Today is our last day in the field. The last couple of weeks have flown by and our teams have outdone themselves: the top result was 26 km for one team in one day!
Thank you for the support of the many wolf commissioners who have helped us and given us a glimpse of what it means to be at the forefront of a returning predator to a country and a people that have forgotten how to live in side by side to a large carnivore.
When out with one of the wolf commissioners, he was called to look at a flock of sheep that had been attacked. The flock was not protected by the minimum recommended herd protection measures and our citizen scientists experienced first-hand how important herd protection is in a landscape to which the wolves have returned.
Other groups came across groups of majestic red deer and other animals in the forest.
Today we’re on the home straight and we’re full of suspense on what the final preliminary results of this year’s expedition will be. Stay tuned.
On Saturday morning, we met ten keen, fresh-faced “ordinary” people from the UK, Germany, Russia, Luxembourg and the USA at Bremen airport. Two days and our training mill later, we have ten citizen scientists ready to go. Go forth, team 2, and bring back those nuggets!
Time flies. Group 1 of 2 is done already. We had a lot of exciting wildlife sightings during the week and we ended the last day of field work with 15 more samples and a good feeling of being successful.
Well done group 1! You can be proud of what you have achieved. 151 scats in total and an amazing number of 97 samples, which were will be used for diet analysis. Once more you have shown how significant the impact of citizen scientists can be, and is, for wolf monitoring in Lower Saxony.
We spent our last evening together travelling around the world including a Chinese tea ceremony, a quick detour into the monitoring of the black-footed ferret in Canada and some photo impressions of the wildlife in our direct neighborhood.
Safe journeys back group 1, to wherever you are going in the world. Thanks a lot and we hope we will meet again in the future, on an expedition or somewhere else on this beautiful planet.
Our overnight team is back from the Göhrde with 71 findings, including five DNA samples. Well done!
The others have not been idle either. On Wednesday they went to the Ebstorf region, accompanied by the local wolf commissioner and his four-legged companion. The aim was to solve the mystery of whether there were wolves in the area. Seven DNA samples and a total of 15 findings later, it was clear that they are present. And as if to emphasise their existence, at the end of the day, just a few meters from the car – a WOLF! It appeared on the forest path at some distance, looked briefly in the direction of our happy observers and walked calmly away. A memory that will last forever.
Team 1 of this year’s Germany wolf expedition now knows almost everything there is to know about wolves in Germany, GPSs, data collection, marking waypoints, creating tracks, and most importantly finding and collecting those wolf research nuggets otherwise known as scat (in clever) and poo (in the vernacular). Well done team 1 for absorbing it all in record time.
Our reward was “wolf alley” during our Sunday training walk near Meißendorf. A piece of heath and woodland near our base where a wolf pack has recently been active in all sorts of ways, including leaving so many nuggets that we ran out of time recording and collecting them all. Quite a gold digger’s haul already at the beginning of the expedition.
Our new base is great, pulling out all the stops and serving us lots of excellent food. Only the internet connection in this remote part of the internet developing world that is Germany leaves something to be desired.
This Monday morning, we are off Peter’s, the scientist, leash and looking forward to heading out in four small independent groups in search of more gold. Wish us luck and good hunting. Especially if it was run over by a tyre and separated.
The first of four expedition groups has finished, with the team arriving back at Bishkek on Saturday late afternoon. Together with Bek and Beka, the local NABU guides, Guma (cook) and Volodya the citizen scientists Christa & Manfred, Simone & Uwe, Christiana, Lothar and Stefan (Germany), David, Kurt, Tessa and David (UK), Michele (US) and Guillaume (France) spent another wonderful week in the mountains full of research work, adventure and fun.
Right now the valley meadows are carpeted in flowers of all colours, everything is lush and green and moist. Most days are sunny and warm, streams of snowmelt feed the Karakol river and soon the sun will have cleared the Karakol pass road from snow. In the first week, our camp stood solitairy in the vast valley but it seems that on 1 July the summer pasture season started and the herders, one after the other, set up their yurts. Herds of sheep, goat, horses and cattle came into the valley, our neighbour Kanat moved in a couple of days ago and invited Volodya, Guma and myself for a welcome visit.
