Everett Cook, a UNR student focusing on wildlife ecology and forestry, is earning credit at DFI this summer. Read excerpts from his journal about his practical work on co-management... he'll be posting all season! Find out more about DFI internships by emailing email@example.com.
Journal Entry 1: I began the day by venturing into the depths of the internet to find the hidden secrets behind proper mouse trap placement, as if questing for some ancient scroll of knowledge. The mice have been a problem here in the DFI hoop houses, most especially in our bok choi - may they rest in holey pieces. In my search I found there IS in fact a strategy for placing these traps: perpendicular to the wall with the trigger side closest to it, or 2 traps parallel to, and directly against, the wall with triggers facing opposite directions. This is because they prefer to run along walls to avoid giving predators different angles of attack. I also found that the generally agreed upon trap-to-mouse ratio was about 3 traps to every one mouse. It is generally best to give 2-10' of separation between these traps, but in the case of a hot spot like a burrow you can place them up to a foot apart.
Taking this into consideration I set traps in our 6 hoop houses. I made note of two mice, and may have seen a rabbit for the second day in a row, but am unsure as it was much sneakier today giving me only a glimpse of a swaying cover crop for me to infer its presence. The mice prefer our hoop houses over life on the range because of the warmth and safety they provide, making them the perfect environment for reproduction. Mice typically have a breeding season from February to October, but depending on resource availability they can breed year round. A single female can have up to 10 litters of 5 to 8 pups a year, which means under the right conditions they could quickly become an infestation (now imagine having 80 kids a year).
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Journal Entry 2: It has been a week since I changed our trapping practices. Since then, I have checked, reset, and re-baited traps twice since then (the second time being today), and I am yet to trap any mice. This observation would lead me to believe that an application of Plantskydd repellant (check it out at https://www.johnnyseeds.com) succeeded in its goal to deter the rodents altogether... were it not for my visual observation of 3 mice as well as mouse poop on the concrete foundations of some walls in the houses today during my trap monitoring.
To further deter the mice I removed tarps that had been used for weed suppression earlier in the season, at the backs and sides of some of the hoop houses, so the amount of cover available to the mice would be greatly reduced. I then made note of all burrows, feces, and observations of mice in our animal activity log. I will be further researching the most effective deterrent practices as well as reusable traps to reduce the waste that comes from used wooden traps. Many resources online say to use peanut butter as bait, and we are currently using a chemical bait to lure, so I will finish my day today by further researching these different bait options.
Journal Entry 3: Today I surveyed what we believe to be ground squirrel holes beneath two tuff sheds in use. We may need to set larger traps in these areas, but I will be doing more research today in natural deterrents for this animal in particular.
After this inspection, I went to do my rounds in the hoop houses to check for triggered traps and any trapped mice, of which I found none. I did, however, witness two mice scurry away from our cherry tomatoes as I approached. After setting a trap in the area where they ran off, I began to leave, only to see they were quick to reestablish their seats beneath the tomato plants. I quickly chased them off once more, being more thorough in my approach this time.
In the final hoop house of my rounds, I was surprised to see that a lesser goldfinch had made its way into the house, and was struggling to find a proper exit. After spending a moment recording its behavior I quickly ushered it through the door only to see that a mourning dove had witnessed the whole ordeal from outside the door. Speaking of birds, I plan to do a full nest patrol in the coming week (preventing nesting in hoop houses helps limit risks of contamination), as well as begin production of owl nest boxes to encourage predators to help us with small mammal control!
Journal Entry 4: I was able to gain a substantial amount of knowledge in many different areas because of the opportunities presented by this internship. With respect to the construction of barn owl boxes, I learned that the ratio of nesting boxes to irrigated farm land is one box per ten acres, and the box should be located away from power lines and high traffic roads. It should also be situated eight feet above the ground, with the box’s entrance-hole facing in an eastern direction. Focusing on the interior of the box there should be large chip bark mulch covering the bottom of the box to act as initial nesting material. The boxes should be cleaned, with bark mulch replaced, once a year between October and December, while the box should remain undisturbed during the early nesting period from April to May as this is when the nest is most sensitive.
The skills that I gained in this internship stemmed from the creation of the barn owl nesting boxes. Scott Huber, Field Research Coordinator with the Nevada Ag Experiment Station, was able to provide me with many tips and tricks, as he had previously taught classes at Reno High in which he aided students in building wood duck nesting boxes with similar designs to the design used for the barn owls. Under his wing, pun very much intended, I received training for various power tools including the skill saw, table saw, jig saw, and nail gun, as well as proper wood-working and gluing techniques. I believe that, because of the help I received from him, these boxes will last much longer than they would have had I been on my own.
I can say with the upmost confidence that we accomplished what we initially set out to do. This has all been a wonderful learning experience, and I hope to continue the wildlife management side of my time at DFI, even after my internship is completed today. That being said, I do believe that as the internship developed, Jill Moe and I were in an ever-shifting dance to approach our goals in the most realistic way possible. For example, I believe many of our goals would have been much more attainable had this internship been in the late months of winter into spring, as that would have been a more pertinent time for activities such as tree planting for what will one day become raptor perches, the spraying of plant skydd for deterrence of mice from the hoop houses during those winter months, and the prevention of house finch nesting in the hoop houses in early spring rather than the nest removal after the mating season in late July – early August. I also made additions to the DFI Conservation Plan setting goals for the future, so that we may accomplish these time-sensitive tasks when the time is right.
It is a great accomplishment to have built and installed nesting boxes, and it is all the more rewarding knowing Cody the coyote and Hank the hawk (our DFI decoys!) got to witness it all.