Wednesday we performed our normal activities in the morning, and the box trap team liberated another curious warthog from Frankposten. The schools here in Namibia are on break this week, and in the afternoon we picked up the farm children and the team took them on a game drive. They all enjoyed the outing, but I think we enjoyed the children’s company more than the game drive. Barbara and Dianne had a sing-along with the children and it was really fun.
Apparently me vs. meerkat was the highlight of the afternoon for Shelagh, since she immortalized the event in the Expedition Journal for every team hereafter to read about: The farm workers have a tame meerkat, which considers them its “family”. When we were picking up the children the meerkat took offense at my presence and attacked my boot, and I clambered up the side of the vehicle. Preposterous as this seems, I’d already seen it attack Vera’s boot the week before, so I was having none of it. (I note with irony that the meerkat didn’t like Claire’s boots any better, but SHE did not get immortalised in the journal!)
Our second Vehicle Game Count was Thursday, and again the teams were ready and eager. Sightings were plentiful and all three teams noted the abundance of oryx calf sightings in the morning hours. While it’s late in the season for the oryx to be calving, apparently they have the ability to postpone delivery while waiting for better feeding conditions, but only for so long. The last rainy season was quite meager (I’m told 70 mm as opposed to the “normal” ~450 mm), and the vegetation is sparse. If we’re, lucky the rains will begin early in December, but that’s a long time to wait. And they may not come early at all. It’s tough conditions in the savannah right now.
Friday morning we said good-bye to Team 2, and after one day here alone I can tell you are sorely missed! I checked all the traps all by myself yesterday, and it was very time-consuming. All the volunteer work here is so important; without you, we simply do not have the reach into the field activities that we do when you are here. So a hearty thank-you to you all! I look forward to meeting Team 3 next week!
Welcome to the new (and last) team for this year aboard the Silurian! We have had a couple of nights on board already so everyone has had a chance to settle into their bunks. Yesterday was training day and Olivia filled everyone’s heads to a mush with information on how we are going to conduct our survey over the next ten days. The team shouldn’t worry though, there is plenty of time to practice!
Our first half day sailing took us to the Island of Rum passing many harbour porpoise as well as a fleeting visit from a minke whale. We did have a chance to go ashore onto Rum, mainly it seems, to be attacked by midges!
Today so far has been very exciting, harbour porpoise sightings earlier followed by three orca heading northwest along the coast of Skye.
It was immediately apparent to Olivia that the individuals are known to be from the Hebrides population; Lulu (female), Comet (male), Aquarius (male) (recognised from their dorsal fins). This is the first orca sighting form the Silurain this year, so we have been very lucky!
We have had every type of wether imaginable and we are now back on our planned survey path to near the Island of Isleornsay. We will spend the night there before heading through the Inner Sound tomorrow.
This just in: two new species discovered by the camera trap at base camp! Whatever could they be? (An FYI to Paul and Joe, our jokesters in Team 1 – I could hear Vera laughing all the way across the compound when she looked at the photos from this camera trap. Shelagh from Team 1 was there too. Well done!)
The last few days we’ve released a variety of animals from the box traps. One particularly belligerent male warthog refused to leave the trap, trying to punish Vera who was on top of the trap setting him free. We also had a reluctant porcupine in the trap at Frankposten…he made himself rather comfortable in the box and refused to come out. Finally the team left him alone to sort out his own departure.
Waterhole counts reveal large numbers of warthogs, as Claire said, “There is quite a lot of activity in upper warthog-ville today.” (The team counted 24!). Other teams captured on film a family of giraffes coming to drink in their awkward, long-legged way, and at one point an aardvark drinking at the water hole (sorry Joe).
Also in the past days the elephants have been extremely cooperative, taking their baths and playing at the waterholes (Frankposten and Boma) during our observation periods, making for some great photographs. Speaking of elephants, Team 1: do you remember how we thought that the elephants were nestled in at the north end of the farm? Well, look what we found on the camera trap at base camp!!! This was taken on the night before your departure. All missed the tracks that day even though we were standing right there for our group picture!
And as if that wasn’t exciting enough, we have had several carnivores make appearances on the camera traps. We’ve seen a brown hyaena in the pictures from the JM South (or hole-in-the-fence) camera trap as well as another leopard, and this leopard was wearing a collar. Looking at the date of the picture (the same day we had the other leopard in the trap) and ID pictures, Vera realized that this is the leopard that the Biosphere teams caught and collared last year. That makes two collared leopards now on Okambara, and a total of three using the same hole in the fence. Exciting!
The last few days have been wonderful despite pessimistic weather forecasting. Plenty of harbour porpoise swimming around the inshore waters including a family of them playing around south of Kerrera island yesterday afternoon. We are currently slapping suncream on as we conduct our last survey en route to Tobermory and the harbour porpoise are out again. It is a shame it all has to come to an end, at least for group 3 tomorrow.
Everybody worked extremely hard and have formed a formidable whale spotting team! This is down to excellent training from Olivia and commitment from staff and team members alike. We had fun too! Our only failed objective was to bring James round to liking Marmite. He may still find we slip a pot of it into is bag for the journey back to the States!
