On our second day in the field (Tuesday) we managed to complete all 62 circular surveys. This is the quickest that any Biosphere Expeditions survey has ever completed the circular observations and should result in a more accurate count for the oryx and gazelle. By no means was this an easy task, as each cell is four square kilometres. We’ll let you know the final number of ungulates counted during these surveys once we’ve gone through all the data.
Next up were camera traps. After a demonstration and some training, we spread out to set up traps at suitable locations around the park, including watering holes. We will check these at the end, so fingers crossed for some good shots!
Separately, to learn more about the abundance and distribution of some other, smaller mammals, we set about using baited, live-capture traps for both small (rodents) and medium (foxes and felines) sized mammals. The small mammal traps are set up in a 100m square grid, and baited with oats. The bait clearly attracts not just small animals, however, and on one visit, we were quickly surrounded by a herd of hungry, curious oryx that were waiting for their breakfast at the nearby feeding station.
Rodents have been trapped at most of the small mammal trap locations. The most frequent visitors are Cheesman’s gerbil, and a rarer Balochistan gerbil has also been caught. These were carefully removed from the traps and then marked, measured, and sexed, in spite of their fervent protestations, and then released.
Live traps, with which we’ll be hoping to capture Arabian red foxes, desert (Fennec) foxes, or Gordon’s wildcats, are baited with sardines and placed individually, positioned to give as much shade as possible to any occupant. These have also been placed all around the reserve, and will be monitored and re-set throughout the the week.
In order to reach our study sites, we’ve been enjoying some ‘epic’ driving over the last few days, making great use of the 4×4 training and battling with desert tracks that refuse to reflect what our maps and GPSs show 😉
New sightings of birds have included the blue-cheeked bee-eater, desert wheatear, greater hoopoe-lark, lappet-faced vulture, red-wattled lapwing, little grebe, white wagtail, grey francolin, shikra, common kestrel, brown-necked raven, as well as a pharaoh eagle owl. The last, beautiful bird also doubles up as our (very) early alarm clock each morning.