Hello everyone and welcome to the first entry of the 2013 Slovakia diary. We’re Peter Schuette, your expedition leader, and Adam Stickler, Peter’s sidekick for our forthcoming Slovakia adventure.
We’re putting the finishing touches to the paperwork, the equipment has been packed, the cars are serviced and ready to roll, the snow has been falling to give us good tracking conditions and we’re looking forward to our time in Slovakia with our scientist Tomas.
We’ll meet in Germany in 9 days, pack up all the gear (see picture below) and then drive south and east to base five days ahead of you to set up. In case you are wondering what’s in all the boxes, it’s paperwork, scat collection kits, books, batteries, GPSs, etc. You can also see the walking poles, radios, a map, first aid pack (which we’ll hopefully never use) and lots of top-notch Swarovski Optik gear (which we’ll hopefully use lots) on there.
That’s it for now. We’ll be in touch again from Slovakia with more updates. See you there in due course.
As forecast we’ve had more snow. On Wednesday we had 60 centimetres and heavy snowfall all day, making tracking and surveying impossible. So we collected camera trap memory cards with some great results (bear, otter, deer). But sadly the crafty lynxes keep eluding us.
Today we went out again as usual, hoping for the fresh snow to show recent movements. But no luck as the wildlife is just too smart to move in these conditions. So we spread out to retrieve more camera trap memory cards – well done team for finding the cameras, sometimes hidden under masses of snow. After this hard day, often sinking waist deep into the snow even with snow shoes on, Tomas rewarded us with one of his great movies about the High Tatras.
Our last day of surveying brought us even more of “deep and steep” as it kept snowing. Dan, Erica, Anne and Matt did really well collecting cards from the lynx place high up. No luck though with the cats – no pics. So we have to hope for the future as the cameras will stay there. Christine, Juliane, Tom and myself gave up after few kilometres as we kept getting stuck up to the hips, so we decided to check the main road, but only foxes and an otter have been busy. Tomas and Milos also went out with their teams to check finally the area around the live traps and deer feeding stations.
Summarising the last three weeks, we have great results, i.e. more than 330 kilometres surveyed, as well as samples of lynx, wolf and bear. So we gained a good first impression of the habitat in the Velka Fatra National Park as Tomas explained to us at the end. But the monitoring has to continue next year to verify these data.
Thank you to everyone who has helped to make this expedition a success. We had a great time, and we hope you had too.
Best wishes to you all and thank you again for all your hard work and enthusiasm
After the training days and a first survey with group 3 to exercise the newly acquired skills, today we split into four groups. Led by Daniel, Tom and Anne followed one lynx track spotted yesterday during the training session. They went up and down the hills and found the remains of a carcass. Group 2 with Juliane and birthday girl Christine detected two fresh tracks on the transect in the western part of the valley close to the location where were also lucky last week. We also collected a urine sample for DNA analysis. Tomas went out with Mat and Erica tracking another lynx spotted yesterday. They discovered an incredible four (!) different footprints and climbed up to the camera traps to exchange the SD cards. No luck so far, at least with lynx, but with wild boar (see below).
Unfortunately they weren’t able to following the tracks, too steep and faint and “roaming around as if stung by an adder”, as Tomas says. Crazy cats! Joanne (yesterday’s birthday girl) and Peter did well climbing with Milos to the western ridge to collect two SD cards and checking out the area, as we haven’t been there for two weeks now. They’ve spotted four wild boars, as well as lots of roe and red deer.
So for the last remaining few days there will be many climbs and downhill experiences in the deep snow as the forecast says there will be new snowfall between 30 and 50 centimetres. But it’s warmer now, only minus 10! But we’ve had enough birthday cakes now to burn the calories again 😉
This week passed by so fast and just now we dropped team 2 at Kralovany train station. We covered more than 120 kilometres surveying forestry roads and ridges. The most exciting find was a lynx resting place under rocks, which Tomas, Martin und Astrid discovered high up on a ridge. Following the tracks, they identified two animals – a mother and a subadult – roaming around together as well as one single animal, probably a male. We’ve set up two camera traps there; the waiting game begins…
Milos found tracks of a wolf pack, four or five animals, in the same area, so we’ll focus further surveys there.
