Update from our Arabian desert expedition / working holiday volunteering with oryx and wildcats in the United Arab Emirates (www.biosphere-expeditions.org/arabia)

What day is it again today? Western timings have lost their meaning out here in the desert. It is day four of our expedition and everyone has passed an intensive training regime on the research equipment, data sheets and dune driving.

Training
Training session

Apart from the Biosphere Expeditions participants, a number of rangers from our partner Al Maha resort also attended our training sessions to get an insight into conservation work on Sunday.

Al Maha rangers with expedition scientist Steve Bell (left) and expedition leader Malika Fettak (right)

On Monday, we set ten live and nine camera traps, started the health assessment of Arabian oryx through body condition scoring and our vegetation survey of the DDCR within our 2×2 km quadrants.

Oryx body scoring
Oryx body scoring

Tuesday we hit the jackpot, a lucky day not only for our scientist Steve. Why? Because we caught a sand fox in one of the traps! These tiny big-eared foxes are one of the rarest species in the area. A maximum number of twenty are estimated to be present inside the Dubai Desert Conservation reserve, an area of 227 square kilometres! Its mass is no more than 2 kg. We captured an adult male of 2+ years. Tricia, Branko, Yvonne and Martin were the lucky team members attending the procedure of sedating, measuring and micro-chipping him.

Sand fox in the live trap
Sand fox in the live trap
Measuring the sedated sand fox
Taking a blood sample from the sedated sand fox

Of course, the catch was the story of the day today when sat around the campfire for the daily review. Trevor, together with Kate and Branko comprising today¹s northern team, reported excitedly about “his” bird encounters and how he finally got to see three Macqueen bustards in the wild. Thrilled as he was he even tried to communicate in Arabic with some farm workers showing around a self made drawing of an eagle owl in order to find out whether they might have seen one. Spotting an Arabian red fox made Mark¹s day – another lucky encounter on a survey walk through the sand dues, even though he keeps on saying that he is not a good wildlife spotter 😉

Around the campfire in the evening
Around the campfire in the evening

Everyone has settled well into base camp, experienced refreshing showers in the afternoon, freshly cooked vegetarian dishes for dinner and early breakfast at 6:00. Work starts as the sun rises at around 7:00. The weather has improved and there has been no rain for the last couple of days. But after the rain, the desert is bathed in oranges and reds at sunset and the dunes reveal their full beauty in the early morning hours shortly after sunrise. It’s a magical place we are working in!

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Update from our Arabian desert expedition / working holiday volunteering with oryx and wildcats in the United Arab Emirates (www.biosphere-expeditions.org/arabia)

The sun has returned to the DDCR and looking at the long-term forecast it is pretty good apart from the chance of some showers over the weekend. We have replaced the old worn-out tents with new fully waterproof ones so there will be no worries about kit getting wet.

It has been really busy in camp today with the DDCR staff fitting solar electrics, Steve the scientist moving in and sorting out camera traps and the cook setting up the kitchen all at the same time. Our cook for the week works at the Al Maha Resort (who are supporting the expedition by providing all our food and the cook) and he specialises in vegetarian menus.

From now on vehicles will not be allowed in the area where you can see them on the photo and camp will become more peaceful. We have been unpacking and checking all the equipment today – only a few days to go now…

camp2

This morning there were lots of oryx tracks about 10 m from my tent where a group had passed during the night, so they are obviously not concerned by our presence. After the rain on Tuesday the wildlife is looking freshly washed and the sand tracks around the reserve are a little easier to drive on.

Tomorrow we will be doing last minute preparations and we look forward to meeting the team at 08:00 on Saturday morning!

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Update from our Arabian desert expedition / working holiday volunteering with oryx and wildcats in the United Arab Emirates (www.biosphere-expeditions.org/arabia)

Malika and I (Kate – assistant leader) have now been in the Dubai Desert Conservation Reserve (DDCR) for two days unpacking and sorting out all the gear and equipment and setting up camp. The photo of camp was taken yesterday soon after we got here – it will look a little different when we are properly set up ready for the team’s arrival.

Arabia camp

Malika was surprised to see that the view from camp had changed dramatically since last year; Sheik Mohammed (the Chairman of the Reserve and Ruler of Dubai) has a long-term vision, which includes planting native tree species at various sites throughout the DDCR, one of which has been chosen just to the north of our camp. It is really good to see conservation in action and the site has been busy with DDCR staff for the last couple of days putting in the final few trees and some irrigation, but they should be finished by the weekend. We will learn more about this from the DDCR staff in our briefings about the work here.

