Curlew Nest Detection Dogs through Solid Science with Caroline Finlay of Conservation Detection Dogs of Northern Ireland

In this episode of K9 Conservationists, Kayla speaks with Caroline Finlay about curlew nest detection dogs. 

Science Highlight: None

Links Mentioned in the Episode:  

⁠Conservation detection dogs sniff out rare curlew nests⁠

Where to find Caroline: ⁠Website⁠ | ⁠Facebook⁠ 

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Transcript (AI-Generated)

Kayla Fratt  00:09

Hello and welcome to the K9Conservationists podcast, where we’re positively obsessed with conservation detection dogs. Join us every other Tuesday to talk about detection, training, canine welfare, conservation, biology and everything in between. I’m Kayla Fratt, one of three co-founders of K9Conservationists, where we train dogs to detect data for researchers, NGOs, and agencies.

Kayla Fratt  00:30

Today, I want to start out with a shout out to our patron Taylor, who has been putting a ton of work in not just with her to young and very talented dogs, but also on outreach and education to help get herself and her dogs out and working. Taylor has been a dedicated member of our Patreon for years now and is one of our most regular attendees of our group coaching calls. And it’s been so cool to see her taking her dogs from struggling with holding alerts and mouthing hides to not just beautiful alerts, but also doing really impressive demonstrations and getting closer and closer to being fully operational. Well done Taylor.

Kayla Fratt  01:07

Today, I am super excited to be bringing you an interview with Caroline Finlay of Conservation Detection Dogs of Northern Ireland. We’ve already had Caroline on the show before talking about moss, and some very, very cool work there and she’s just continuing to absolutely wow me with very careful and thorough science and excellent dog training. This episode is going to really focus in on a fascinating pilot study that Karolina and her team did along with a bunch of really amazing partners. To see if detection dogs can be used to find the nests of endangered curlews in Ireland. We’re going to talk about why this matters why the dogs may be helpful, all the other methods that are being used to help protect curlews because dogs are just one of many tools in the toolbox, and so much more. I love talking to Caroline, I wish that I could just interview her every week here. She’s really one of the people I admire most deeply in this field. And I’m just so excited to share this interview with you. This interview pulls relatively heavily from an article from the British Ecological Society which is titled conservation detection dogs sniff out rare Curlew nests, which you can find on the British ecological Society’s website. I recommend that you go ahead and check it out. It’s very short, very easy to read. I basically read this article and immediately reached out to Caroline, because this episode is so science heavy. And also because I am a very sleepy little PhD student. We don’t have a science highlight this week. So let’s get right into the interview with Caroline. All right, Carolyn, welcome back to the podcast. I’m super excited to have you back on why don’t you start out with anyone who maybe missed your first episode or it’s just been a long time we do a lot of episodes. Remind us a little bit about yourself, your business your dogs. And then we’ll get into curlews.

Caroline Finlay  02:52

So yeah, I’m Caroline, I run a small business here in Northern Ireland, called conservation detection dogs, Northern Ireland, or CtDNA. So I did my PhD in conservation back in the day. I then worked for a couple of conservation charities and was working in one of those charities, I came across conservation protection dogs. And I went Yes. Brilliant. We need this more because it was, especially in the UK and Ireland. It was massively underutilized. And I was like, ah, we need to make this more available for people and especially charities, you’re always struggling to get the funding to find the data to actually prove their worth. So yeah, that everything I was working on couple of days. Then in 2021, I went full time doing conservation checks, dogs. At that time. I have one dog. I know I have four dogs. Oops, we know, I know. It was a big increase. We only have another handler working with us part time and she has a dog and I’m sure in the next couple of years, she will get more dogs. So yeah, it is it has been great.

Kayla Fratt  04:03

That’s awesome. So yeah, remind us about your dogs. I remember you’ve got a couple different breeds and a couple different kinds of specialties on the team. So for anyone who wants to go back and find Caroline’s other episode, obviously you could just search for Caroline’s name, but it also was a really really really cool episode about moss. So make sure you go back to that and I am not kidding when I say it was really really cool. Like that is not me being sarcastic about moss.

Caroline Finlay  04:26

Everyone loves Moss, who doesn’t love Moss, who doesn’t

Kayla Fratt  04:29

Who doesn’t love moss. Exactly.

