I almost did something illegal…

So this is a first in a series of 3, maybe 4 blog posts to document my recent field trips as part of my PhD. These trips were planned to use pitfall traps to catch ants, which will be used as a proxy for biodiversity assessments, and collect soils for nutrient analyses to contrast these across two nichés in the landscape – the normal matrix niché, and the heuweltjie (raised patches with unique plant communities compared to the matrix and associated with termite mounds). So follow me on this journey if you dare…

Day 1 – Myself and intern Yondela arrived at the Tierberg Long Term Ecological Research Centre, 30km east of Prince Albert where we spent 5 hours laying out traps and collecting soil. During this time I was attacked in the face by an unknown insect assailant, I closed my eyes as one does when being attacked in the face, before it flew off. Yondela spent the night in Prince Albert while I decided to stay at the research centre. Back when I did my internship here there was nothing – no potable water, no electricity, no cellphone reception. Since then they’ve upgraded and have solar power and a cellphone signal booster. These are great, but also rob from the wild aesthetic I used to experience. That evening…all alone in the middle of nowhere with the wind racking at the little wooden hut and animals scurrying and screaming, I decided to watch the new season of Stranger Things…best, but also scariest setting to do this.

Left: Yondela Nqadala during an education outreach session as part of her internship. Right: Scientists at the Tierberg Karoo Long Term Research Centre, with Yondela looking back.

Day 2 – Me and Yondela travelled to Oudtshoorn where my next site happened to not belong to the people I had been in contact with…but in fact belongs to THE ARMY!!! I was told getting in contact to ask for access and permission would be a small miracle, and just as I was about to jump fence which would end in my being shot and killed, head mounted on a spike to send a message…I found a different, nearby site where I could easily arrange access…phew. Yondela and I got to work and were lucky to find all our plots close to the farm road, making our job that much easier and quicker in the Karoo heat! After a hard days work we stayed over with family of mine on their smallholding. It was nice and peaceful being surrounded by all the animals and being able to work some more to finish reading my book

Day 3 – Our next site brought us to a farm just outside of Calitzdorp, owned by a jovial old man who assured me there are no termite mounds on his land…sure enough my satellite data didn’t lie and we found the mounds and their occupants. Again most of the plots were close to the road and made for an easy day’s work. Yondela, in the final write up of her project and exams, left to George to finish these and obtain her qualification. I would work my way back to our first site to collect the traps we placed after being left to collect ants for 3 days. An easy enough job to be done by oneself.

Day 4 – My off day I spent back on my family’s smallholding where they hosted a children’s party. On that day they found, and sadly killed a snake (there were small children so rather safe than sorry I suppose). I identified the snake as a red-lipped herald snake (Crotaphopeltis hotamboeia).

Red-lipped Herald Snake (Crotaphopeltis hotamboeia)

Day 5 – Back to the Tierberg site just outside of Prince Albert, it took me just over an hour to collect all 100 traps in which I sadly found three dead lizards. They were probably thirsty and spotted some liquid (50% antifreeze solution) in the traps, or were chasing after prey and fell in. I spent the rest of the day planning the next few days of travel and pondering the meaning of life…as one does in nature.

Day 6 – On my way to Oudtshoorn from Prince Albert I sadly found a dead tortoise in the valley. It was pretty large and had been hit by a car. I moved it off the road so that other drivers don’t run over it anymore or cause an accident when hitting it or trying to avoid it. The collection went fairly easy again and I settled in for a final night on my family’s smallholding – all the while keeping track of weather for all my sites. Calitzdorp was predicted to have 30mm rain the following morning, when I was meant to be collecting my traps. This would fill up my traps and wash away any catch, so I decided to instead collect them after sunset today as well.

Day 7 – I spent today on the road back to Cape Town, where I off-loaded all my soil samples and traps at the university and made my way home for some good rest before emptying all the traps in preparation for the next trip.

I will admit…this first trip, and the second one, were well documented. The third/fourth one not so much. As any field scientist will tell you, you get right GATVOL (A very expressive Afrikaans term for fed up) of keep record eventually, and would rather spend your time after hours from fieldwork resting than journaling. But the last trips were memorable to say the least, so the quality will be right up there with these…if not better and more entertaining!

I hope you all enjoyed this post. As always, if you have any questions or comments feel free to follow me and let me know via Facebook, Twittere-mail, and Instagram.

Have yourself an AWESOME day,

And also…

A belated HAPPY NEW YEAR!

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