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Caribou Program Fieldwork 2021: The Boos Beginning

By Solène Williams and Nikki Beaudoin

What do you get when an angler, bird nerd, farmer, and a celiac all end up on a field crew? Two very exasperated returning field techs with their work cut out for them!
The newcomers on the 2021 crew:

  • Christian Louie, the young buck of the crew traveling from Sidney, BC and studying biology at UVic enjoys long walks on the beach with his fishing rod in hand.
  • Jesse Shirton, ornithology enthusiast and self-declared crib champion, came to us from Churchill, MB (originally Saint Albert, AB) and will be pursuing a master’s on lake trout in Great Bear Lake, NWT in the fall.
  • Janine Lock, proud Maritimer and lumberjill, is studying agriculture at McGill University. Janine enjoys sharing her agricultural knowledge on how to distinguish between alfalfa and hay fields with the rest of the crew in four languages: English, French, Spanish, and Finnish.
  • Nikki Beaudoin, geographer/ski bum from Calgary who likes to pretend she is from BC and cannot stand the sight of a fresh croissant.

The two returning field techs, Solène Williams from Waterloo and Isaiah Huska from Sweaburg, Ontario, had their work cut out for them with the lack-luster ragtag bunch they would have to whip into shape. Both Solène and Isaiah had worked for fRI Research for the past two seasons and had ample wildlife, hiking, and general bad-assery experience so they gritted their teeth and embraced the challenge.

This was to be the work cohort, affectionately known as “The Boos” for the 2021 summer field season. As a cohort, the techs would have to distance from all other people and abide by the federal and provincial COVID-19 regulations for the duration of the summer.

After two weeks of training and isolation at the Hinton headquarters, the newly initiated caribou field techs and their trusty leaders packed up their belongings to begin their first 9-day shift. Once the meals were prepped, the trucks gassed up, and the trailers loaded, the team began the drive to the picturesque community of Grande Cache.

Here, they formed a fellowship to complete their quest: obtain data from cut blocks and fire-disturbed sites in the A la Pèche and Little Smoky woodland caribou herd ranges in order to determine how different disturbance regimes affect caribou food sources.

The Boos were quickly spoiled as they encountered two large bull caribou grazing off the highway on their first day in the field. For the new members of the crew, this was their first time seeing woodland caribou in the wild, and they were as giddy as kids on Christmas morning. This was only the beginning of many other amazing wildlife sightings they would encounter over the summer.

Solène with a bowl of morels

We were careful to select site locations that ensure we randomly collect data from a variety of different forest stand types and ages. In no time, the new techs had developed their trucker mouths and were expertly navigating logging roads and learning the cool radio lingo from the veteran loggers.

The May and June weather treated the Boos very well and it was early enough in the season that the bugs were not yet a major inconvenience. The fieldwork went smoothly and most evenings were spent outside by the fire pit or at the picnic table playing games. The Boos soon discovered they were a passionate and competitive group of people and sometimes more time was spent disputing the rules of card games than actually playing them. Throughout the week, the crew rapidly improved, learning quickly and even scavenging enough morel mushrooms to feast in the evenings. Other evenings included fishing at Victor Lake, exploring local sites, and having a group paint night with water colours.

Janine and Nikki chopping firewood beside a lake
Caption: 
Janine and Nikki making toothpicks

Solène and Isaiah were almost hopeful that they might become more than just coworkers with the new recruits; perhaps, dare they hope, even friends?

Leonie Brown, one of the crew’s lovely bosses and truck mechanic, who was also wishing to see the friendships form amongst the crew, drove up to join the team on a weekend hike where she made the astute observation that Jesse was a dead ringer in looks and personality to the acorn-crazed Ice Age saber-toothed squirrel, Scrat.

Jesse holding a mushroom, a cartoon quirrel image in the corner for comparison
Caption: 
A family resemblance?

The rest of the shift went on without a hitch, minus a few sticky sections of logging road where hitches and winches were required.

The next shift at Two Lakes Provincial Park also went swimmingly, aside from hordes of black flies and mosquitoes, lack of running water, a propane shortage, and man-eating leeches that filled both lakes. One evening, after returning from a long field day, a fat black bear was found roaming around the bathrooms and garbage. Solène and Isaiah chased the bear away with the truck.

The summer solstice occurred during the Two Lakes shift and our mighty fisherman Christian caught rainbow trout, which we enjoyed around the fire. Janine befriended some small children in a race across the lake and the bird nerds of the crew were over the moon about spotting a Northern Hawk Owl family where a few days earlier a violent windstorm had swept the area, leaving the forest looking like a giant charred game of pick up sticks. The Boos worked hard to clear fallen trees off of the road.

Otherwise, it was business as usual and it is safe to say that the crew was quickly becoming fast friends and the rest of the summer was still ahead of them.

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