Caroline Finlay  04:31

So we have myself I have four dogs. So I’ve got Rufus who’s our veteran, he’s now 10 years old, more semi retired. He started as a red squirrel detection dog. So helping us find red squirrels during squirrel pox outbreaks. Which is because the American grey squirrel came in and decided to give this virus Joel our squirrel sorry Dr. Baltimore had Then we got into bat and birds carcass detection on their turbines like everybody does at some stage and their conservation detection dog career, and then we did seabird detection. So we were looking for Mike Shearwater, which is this cool little sea bird that lives down burrows nests known burrows around Ireland and Britain. And then we have Monty who was our second he’s both Springer’s spirit. I’m big Springer person. He is no three. He’s the only dog I’ve had from a puppy. So that was a experience. And he is our man when farm dog he is. Yeah, he will go through any vegetation. He will find anything in the middle of brambles and thorny bets. He’s, he’s brilliant. He did a little bit of biosecurity work as well. And then we’ve got zipper who’s our German Shorthaired Pointer. So she’s common six and February. She has possibly the bass nose I’ve ever come across in my life. So she was working mostly on the moss project does turbines as well. And then this is her new job, which is Curlew nest detection. I know and then we have Jasper who’s just turned two and we’re hoping to imprint him on bat carcass to start off with for the seasons bat work so yeah.

Kayla Fratt  06:21

Yeah, I actually love two sidebars that I hope our listeners will tolerate. Well, my dad just adopted a Springer Spaniel. So I now have a speaker in the family and I’m very excited about it. She does not sound like the sort of dog that would select for this sort of work. She’s very timid and gentle and sweet and just kind of wants to trot along to his heel. Which sounds perfect for him. But I am excited to have a springer in the family now. And then have you read the book Colter? It’s by Rick Bass. And it’s about he’s a bird hunter in Montana conservationist guy. And it’s just it’s one of those memoirs that kind of tell stories interwoven through his relationship with his dog through kind of this, like heart dog point of view, and I just finished reading it. And it’s really, really beautiful. And there’s some really cool stuff about sent work and ribbons have sent going across the plains and finding birds and stuff at it. I really, really enjoyed it. And I’m just telling all my friends with pointers about it. Add it to the list. Okay, but let’s get into curlews. This is actually I think the second episode we’ve got that talks about curlews or other with show rapidly down in Australia was mostly focusing on finding dropped GPS units that had kind of come off of the curlews. So obviously, this is a different species, I’m assuming, tell us a little bit about these, Carlos, why they’re in trouble and why we care about them.

Caroline Finlay  07:48

Yeah. So this is the Eurasian Curlew and they are our largest wading birds. So kind of specializing in those kind of areas close to water, but not like fully and water, not like ducks and things like that. They’re and they have this massive, long, curved beak that they use, like probe into the ground to get insects and things like that. And we care about them because they’re an iconic species here, especially in Ireland, people grew up listening to the species calling with a really weird call, and their bio indicators as well. So we use them as a measure for how well the farmland is their farmland spaces. So how well are we actually looking and conserving different agricultural areas because they ain’t done six out of the soil. So if we’re messing about of the soil, then we knew about us because curlies aren’t hanging around pretty much. And currently, we’re having a bad time of it. Yeah. Like it’s so funny, because they get a lot of people going, but I see currently all over the place. And I’m like, Yeah, you see went during Curlew. So in the UK and Ireland, we get a lot of Curlew coming in from other countries. Because our winters are so mild. So like come from mainland Europe. They come from Scandinavia, and they’re like literally stay here over winter. And we’re like, our populations massive. And then you get the breeding population. And you go, Oh, no, because it is bad. Oh, yeah. So in Northern Ireland, we’ve lost work in the last 40 years, we think we’ve lost over 80% of our breeding population is bought Yeah. Oh, no. Ireland as a whole, we’ve lost well over 90 percents. England, it’s like this over 60% It’s not good numbers.

Kayla Fratt  09:47

No, no, those are all numbers going in the wrong direction. Unless you’re talking invasive species mitigation, which we are not.

Caroline Finlay  09:55

So yeah, it’s pretty bad. There was a report Um, that was like if we don’t do something, pretty much in the next decade, we’re looking at local and extinctions, because they are they’re just not getting the population recovery that they need to build those numbers back up again. And there’s, there’s a couple of different reasons for it. So as I said, they like to read on farmland, and farmland is an ever changing landscape and they just have not kept up with the changes. So like grass cutting is happening more often. So unfortunately, even if they do get the eggs hatching, the fledge the babies aren’t getting to fledge, because they’re pretty much getting caught up whenever the silage is being cut. Yeah. Yeah, it’s BA, there’s not as much habitat for them because we keep drilling fields for better agriculture. There’s more predators, noise predators have numbers have increased the we’ve shoved all these Curlew into smaller, smaller areas. So it’s easier to predict. Oh, no. Yeah, it’s all bad.

