“An elegant weapon for a more civilized age”

As part of my research question I am trying to demonstrate that because of the high productivity in the glades (remember?) we’ll find more primary consumers (herbivores) and secondary consumers closer to glades than farther away. Well, the lizard stuff is looking good but it’s time now to start sampling those consumers in the shape of insect herbivores, particularly grasshoppers.

It turns out getting good density estimates of grasshoppers is hard. We started out by just hand catching all of the grasshoppers within a 1 meter square… not easy. So we decided to use this extremely fancy tool – a bugvac!

Only $200 will buy you a sawed off craftsman (now “aftsman”) dust buster with a special attachment on the front, basically a tube with a mesh cage to ensure the bugs are plastered to the wire and not minced in the machinery. Slick design eh? “An elegant weapon for a more civilized age”

Well, it turns out to be completely ineffective. After much waving about and enthusiastic sampling I didn’t manage to catch a single grasshopper. I decided on another tactic: spot a grasshopper and then move in with the bugvac. Much to my disappointment the grasshoppers seemed mostly bored by this strange new wind source. Some would hop away others would just stay put.





Mired in Mud

The scale is difficult to tell here but that picture is of a road about 7 feet wide and mud about 16 inches deep. Those trenches are my tire tracks, perpendicular to the road.

This is where my truck formerly was. Mired in mud.

Elcanna and I set off to sample some grasshoppers today in a relatively remote stretch of the black cotton soil savanna a little ways from camp. We were cruising right along, ready to go catch some insects when we came to a fork in the road. Now, about 3 days ago we had astoundingly torrential rain for about an hour. The downpour inundated all of this area and drenched the research station. Black cotton soils are characterized by their poor drainage and high clay content, a perfect recipe for the stickiest, gooiest, clingiest mud you can find just about anywhere.

So, this fork in the road. Well, one fork had standing water – a sure sign of trouble, and the other had some “dried” mud and grassy tufts – much more promising. I went for the dried tufts aiming for the grass and not the mud. Well, as always happens when you’re on a slippery ridge, you can’t help but slide into the valley, and so we did. Our momentum and spinning wheels carried us just far enough to be hopelessly distant from any edge of the wet stuff, and there we sunk.

Elcanna’s only complaint was a little chuckle and a head shake but I knew he was thinking “crazy mzungu doesn’t want to walk so he gets his car stuck… now I got to get him out of the muck.” I must say, I really owe him a lot. Out he jumped (as did I) and we started shoving sticks under the tires. Little by little I was able to turn the car about 90 degrees. With more rocking, lots more spraying mud, some smoking tires, fancy shifting and after completely muddifying Elcanna’s shirt, we finally got one of the tires on some firm purchase and I went careening up the embankment into the dense grass, (terra firma!) trying to dodge the many tiny trees all around me.

After the car was safely parked back at the fork I turned to Elcanna and said, “So shall we try the other road?” He just stared.




Diversions while staking out the leopard

So I went back out the field today and the leopard was nowhere to be found. For the better I suppose, because I finished this round of field work but still, I was a little disappointed approaching the tree with my camera at the ready. We did have to chase of a hyena that was snooping around but it didn’t stick around long enough for a good shot.

Here are a couple of pictures I took waiting for the leopard yesterday. Just a few more nice pictures from the field. I’m headed out in minutes to go catch some grasshoppers for phase 2 of my research. This part is going to be much more experimental, and somewhat less likely to work, so keep your fingers crossed. I’ll let you know what I’m doing once I start actually doing it.


Stymied by a Leopard

So I’ve finished my first round of lizard surveys! Yay! Ended up with 1031 trees surveyed and over 600 individual lizards. It feels so good to be done (with this round, there’ll likely be two more…)

I went out yesterday evening to get one more look at the first transect that I surveyed because I needed to take more accurate circumference measurements. Well, my field assistant and I walked into the glade when all of a sudden a massive leopard jumped out of a tree about 25 yards in front of us. It had caught an impala a few days earlier (and actually someone had told us about it but the word was that it had left the day before) and was eating it up in the tree. Luckily it went the other way but soon after my field assistant and I noticed at least one, maybe two hyenas circling around attracted by the smell, and we decided perhaps surveying the transect just wasn’t a good idea that evening. I’m going to go out in an hour to see if things have calmed down a bit… here’s hoping!