Our survey totals are, 411.1 miles covered, 103 sightings,172 animals, 105 harbour porpoise, 6 minke whales, 21 basking sharks, 7 grey seal, 16 common seal, 220 acoustic readings (219 were harbour porpoise), 263 creels and 41 pieces of litter.
We will all be saying our goodbyes tomorrow morning after a send-off meal in Tobermory tonight. I hope the next team have been keeping up to date and know what to expect! I will send a diary update on Monday with details for the next group as it all starts for us again!
Thursday was our vehicle game drive, and vehicle one came across a fresh place where a leopard had made a kill and we saw the drag marks across the road (good eyes Gary!)
This is a really good example of why the work the volunteers are doing here is so important…without all the extra “eyes” in various places all over the farm, Vera would never have seen the drag marks on her own. Her normal path of travel to base camp is on the other side of the bush, and she would never have seen the fresh kill if not for the volunteers. So a huge thank you to the teams for extending her reach into the study area.
It was really a pleasure to watch how team two communicated via radios and SMS, and through everyone’s efforts – and flexibility – we were able to move and set up two box traps at the kill site that afternoon. The next morning we were rewarded with a HUGE male leopard (69 kg) in the trap. Vera and the IZW team weighed, took DNA samples, and collared him. Recognise Shelagh from team 1?
And, this just in from Vera: she has confirmed through ID pictures that the male leopard caught on the camera trap that walked by the hole in the fence but did not come through is, in fact, the very leopard that we have just caught and collared. So, a huge thanks again to team 1 for identifying that hole in the fence and helping to monitor the camera traps there. Way to go teams 1 and 2!
Team Two was greeted the first day with rhinos coming to the water hole at base camp (thanks Claire for the awesome picture!).
Luckily I was done with my briefing for the day, otherwise it would have been stiff competition. The team is now fully briefed and already in action in the field. Monday we did our driver training then checked the box traps. We decided to take the long way home and were rewarded with an extended encounter with a family group of sable antelope. Then just after that we saw not one, but TWO aardvark, and we have determined where they live, which is very exciting.
Tuesday morning the team learned how to change a flat tyre, and were already working well together. Vera brought us all to the box trap at Frankposten, where she gave a demonstration to the group on how the traps work. John volunteered to be the “animal” as long as we promised to release him. Claire did some housekeeping at the trap brushing off the soil so we would be able to see tracks the next day.
After the box trap demo we split up into three teams and went off to our activities: tracks and scats, elephants, and water hole. The elephant team was joined by scientist Joerg Melzheimer and treated to a memorable encounter with the elephants.
Tuesday afternoon the box trap team also found excitement with a female warthog caught in the JM trap. This morning a different box trap team found more excitement with a porcupine in the Frankposten trap. The morning waterhole team was treated to a myriad of animals at Frankposten, including some juvenile giraffes taking a drink. In the afternoon the elephant team had a long encounter with the elephants and was amazed to see the 1 meter branches that the elephants were breaking off the shrubs and eating. The afternoon waterhole team went to Boma, our tree-house hide, and had an interesting afternoon despite Andrew being allergic to the tree they were sitting in. The afternoon camera trap team collected SD cards and looked at pictures and saw heaps of cows but no carnivores in the pictures.
The last few days have been wet and windy making survey efforts very interesting! Usually this sort of weather would hamper our ability to spot our target species. However, the results have been quite positive. A few minke whale sightings have kept us on our toes and harbour porpoise sightings are still frequent. The hydrophone is showing up plenty of results, 33 separate porpoise clicks shown yesterday but only four sightings – this highlights the difficulty of spotting in rough weather.
Delicious neeps, taties and (veggie) haggis were served for dinner last night. The tourist myth of a haggis being a live animal running around the highlands was truly busted after the flawed logic of eating a vegetable-based animal was exposed.
Today we are heading down the Sound of Mull in the light drizzle and the first watch has been set. Everyone is in high spirits, we have formed a truly committed scientific team!
Due to poor internet connection in Iquitos I am writing this year’s final diary entry from my desk in Germany. It was on Friday night when a special thank you & farewell surprise cake from the kitchen was served by Daniel. He kept his secret so let’s guess that many, many camu camu fruits were squeezed to create the impressively pink topping!
The Peru 2013 expedition officially came to an end in Iquitos on Saturday. While Conny & Thomas, Kathy & Stuart went out for a drink (…or two) and Sven relaxed at his posh hotel pool sipping pisco sour, your hard-working expedition leader went through final equipment checks, packing up and storing the boxes… 😉
Again, a big thank you goes to everyone for your contribution, enthusiasm and input in many ways. We’ve walked more than 100 km of transects, canoed up and down river every single day, set up and collected eight camera traps, some of them at pretty remote sites. We collected a great amount of valuable data not only from the camera trap pictures. All of this could not have been achieved without you. The data will be analysed in detail by Alfredo and we’ll let you know as soon as the full report is available. Special thanks also goes to the ARC staff & helpers that supported, guided and fed us so well at base.
I hope you’ve now all arrived back home safely or are enjoying your onward journeys. You’ve been great team members and mates – I hope you’ve enjoyed the time out in the jungle as much as I did.
Take care, stay in touch and I hope to see you again somewhere…