Kayla Fratt  11:01

Yeah, yeah. No, I mean, it doesn’t sound unfamiliar. And especially these sorts of smaller animals, where increases in small predators can be a really big issue. I think like a lot of us are, like a lot of like, our North American listeners are used to, you know, thinking about apex predator extermination, or extra patient and how that that may cause like herbivore populations to skyrocket, but can also cause something called Mizo predator release. And I don’t know how much of that is a problem for you all, but I’m guessing it’s like foxes and stuff that are doing really well and decimating these guys. Not like, you know, it’s not like you’ve got brown bears roaming around doing this.

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Caroline Finlay  11:45

We don’t have any interest in predators. But we don’t have a big cats. We don’t have any bears or anything like that. Yeah, no, it’s like foxes, badgers, different mustelids bee species, and then predators as well. So it’s different raptors, and gold skulls can be a big problem.

Kayla Fratt  12:04

Oh, yeah. Yeah, I’ve actually I’ve got someone in my lab who’s studying Raven interactions with sage grouse. And it’s really surprising I had no I’d never thought about ravens as a really important predator for other birds in particular, I guess. I don’t know what I was thinking that ravens ate. But I wasn’t thinking about poor sage grouse getting hammered by them as well, we’ll get him on the show at some point, just because he’s, he’s a really good science communicator, and he does some cool work, even though it doesn’t involve the dogs. So okay, so now, how do dogs come into this? Like, are we trying to point out these curlews so that we can trap them and put them in breeding facilities? Are we trying to find nests? What are we doing, and what’s kind of the plan there?

Caroline Finlay  12:44

So we’re trying to find nests, we can find the nests, we can put anti predator fencing around the nest, it’s pretty much a much a glorified electric fence for like livestock. But it’s a bit more like there’s a couple more strands and things to try and put off foxes and badgers from getting to them. And so if we can find that, we can do that. And there it is shown that there’s like a massive, massive increase in the chance that the eggs will actually hatch and get to hatching. If we can get these fences, rolling them through. Yeah, that’s why I was brought on I was actually brought, the first time I was ever this was ever mentioned to me was by a poor person who had to stand out in a field for hours at a time trying to find out where these nests are. Please help me. Please, I don’t want to do this. Yeah. 100%. And I was like, yeah, no, that’s down. Oh, and I don’t blame you. So no, yeah, yeah. He was like, Oh, it’ll be so good.

Kayla Fratt  13:41

So what do we know? And maybe do we know like, so it sounds like getting the eggs to hatch is a big problem. And then getting the chicks to fledging. What do we know about kind of these big drop off points or bottlenecks in like, the lifecycle of these birds? Is it kind of like, if we get the eggs to hatch, then that helps a bunch with the bottleneck? Or then do we kind of have like another step as far as getting them to, to adulthood and to ultimately breeding again, and trying to get this population all the way you know,

Caroline Finlay  14:10

If we can get the eggs to hatch. Now, I’m not a curlew expert, I should say I’d say that at the start. I’m sure there’s I work with a lot of people who are currently experts, and I’m sure they’re gonna be like, Caroline I have all the figures here. And I’d be like, who should have got this for for this, but um, yeah, if we can get the extra half that’s a major, a major hurdle. And half the time it’s the A’s get predated, it’s when they’re the most vulnerable once because they’re, the checks themselves are so well camouflaged. Um, they, they have their own kind of ability to hide from predators, but the DAS are just completely vulnerable. There’s no one that they can do to avoid predators, unfortunately, and there are other like there’s other things that these different charities are putting in place and different landowners put in place like they are doing like removing predators from the environment, things like that to try and help. But if they can’t find the nest, it really causes a trouble. And it’s really hard to measure than how well the population is doing if we can’t do this as well. So.

Kayla Fratt  15:13

Totally, yeah, that makes sense. Yeah, yeah. No, I know, I’m kind of throwing some extra questions at you. Well, you know, we have some leeway as far as like, we understand you’re the dog person here. That’s all right. Okay. So tell us a little bit about you know, what I first heard about y’all. It’s basically I’ve got or not, I, I’ve known about you for a while. But I have a Google Scholar alert set up for conservation dogs, conservation detection dogs, ecological bugs, you know, all of the permutations of that. And you were mentioned in the British Ecological Society for this work. So tell us a little bit about kind of what this study was because one of the things we were talking right before I hit record that I really admire about you. And this project is such a great example of this is the level of scientific rigor that you’re bringing to this. You’re not just like, sure, yeah, I’ve got a point and well don’t find the birds that will do the thing. And then we’re done. Like, there was a lot that went into this. So tell us a little bit about what you’ve been up to so far.

