lot for being a great mate & guide and sharing your plum juice. Everyone on the teams, thank you so much for in putting your time, sweat, skills and money into this project, which simply would not happen without your support. I hope you enjoyed our time in the Carpathian mountains as much as Tomas & I did and I hope to see some of you again somewhere sometime!
Very best wishes
Gone are the misty days. The sky is blue during the day and clear at night. We recorded – 8 degrees C on the weather record sheet on Wednesday morning. Although the snow is covered by a layer of ice in most places, we were still able to find fresh animal tracks on our surveys.
Martin, Timothy and I walked Čiernávy valley on Tuesday and found wolf, bear and many, many foxes. On the way out, we walked past an active wood-cutting site where a massive tree blocked. By the time we came back, it had disappeared.
In Turecka valley Saskia, Vincent and Noro found fresh wolf tracks and replaced a couple of camera traps.
Ed, Connor, Holger and Tomas found another bear “playground”, fresh wolf tracks nearby and recorded an otter track. “Technical problems” with the snow shoes slowed them down on the way back, they said. They walked the more than knee deep snow without aid – well done guys, that’s expedition style! 😉
Noro’s team had somehow manipulated the GPS – their odometer reading was 30 km. After some discussion during the de-brief, we agreed on a total distance walked of around 35 km for all teams.
We will be collecting camera traps from Thursday onward, in order to have brought back to base all 18 of them by Friday afternoon. On the cameras that have been replaced on Wednesday we found a great video, have a look:
Besides quite a few pictures of fox, wolf and wild boar were also recorded by the cameras, but no more lynx. Keep your fingers crossed for more good results in the coming days.
Team 2 consisting of Ed (U.S.) in his second week, Sakia (NL), Connor, Martin and Tim (UK), Holger (D) and Vincent (S) have arrived safely on Sunday and are preparing to head out for the first full survey day. As ususal everyone ran through briefing and training sessions over the last two days. On the training walk on Monday, we went up and around Blatna lake again, tried the snow shoes in various terrains, recorded fresh wolf tracks, collected wolf urine from a marking place, saw a golden eagle and had a nice cup of hot chocolate at Pod Lipami. Everyone is now well prepared for the surveys to come.
On our last survey day on Friday the teams again walked more than 40 km overall, checking parts of the main valley, collecting some of the camera traps that were set on Tuesday, but also placing a couple more in promising spots, i.e. near a fresh wolf kill.
The snow conditions have worsened over the last few days. It’s been thawing during the day and freezing at night. In many places the snow is covered with a solid layer of ice, so fresh footprints and tracks are much more difficult to spot.
In the evening Tomas summed up the provisional results of the first week:
- The teams walked a total of 173.5 km, covering 14 transects and surveying 15 cells of 2.5 x 2.5 km
- 18 camera traps were set up
- Five samples of our target species were collected for DNA analysis: Two bear scats, one lynx and one wolf urine as well as one wolf scat.
- The teams recorded hazel grouse once, two golden eagles, otter four times and wildcat seven times. They also found 17 lynx, 47 wolf and an overwhelming number of 66 bear signs. Never before on this project (in February) have bears been that active.
- Pictures of red deer, fox, pinemarten, squirrel and lynx were found on the cameras brought back to base (see pictures).
It was almost midnight when we went to bed after a shot of Tatra tea or Frantisek’s homemade ginger/honey vodka. The week has gone so quickly!
Thank you everyone of team one, you’ve done a great job collecting a huge amount of data every single day on long distance walks equipped with snow shoes, clipboards and GPSs. Thank you so much for putting a lot into this project, which could not happen without you. It was a great pleasure to meet you all. Safe travels or enjoy your onward trip.
Team 2, I will meet you at Bratislava station at 9:00 on Sunday morning.
Most of the main part of the 24 km long Lubochňa valley was surveyed on Thursday. Gilli, Idan and Ed started at the very end together with Noro and worked their way downwards, dipping into smaller side valleys as they went along. Close to a rock providing a perfect vantage point, they found a lynx marking place, collected samples for DNA analysis and set up a camera trap. There is a good chance of a lynx revisiting what looks like a favourite place. They also found very clear otter trails around a small lake (see picture), a first on this year’s species list. Other than that, they recorded evidence of wildcat, wild boar and pine marten. By the end of the day, their odometer reading was 14 km.