On our surveys we’ve been concentrating on snow leopard hotspots – locations where their presence has been proved in the past. Large snowfields still cover the upper parts of the side valleys, none of the former camera trap locations is yet accessible. Nonetheless, we set up four camera traps, two each in Kashka Tor and Isyk Ata as high up as possible. We went out in three or four smaller teams each day, recorded snow leopard prey species and other interesting mammals, birds and petroglyphs. Every evening during the daily review, Volodya assessed dozens of pictures, mostly of scat and footprints, and marked all findings in the overview map before taking over the completed datasheets. Our study area is divided into 2 x 2 km cells for statistical reasons, a scientific methodology that is used widely.
Here is a brief summary what we achieved over eight survey days:
We covered 36 cells, 11 of them three times, 15 twice and 10 once
We identified 34 bird species, four of them new additions to the bird inventory we have created over the years
There were 41 recordings of marmot, 6 sightings and 17 indirect ibex signs (scat, track), 4 recordings of snow cock, one of wolf and one of hare
We recorded 23 petroglyphs showing the historical significance of the area
We recorded 5 species of butterfly
We collected data on all but one day. That day we saw bad weather approaching from downvalley – thick and grey and unfriendly. We went out all the same and were rewarded for our folly with heavy rain and snowfall. Volodya’s team made it back to camp around 10:00 before they were hit (well done, Volodya!), team 2 & 3 returned shortly after, dripping wet from a very cold rain & snow shower. The kitchen yurt offered shelter, hot tea and a shot of vodka to warm up the body system while wet clothes, boots and rucksacks were spread around the stove in the drying yurt, which soon became a steaming sauna. When the rain stopped later on, the involuntary day at camp had become a full-blown party including dancing, singing and a hilarious yoga lesson led by Stephan later on.
Only team four (Christiana, Michele, Lothar and Bek) were still out on their mission in Pitiy valley, on the Eastern side of Karakol pass – or so we thought. No sign of them until 17:30 when, in accordance with our safety procedures, a search party went off to look for them. On the way up to the pass, we received a radio call from Christiana and returned to camp. And there they were telling about the adventures of getting wet during a river crossing, heavy snowfall and vain attempts to drive the car back up and over a pass on snow covered ground. Driving all the way around the mountain range was the only option to get back to camp, and that’s what they did: a full 6 hour drive! The team’s reunion was worth a celebration that lasted until late at night…
Thank you, team one for being the trailblazers and reccee team on this year’s Tien Shan expedition. Many thanks for your support, time, sweat and exceptional team spirit that made the last two weeks a unique experience. I hope you enjoyed it as much as I did. Safe travels to wherever you are heading. I hope to see you again some time.
Team 2: I am looking forward to meeting you on Monday morning at the Futuro Hotel.
The drive from Sweden to Germany via the Göteborg – Kiel ferry was good. Although the expeditions are different (bears in Sweden), the equipment is similar. GPSs, scat collection kits, etc.
All this is now at our base of Gut Sunder (Sunder estate) and pretty much set up. Now our preparation list is down to some shopping, as well as setting survey areas for our citizen scientists to cover.
Today is a pleasant sunny and warm day (23C). So get ready and safe travels team 1. We look forward to meeting you at Bremen airport.
The inaugural Sweden bear expedition finished on a high.
Half of us paddled over to an island to map another bear den; the other half looked for and found more bear scats. We all met on a local mountaintop beauty spot for lunch and a cake to round things off in the field.
Back at base, we went through all the datasheets with Andrea to make sure the data we have gathered are exactly how she needs them. And talking about data, here are some basic stats of the expedition. Over the week of the expedition, we
visited 28 bear den sites and mapped 24
found 10 scats at 15 bear cluster sites
recovered a bear skeleton from a bog for further analysis
recovered a valuable transmitter
covered over 2,000 km of the study site
had two bear encounters and several with moose, capercailie and other interesting wildlife
increased Andrea’s den database by between a third and a half (depending on how the rest of the year goes)
in one short week gathered scats worth six weeks
Andrea called our contribution “invaluable” and we can all be justifyably proud of perhaps having doubled her den database by the end of the year and collected scats galore for her. This is what citizen science should be like!
No wonder then that our last dinner together was joyous. Gifts were exchanged, kind words spoken and as the sun bathed our expedition base in golden sunlight, we played a Scandinavian lawn game with Andrea making up the rules as we merrily went along.
Thank you to the team, thank you to Andrea for letting us get a glimpse of her life as a bear scientist, thank you to Elfie for keeping us fed so well, and thank you to the bears and the Swedish wilderness for letting us roam in their space.
Andrea has asked us to return and we shall be back.