Caroline Finlay  16:10

Yep. So I was first approached about curlew nest detection in 2021. I was after that breeding season, and they had the phone, like one nest in this area of Northern Ireland. And they were like, This is ridiculous. I’m there spam. The thing is, they’re spending days on end looking for an answer. It’s not as if the effort isn’t there. It’s just that the birds are trying to also hide them from you. So they’re not landing straight on them. They are extremely well camouflaged. So you could be standing beside them and not know you’re standing beside them. And then the it’s it’s a massive area as well that you need to scratch. So there’s different reasons. And he came to me in 2021 and went right, please help us. And then I was like, brilliant. Okay, 2022 km. I went right, we need to actually prove the dogs can do this. Because we had a lot of donors. So we had people going you’re taking dogs onto Curlew nesting habitat? No, that is ridiculous. That is crazy. These are extremely fragile habitats, and extremely like decimated populations of bird species. Taking a dog on is crazy. And I was like, fair, so we kind of had to prove ourselves. So we ran this pilot study. And what we did was we got some of the researchers that we knew that we’re working on currently, we got them to put getxent tubes into Curlew nests for us and push them back to us. And then we put Zeba, we train people on the get some chips. And then we tested her looking for the gifts of chips in a certain area. And we tested her against people looking for a fake Nast or two, in the same kind of area. And we were trying to see first of all, is the dog actually better than people? If and like, snake, they can kind of work out that there’s a nasty in an area, can they actually find it? And then is the dog actually better at finding the older than we are finding the visual just to make sure that this is actually worth pursuing? Yeah, it is. It’s a big ask to say to someone you know, you’re really heavily protected species, is it okay, if we take a dog in to find it?

Kayla Fratt  18:26

Right? And especially when we’re looking at, you know, you’re not just finding you’re not just taking it into the that animals territory or habitat. And you’re not just finding the adults, you’re actually finding the nests. You know, this is a huge ask. And it’s something that you know, I think we all hopefully in this fields take really, really seriously but we just can’t say enough like how important it is that we know what we’re doing and that we’ve got the right dogs for the job and all the stuff that I’m sure you’re about to tell us about.

Caroline Finlay  18:56

Though, so, first of all, I picked Zeba because she is a pointer. She works slower than the Spaniels do she’s more methodical. She also instinctually goes into your point. As a chick kind of runs out in front of her she’ll go into your point before anything else with the boys. They they do have they would be more likely to flush a bird.

Kayla Fratt  19:23

Sure that’s what they’re supposed to do. You know, before before you train them, that’s what their genetics were telling him to do. Yeah,

Caroline Finlay  19:31

I like the it’s kind of like a CFC device on the pointer. She already has the point built in. And it was so interesting. We actually compared her searching for the karoun as older against a person who had never searched recruited an s before on a person who was an expert at finding karuna, someone who’s done for a couple of years. And then we pick two different environments as well. So three different habitats that you would find Curlew Nason to see if that made a difference. And it was interesting whenever we got the Curlew nest get sent tubes over back to us, we actually tested could zebra find them in a whole lot of different habitats, just in case they just smelled of like Heather, or like, long grass? You know, because we weren’t, you know, you stick a gift on juban T and asked, and you hope it smells of Nast. But yeah, we were pretty confident after testing it and like a whole load of different environments that Yeah, there’s definitely smells of something different. That’s special. So no, that was good. And so yeah, there was do you want to hear the results?

Kayla Fratt  20:42

Yeah, absolutely.

Caroline Finlay  20:44

Yeah. So Zeba found 93% of the nests that we put on her. Yeah, that. I always say the reason she missed, the nest she messed it was my fault as handler. So yeah, I always say like, I sometimes prefer it to be my fault than her fault. And so yeah, I need to be 90 to improve, not the dog needs to improve. And then the expert human or a find 49 get this right. 43% of the NASS and the non expert who had never done it before find around 60% of the NASS so you’re still looking at quite a few that were missed. And yeah, it was injured. And then the humans put together only find around the 50% mark of the NASS that were actually put. So yeah.

Kayla Fratt  21:36

Wait, so can you say it again? So the the novice searcher found like 40 Some percent and the expert found like 60 Some percent or did I get that backwards? Backwards? Okay. That’s what I wanted to confirm. Wow. Okay. So the expert found for you, where do we think that’s because they had some, like, pre preconceived notion of where it’s supposed to be. There is, I mean, obviously, we’re speculating at little.