Angela, Phil and Peter started mid-valley towards Lubochňa village. Right opposite the starting point close to a house, they found their first wolf tracks, then more crossing the main road as they went along. Past the National Park boundary, they spotted bear tracks on a flat area stretching out for about 100 m towards a river. Following them, they could discern that one big and two small individuals must have walked together. The track then led them into some small bushes and trees, where they discovered remains of a very old kill and lots more bear tracks all over the place. Another promising spot for a camera trap? Tomas will go and check out this location soon. Remarkably, this exciting discovery was made only a few hundred metres away from the first houses of Lubochňa village.
Team three tied a record of finding wolf tracks in Lipová valley. On their 18 km loop Anne, Angelika, Karl-Heinz and Marina found a nearly eaten carcass of a young deer, several wolf tracks of up to five individuals, as well as a lynx trail. They then set up a camera trap in a place where lynx and wolf have been seen before. They were late for the hot chocolate at Pod Lipami but will make up for that today, I am sure. 😉
On Wednesday we surveyed Honiaca, Rakytov und Rakova valleys.
During the de-brief the valleys were renamed more appropriately as Getting Lost, Death Valley and Bear Paradise. In the latter Tomas’s team must have been surrounded by bears. Tracks of a couple of mothers with young ones were found. On one of the meadows the bears must have thrown a party. The whole area was covered with footprints. Not much other wildlife, though, for this group, but the first sign of wild boar presence this year.
By contrast, Death valley, surveyed by Noro and his team was more or less abandoned, except for one bear and one pine marten track. Quite a few pictures were taken of funny snow shapes that still would not pass for an animal track for our scientist, despite persistant bargaining during the de-brief. Tomas finally admitted a 50% bear, track but didn’t allow an entry into the data sheets. Everyone was happy in the end. 😉
Getting Lost during this expedition is classified as a medium risk. Statistically it happens to one group during each slot. It was team 1’s turn yesterday given that being (very) late would also count for this category. But their data sheet included more than thirty entries starting from squirrel, pine marten, badger to bear and lynx (two walking together) and once more wildcat. Everyone was back at base by around 17:15, some with, others without having had a hot chocolate or two at Pod Lipami.
Great success on our first full survey day on Tuesday. All three teams found bear tracks! So, instead of hibernating, some of them are roaming around. Even at least one of the old ones, the so-called “King of Lubochnia valley” is active, as proven by a footprint of 22 cm width that Noro’s team of Angelika, Anne and Karl-Heinz found in Turecka valley. The bear weighs about 320 kg, Tomas told us.
Tomas took Gilli, Ed, Idan and journalist Chris to Lipova valley for a 16 km survey walk. Two camera traps were set up, one right at a lynx marking place. The steep shortcut they took back down to where the car was parked wasn’t managed in proper walking manner, though 😉
Most wolf tracks were found in Turecka valley. Noro’s team reported that they were surrounded by wolves in the beginning and by bears later on.
About 35 recordings were put in the data sheets including also lynx and the black woodpecker – quite impressive.
Another exciting finding were very clear wild cat tracks in Krackor valley . Angela and Philip both claimed to be first at spotting them, but I think everyone on the team (Marina, Peter and myself) saw them at about the same time on the trail we were walking. We came along an active logging site, but the wildlife doesn’t seem to have vanished from this area. Lynx and bear tracks were found, as well as Hazel grouse footprints.
After finishing the surveys, we met at the Pod Lipami inn at the entrance to the valley, famous for its hot chocolate. It reminds more of a pudding than a drink topped with cream. Heaven after a day out in the snowy mountains.
Everyone arrived safely on Sunday.
This week we are a team of ten team members form the UK, USA, Germany, Israel and of course Slovakia.
After a journey of about four hours from Bratislava station to Švošov we had lunch and then went straight into briefings and training sessions. In the evening Thomas’s film about the two lynx Lisa and Muro that were born in a zoo, then raised by hand for two years and finally been released into the wild in Lubochnya valley, our study site, rounded up the day.
There was more training on Monday morning, including navigating with maps, compasses and GPSs as well as first experiences with walking with snow shoes. Taking with us all our lunch boxes and the equipment, we left base at 11:30 for a training walk in our study site.
We found the first fresh wolf tracks only a few dozen metres away from where we had parked the cars. Not only one, but lots of them. So we spent quite some time in this spot until all data were recorded. We proceeded to beautiful lake Blatna and had lunch there. The lake was still covered in layers of snow, despite the thaw of the last four days.
Today will be our fist ‘real’ full survey day out. While I write this, everyone else is having breakfast and preparing for the day.