Following the tracks of last week’s group we saw tracks of many animals using those tracks, saving energy by not walking through deep snow. Fox is everywhere as well as pine marten and, of course, red deer, roe deer and wild boar.
After some snowfall on Monday we were hoping to finding fresh tracks and indeed found three of lynx on different spots on one route. Unfortunately there was more snow during the following night covering the footprints, so we couln’t investigate furrther.
In summary, group 2 found seven tracks of lynx, five of wolf, three of bear, two new carcasses and changed the location of four camera traps. We’ve had tough ascents to the ridges, funny descents in deep snow and stunning views to the mountains around us covered with snow.
Now we’re waiting for slot 3 arriving tomorrow to find us some lynx to collar or at a picture of. Elusive buggers 😉 While we wait, I’ve uploaded the “expedition life” video below.
We’ve covered a lot of ground over the last couple of days. As there is new snow cover, everybody was keen to find fresh tracks. Obviously it’s not that easy to define tracks in the soft and deep snow. We had to learn that smart wild animals save their energy and do not roam around very much in those kinds of conditions. But we’ve had a good laugh or two seeing a team-mate getting stuck in the deep white stuff!
Yesterday Astrid, Martin and Tomas found two lynx paw prints, apparently an adult and a young animal. Following the tracks they then detected a resting place underneath a rocky overhang. The perfect spot for one of our camera traps.
After a couple of days with freezing wind and deep snow, it will be easier tomorrow as the temperatures are forecast to go up and everybody is now used to the terrain. All groups have spotted single or groups of roe deer, as well as red deer. Linda, Martyn and I found fresh bear tracks and possible den site.
Starting yesterday’s surveys in minus 29 centigrade (!) in the morning we found several tracks – what happens then, Louise and Pat show us in this video.
Tomas went out with James and Marcel to collect some camera trap memory cards. Apart from approximately 170 pics of a jay (Garrulus glandarius) getting fat on a deer carcass we photographed a wolf and a common buzzard.
Summing up this week we found tracks of three bears, at least seven wolves, three lynxes, three roe deer carcasses (one was killed by lynx, two by wolves). We’ve spotted golden eagle (Aquila chrysaetos) and 28 more bird species and found tracks of 16 mammal species! We put out all our camera traps and surveyed more than 125 kilometres!
A BIG thank you to slot 1, it was great having you here, I think this was for all of us a ‘cool’ expecience. See you again sometime.
P.S.: The weather forecast for the upcoming days says minus 14 during the day and minus 20 in the night, cloudy with cold wind.
After successful training sessions on Sunday and Monday, we split into four teams today. The surveys mainly followed forest tracks in deep snow and provided immediate excitement as Pat, James and I spotted two lynx tracks just 300 metres from the main road in the valley of Velka Fatra National Park. Our tracker Milos found wolf tracks on one of the ridges and later a roe deer carcass, killed by a wolf pack! The foresters’ report was that there were no wolves in the valley due to the amounts of snow, but we could prove otherwise, so that’s a nice example of how on-the-ground research can show long-held beliefs to be wrong. David, Marcel, Rudolf and Tomas found bear tracks, also close to the main road. Hopefully this was not all just beginners luck!
David (with snow shoes) was brave following Milos (on skies) for 14 kilometres setting up two camera traps close to the wolf kill and their tracks. The other team covered between 5 and 7 kilometres on different routes again finding tracks of bears. They should really be in hibernation now, but Tomas thinks some of them have become active as it was quite warm in the beginning of January. The foresters reported a sighting of one wolf and have found another carcass and at the same time we received message of a carcass close to the lynx tracks! So we placed camera traps everywhere and can’t wait for the results! Everybody is doing a great job here walking in deep snow uphill, downhill in minus 20 centigrade with frosty breezes!