Caroline Finlay  22:00

Yeah, we are speculating. But I also think we did this. So we did this trial in August. So they had worked a full season before we asked him to do it. I’m tired or annoyed as a possibility. Yeah. Also, yeah, they had a preconceived notion that I observed, and I haven’t find done. They were much they were much quicker at calling a blank search a blank area that all of us was. And I think that is because the novice was like, I’ve never done it before. I’m gonna try really hard. Yeah, yeah. Yeah. Yeah.

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Kayla Fratt  22:31

And I wonder how long that effect would would wear off? And if it would wear off, or if you would find as strong of an effect? Were people observing them during the search?

Caroline Finlay  22:41

Yeah. So we have Beth, our wonderful masters students. So she was observing the entire time. Yeah, yeah.

Kayla Fratt  22:47

Yeah. Yeah, I bet. I mean, again, we’re speculating here. But I, I know the times that I have known that I am being watched while I’m searching, I often search differently than and I’ve less, less confident calling blanks when people are watching me. It’s scary. And I’m sure if you do enough of that practice, it wears off. But yeah. Gosh, so Okay, so that’s really impressive. So yeah, we’re right now we’re kind of at this point where, okay, we’ve confirmed that Ziva can find these gets sent tubes that we’re pretty sure correlate to the center of the nest. And now is the next question kind of can we do this without getting the curlews to abandon the nests? Yeah. So what’s the plan for that?

Caroline Finlay  23:32

Yeah, well, this is this is the trial that we’re having this year that we’re, everybody’s really, really excited about. So that kind of pilot study has been like what we’ve sent to everyone. And then like, look, there is a possibility. I called it the potential of the dogs and I was like, Look, there’s potential here that this is actually worth us looking more into it is worth us going into these areas with dogs. I always sit let’s it’s hilarious. These currently are nesting on agricultural areas with sheep and cattle that are being driven by dogs all the time. They have sheepdogs out running around the place. And people are still worried about bringing dogs onto the site. And I’m like, No, don’t worry about that. But let’s see what happens. So there’s an area in Northern Ireland that has that has a recovering Curlew population. It’s one of the only areas in Ireland that is actually showing an increase in Curlew check numbers at the moment and actually giving them to fledge. And they are spending weeks upon weeks finding NES and they’ve been very successful if I Neff in this particular area, and it’s maybe because they know where the Coronavirus are they currently have a lot of site fidelity. So they’re like, they always go back to the same areas. So they already have a lot of knowledge on where the Curlew naps are going to be. But that is perfect for us. Because then we can actually do some really interesting trial. Another area and they don’t have a population. Well, there’s only one they asked me about and like write it on 30 hectares, which is in some areas. That’s what we’re looking at. Yes. So, another area we’re gonna we’re picking a two different sites within that area. One, we’re going to use the dog to help us find curliness, and one is just going to be human searchers trying to find the nests. And this is the step one. And what we’re looking at is like, first of all, how much quicker it is with the dog? Is it? Is it quicker? Are we actually finding more? And how long it takes the curlews to return to the nest once we’ve actually found it? Are we finding that they’re staying off and asked a lot longer? Are they possibly abandoning it? Although I’ll be honest, having chats with some of the other Curlew workers boy, I’m actually thinking, I don’t see it happening, but you never know. Yeah, check. Yeah. And then we’re looking at like, are the younger, there’s younger pairs coming in? No. Who aren’t those experienced? Are they more likely to abandon if a dog comes in, compared to maybe the more veteran curlews have who have had NAS all over the place and are like, this is easy, easy bones? Don’t worry. So we’re testing these three areas. Once we have a notion of the disturbance that we’re actually causing, then we’re going to take the dogs and to the bigger areas where we really don’t know as well, where the karoun Sr, and that’s where they’re properly going to really evaluate how much how useful the dogs are going to be. Because that’s that’s what most people are actually dealing with is that they have these vast areas with maybe one or two Coronavirus in them, and they just can’t pinpoint them.

Kayla Fratt  26:47

So yeah. Wow. Yeah. I mean, I really love highlighting just how multistaged this process is. And yeah, I mean, I wanted to circle back to I think it’s a really good point that these curlews are nesting in, as you said, kind of agricultural landscapes working landscapes. And it’s actually something we’re running into with another project partner right now, where there they were, were they’ve got a lot of worries and a lot of questions about the conservation logs. And we’re more than happy to answer all of those, I’m really happy to work with them. And after a couple calls, at some point, they mentioned that this area that we’re going to be working in is open range land, where, you know, there’s cattle and dogs and horse people moving through it at least a couple times a year, you know, not necessarily on a day to day basis. And it’s like, Oh, okay. I mean, again, like it doesn’t negate the concerns about the dogs. But it does suggest to us that if these animals were going to keel over and die in the sight of a dog, they would have done it already. And the other thing that I’m glad you mentioned is that you don’t really suspect that these birds are going to be abandoning their nest, it’s really good to check, it’s going to be so great to have the information saying whether or not they do what what percentage they do. You know, ideally, they don’t. But I would suspect that you wouldn’t have gotten this far along this project. If you really, if you and all of the experts really thought like, gosh, you know, using the dogs is gonna cause as many problems as it solves, we probably wouldn’t be here right now.

