Critter candid cameras revealing inhabitants east of Edmonton
Wildlife researchers showing off snaps of an array of creatures living in Elk Island National Park
Brian Eaton pops the digital card out of a wildlife camera strapped to a tree in the bush of Elk Island National Park east of Edmonton.
Every month for the last year and a half the chair of the Friends of Elk Island Society and other volunteers have been checking eight trail cameras scattered throughout the park.
A "fisher is a two to five kilogram weasel" like a wolverine only smaller explains the wildlife biologist. "It's a really neat species in that it's the only one we know of that has figured out how to kill porcupine without getting really badly injured."
The fisher's other claim to fame, Stewart says, is "it's almost all dark fur so it's got a really nice chocolate coloured coat" highly prized during the fur trade.
The fisher was reintroduced into Elk Island National Park in 1990 and now 25 years later Stewart wants to find out how the population is doing.
That's where the wildlife photos and some DNA detective work comes in.
The animals come to investigate a stinky bag of fish guts dangling from the bait tree across from the motion detecting camera.
When the fisher scrambles up the bait tree, its thick brown fur gets snagged in little prongs "and we can then use that hair sample to identify how related those animals are, how genetically diverse the population is and look at how those genes are flowing" between developed areas and the protection of the park, says Stewart.
But this research originally intended to capture the curiosity of just one critter has instead documented dozens.
"So we actually get pictures of wolves, foxes, coyotes, flying squirrels, birds all kinds of things it's really cool" and Eaton is surprised by the bears not just passing through the park but now calling it home.
"One actually stayed for four or five months and we've caught it on camera again this spring.
As for Eaton, he says conservation and research in this area offers their own rewards, it's "sort of spiritual to come and reconnect with nature."
To see more from Elk Island National Park you can watch this week's edition of Our Edmonton.
Our weekly magazine show airs on Saturday at 10 a.m. Sunday at 11 a.m. and Monday at 4 p.m. on CBC TV.