Caroline Finlay  28:25

100% like, so there are a couple of CFD measures we’re putting in to kind of reduce disturbance, and it’s at some at some point. So there’s, we’re only searching for 20 to 40 minutes max, we put that in as soon as the bird flushes off the nest of Curlew lifts off nap then we have a time limit where if we don’t find the NAPS within that 20 minutes, then that’s it, we call it back off again, let the bird come back in and get back on with NASA. We’re not doing it in cold weather and rainy weather because we don’t want the eggs just out there in the environment in any form of danger. And we also when I did the pilot study, we also I did it with the dog online and leash on a big lead and that was because I knew they’re gonna ask me for it whenever we came to actually do it and the in the environment and I was like it well through the eyes and I said the student will slow the dog down but if it makes you feel better if it makes us feel better if it’s a CFT line that you need in 100% we will work on that. And one of the things they have added this year is that they want us to work the doll with a muzzle on as well. And I was like get on if that’s what you want. 100% we can muzzle train them. I do say them though, like another reason why I picked Ziva is that she has a habit of hitting order stopping and then working like excessively slowly and tips on times and you’re like, it’s nice, you know if you’re if you’re working on a something that’s as, as delicate as an egg. Yeah, that’s a really nice, cool process that she has working in to actually.

Kayla Fratt  30:12

Yeah, yeah, I wouldn’t want Niffler on this project, because he has a habit of occasionally lying down on his sample. We’re working on it. He’s gotten so much better. Thanks to I’ve been working through a lot of like Paul bunkers workbook working on getting really good, you know, freeze stare sorts of alerts, and it’s helping a lot, but got his first two seasons, he was, you know, sternum crushing bats. And that would be a real big problem with eggs.

Caroline Finlay  30:42

100%. Yeah. And, and then we’re, yeah, we’re putting camera traps, like on the nafs as well, once we find them. So we can get some type of behavioral data as well. Like, are the birds calling more? Do they have a distress call more if the dogs are in the area or not? So yeah, it’s gonna it’s gonna be interesting. We have put in a couple of those measures to try and reduce disturbance as much as possible.

Kayla Fratt  31:11

Yeah, I mean, gosh, this sounds huge. How did did you have to get additional funding for the dogs? Or did your partners kind of come to you with? I mean, you don’t have to tell us about the much of the budget here. But like, this sounds like a really big in depth thing that, you know, we just don’t always have the opportunity to put together something like this in Guatemala. Yeah.

Caroline Finlay  31:34

So the pilot study was pretty much funded all by ourselves. Because we had, and it was, it was hilarious. We had all the field workers coming to Colombia, singling please. The dog, please, please, please. We’re desperate. And a lot of the people that were maybe higher ups are not in the field as much we’re going oh, no, we can’t take a dog out into the sights like it is. No, that’s crazy. So we were like, right, we need to prove it to them. So we paid pretty much everything ourselves. We did get So Beth was our master’s student from Queen’s University, Belfast, we worked with the university quite a bit. And she came with a small amount of funding, and that paid for the get sent jobs pretty much. Yeah, so this year, we have actually been able to get some funding from some of the projects that are already on the ground. And it’s pretty much they’ve gone. This is no desperate measures, like we desperately need to find this. Like they’ve been in some areas, they’ve been working for years, and they’re still not getting the number of checks fledged that they need to keep that population at a steady state. Or they actually need it over that amount to actually,

Kayla Fratt  32:50

Yeah, they don’t just need two chicks. Yeah, making it to sexual maturity, they need more in order to have that population actually grow. Based on the picture in the in the article, it looks like there was four eggs in the picture. So it’s not like, I think sometimes people think that, you know, you see like, swallows, we’ll have like maybe eight chicks, or, you know, ducks, you know, you see some of these like mergansers in the US where they’ll have like 15 babies, I think sometimes they accidentally adopt or like merge broods. But yeah, these are the small numbers here. And I would imagine if a fox or a badger or whomever finds four eggs, they’re probably going to munch all four.

Caroline Finlay  33:36

Pretty much. And so yeah, 48 is kind of the maximum that they’ll have in an AST. And that’s the number that we use for the trial as well of the human searchers. We put for our fake for for eggs, and the Nast for them. And also so they will try to have a second bird if they successfully fledge their checks. But if checks are predated on, they won’t try again. They just give up pretty much. So yeah, it is they’re an interesting bird species. Also, they take quite a long time to mature for bird. It can be like, was it four years? I think I was told it will take them four years until they’re old enough to actually create.

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Kayla Fratt  34:22

Yeah, guys, like grow up? I know. Yeah. So it’s not it’s an also and this is just I guess one of the things kind of going back to my earlier question about, you know, the egg protection versus fledging versus, you know, gosh, I’m sure there’s a ton of drop off between fledging and your first successful brood, which may or may not even happen your first year. But also getting this fencing up around these eggs is the thing that we can do there’s that you can’t bubble wrap a fledgling burn until it reproduces at four or you know, maybe even more years old and, and if if you’re off a little bit on the four years, you know, I think the point stands that, again, this isn’t a bird that it’s coming back next year and starting to contribute to the population growth right away.

Caroline Finlay  35:09

Hundred percent. And then so there’s been some head starting projects in other parts of the UK, they haven’t started it in Northern Ireland yet. I think they only just started in Ireland maybe last year, the year before. And that’s where they’re actually removing the eggs from the wild. They’re raising them and kept up, they’re given them a head, start the raising them up devotee until they’re close to fledging, and then putting them back into the wild again to try and like this, those numbers. And so they’ve been doing this more in England, and we should this year, see how successful some of those populations are going to be? Because yes or no coming back old enough to actually have their own database. So yeah, we’ll see how that works. But fingers crossed for the dogs, like the hand starting is a perfect dish for the dogs because you don’t care about disturbance. Because the dog the eggs are getting removed from the environment anyway. So yeah,

Kayla Fratt  36:04

Will the curlews ever re-nest if you take their eggs away?. Okay, so it actually you might be able to even get a two-for out of that. That’s, that’s excellent. Yeah. And I think, you know, there are a successful ish examples of this. I don’t know enough to speak super confidently about any of them. But you know, I know we’ve been doing that in the Americas with our condors. We’ve done it with our whooping cranes. And you know, it’s, it’s tricky. It’s hard, hard work. And it’s expensive. And it’s a lot of work. But it has been done before. And it seems like one of the things that helps with birds is if you can avoid imprinting and get the migration stuff figured out, they usually do okay, versus, you know, I know, I’ve read a little bit about like, Cheetah reintroduction, or African painted dogs and some of those things where they have to, there’s so much social learning that happens. And that can be really, really tricky to recreate in a captive environment. And again, people are doing great work on that sort of stuff. But in some ways, birds are maybe a little easier.

Caroline Finlay  37:12

Yeah, well, there’s a project in Ireland where their head starting corn crake, which is another bird that’s having a rough time of it. They have to not left the check see the night sky until they’re released into where they would likely breed. Their sight fidelity is based on the night sky. It’s really interesting.

Kayla Fratt  37:32

That’s crazy. Who figured that out! That’s so cool. Okay, cool. Wow. So are they in there in like little domes?

Caroline Finlay  37:45


Kayla Fratt  37:48

Yeah, I mean, gosh, I again, I know a little bit more about some of the carnivore projects and and I remember reading one about these African painted dogs where they have like, they’d fenced in like 100 hectares or something, you know, it was a huge area that they had fenced in, to try to get the dogs, you know, stepped up to successfully hunting before they were being introduced to lions. Because they, you know, they’re just getting munched by lions, right and left. And this one paper that I was reading just talked about how quickly the dogs learned to just drive the Impaler antelope or whatever it is that they were hunting, hunting straight into the fence and straight into the corners of the fence. And it was like, it just doesn’t, you can have this enclosure that seems like it should be big enough that they can practice but they’re smart enough that they just start learning to use the fence. And it’s just I mean some of the unforeseen problems with these reintroduction things like I mean, hats off to the people who do it. Because I don’t know if I can handle it emotionally.

Caroline Finlay  38:42

Hundre percent, yeah. There’s a fella that a tree and unless he’s coming with his dog, and he had baby curlews that he was raising from a head starting project Ireland, Republic of Ireland, and he was exhausted. knackered, and I was like, Oh, dear, are you okay? And he’s like, yeah, the curlews kept me up last night, you know?

Kayla Fratt  39:04

Yeah, I’ve done bottle baby, like, orphaned kittens. And yeah, you know, and that’s a domestic species. So at least them I can be like, Alright, I’m gonna put them in a basket on my bed. So if they’re upset in the middle of night, I can just like stick my hand in there and they’ll they’ll shut up hopefully. But I, yeah, when, when they’re, you know, like four to eight weeks old. I will just like I’ve got bags on arise that go down to my nose like, it’s rough. Yeah. Okay. So is there anything else? We just devolve into totally total side conversations that we should be talking about or thinking about as far as curlews. Is there anything else you’re excited about or concerned about?

Caroline Finlay  39:45

So this project is with RSPB, if anybody wants to look them up, and you can look up some of the work like that. I completely bypass like they might have habitat management they’ve done and amount of like predation control the minds of like work that they’ve put into the background. And it’s like we’re finding nests, the dogs are gonna save the day, but they’ve actually done a chore. This is just going to be an extra tool for them to have in their toolbox that they can pull out whenever they need it. And look up the Glen weary site and countdown drum and upper locker and and from Anna, those are the two sites we’re going to be working on. They’re beautiful. And the farmers and both those sites have been amazing. And yeah, the some of the local groups as well have been absolutely fantastic. And I think like a lot of these areas are privately owned. And if you don’t get the landowners onside and willing to help you, you’re stuffed, so they’ve been absolutely fantastic.

Kayla Fratt  40:45

Oh, yeah, that’s great. No. And again, I think it’s really important to just acknowledge that the dogs are just one of the tools in the toolkit, and how many people it takes to come together and make all of this work, you know, we on this podcast tend to talk to the handlers the trainer’s. And we’re trying to not just do that. But you know, that’s, that’s, that’s why I’m most excited to talk to you. And it’s always a team effort. And there’s so so many people behind so much of this and you know, I’m sure you’ve got, you know, maybe not particularly in this one, but in a lot of other cases. We’ve got statisticians and computer scientists and modelers. And, you know, maybe I’m just thinking about that a lot, because that’s what I’m learning how to do in my PhD right now. And I’m just like, Oh, my God, thank God, there are people who have this as their area of expertise, because, you know, we just, we, we need so many people to get this sort of stuff up and off the ground, it is so much more than scent equals toy go out for a walk with your dog.

Caroline Finlay  41:50

I was a data analyst for a while in a previous life and like, that’s when you truly realize how big projects are when they have to bring a data analyst and you’re like, oh, there’s like 100 people on this project? Oh, no. One species like, it is not. Yeah. Yeah.

Kayla Fratt  42:07

Yeah, exactly. It’s, yeah. And it’s it’s a lot of work. And it’s really important. Because if you don’t do a good job of that, then it’s really hard to say anything about the work that you’re actually doing. So, well, Carolyn, I think we’re gonna let you go. Again, thank you so much for coming on. And being willing to talk to me about this. This was one of those things where I think I saw this paper come up, and I just emailed you immediately, it was like Caroline, you’ve got to come back on the show. Like, we had such a good time, the first time. And this is such neat science. So really, hats off to y’all. And, you know, for being willing and able to put that funding together to make this pilot study happen and being really, really careful about this, because I think it would have been really easy to walk away or, or to push for something that maybe got it done, quote unquote, faster, but wouldn’t be nearly as scientifically rigorous. And you know, really, that’s something I hugely admire about y’all. Yeah. All right. Um, well, so remind us where people can find you online. If there are any other links that you need, if you can email them over to me, just so that I make sure I get all the spelling right and get those notes and for the show notes, but where where can people find you online?

Caroline Finlay  43:16

Yep. So the best place to go is our website. So that And that’s got all our like, social media things on it, so you can find us? And yeah, we’ve got a couple of publications coming out really soon. So I will send them to you as well. Yeah. And the US, you’re all welcome to come join the ecological protection dogs working group of Britain and Ireland as well, because we have some really, really cool stuff happening there. Please come and join us. And we’re looking for input and the whole load of stuff at the minute. So be much, much welcome.

Kayla Fratt  43:55

Oh, excellent. Yeah. No, I really admire a lot of the work that you guys are doing over there. Really great stuff. So and for everyone at home, as you probably already know, now it is your job to get outside and be a canine conservationist in whatever way suits your passions and skill set. And if you need more information about canine conservationists, if you want to get one on one coaching, if you want to drill in group coaching calls, or just support the podcast that’s over at and then you can buy stickers and T shirts, and sign up for our course and just look at cute pictures of our dogs or find our social media. That’s that We’ll be back in your earbuds not next Tuesday, but the Tuesday after. Thanks, bye!