We have already seen quite a number of the study species and had a few Arabian gazelles wander curiously up to camp to check us out. There is also a group of oryx in the area near to camp that we have seen each day.

We have also been privileged to experience the first rain this area has experienced for over five months! I took the second photo this morning on our way to go shopping to replace worn out kit – a good way of avoiding the heavy rain showers. In case we are fortunate enough to experience this rare event again remember to pack a waterproof!

driving to Dubai

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Update from our Arabian desert expedition / working holiday volunteering with oryx and wildcats in the United Arab Emirates (www.biosphere-expeditions.org/arabia)

Hello everyone and welcome to the first diary entry for Biosphere Expeditions’ 2014 Arabia desert expedition. My name is Malika Fettak and I will be your expedition leader.

mf

I am about to leave Germany, arriving in Dubai a few days ahead of you to get things organised on the ground. Kate Fox, my assistant leader, will be flying in from the UK to shadow me as expedition leader in training. All going well we should meet at Dubai airport tonight, spend a night at the Premier Inn in Silicon Oasis (our meeting point), take over one of the expedition 4×4 vehicles on Monday morning and then proceed to the DDCR. There we will meet our partners on the ground Greg Simkins, Steven Bell and Pete Rosenschoon from the DDCR and start setting up base camp, organise a cook, food, equipment, you name it.

But enough of that for now. I¹ll send some pictures once Kate and I get there. Start getting ready for lots of sand, sun and some tough work with Steve, Pete, Greg, Kate and I. We are all looking forward to working with us for a week in the desert! Have a look below for what awaits.

Safe travels and see you in Dubai!

Malika Fettak
Expedition leader

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From our marine volunteer holiday with basking sharks, whales and dolphins (including orcas) in Scotland (http://www.biosphere-expeditions.org/scotland)

The sun at last! the final two days of the trip have been stunningly beautiful, we were all up on deck enjoying the the sunshine! Harbour porpoise sightings and sunburn to worry about! We travelled 366.9 miles through storms and sunshine, with 28 sightings of 71 animals including three orca! The whole team went out for dinner on the last night and in the morning we had the inevitable goodbyes.

So this is the end of the Biosphere Scotland Hebrides expedition for 2013. The expedition has been a great success and I want to thank all participants for their efforts and contribution. Thank you also to HWDT staff and the crew of the Silurian for their efforts, as well as Swarovski Optik and BUFF(R) for their support. I am currently wrapping everything up for HQ and hope that you all had a safe trip back home.

I hope to see you again some day on one of our expeditions.

Best wishes

Adam

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From our marine volunteer holiday with basking sharks, whales and dolphins (including orcas) in Scotland (http://www.biosphere-expeditions.org/scotland)

The wind continues, but we are not giving in! We bashed our way through the Sound of Sleat yesterday navigating the strange tidal currents upwelling from the depths below us. Mast duty was more like an hour in a washing machine! Wet and windswept, we were all smiles in the evening when we went to have a warming drink on the Island of Muck.

DCIM100GOPRO DCIM100GOPRO

We had a harbour porpoise sighting yesterday and plenty of acoustic detections. We are heading close to the “minke triangle” today, so hopes are high for some more sightings through the waves. After the excitement of the orcas earlier in the week, it is a testament to our strong teamwork that we have kept focused when collecting these vital data.

Tools of the trade
Tools of the trade

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From our marine volunteer holiday with basking sharks, whales and dolphins (including orcas) in Scotland (http://www.biosphere-expeditions.org/scotland)

Well, since the last update we have had plenty of one thing, wind! This did not stop us doing a 45 mile survey yesterday in “roller coaster” conditions!

Hold on!
Hold on!

It was the first bird and boat survey day, so we now know our kittiwakes from our fulmars. The Swarovski binoculars are really coming in handy, as is all the foul weather gear; in the classroom bird ID is fine, but out on the boat it is a little more difficult! The weather has made it hard to see our target species, they are here though, 28 individual harbour porpoise detections via the hydrophone and no sightings from the mast!

Currently, with our Buffs over our noses, we are beating a path into the wind to get into Loch Torridon where we can get the survey back on track in more sheltered water amongst some spectacular Scottish mountain scenery.

Swarovskis to the eyes and Buffs over the ears on a calmer day ;)
Swarovskis to the eyes and Buffs over the ears on a calmer day 😉

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From our marine volunteer holiday with basking sharks, whales and dolphins (including orcas) in Scotland (http://www.biosphere-expeditions.org/scotland)

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.

Spotting the orcas with Swarovski Optik binoculars
Spotting the orcas with Swarovski Optik binoculars

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!

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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.

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From our marine volunteer holiday with basking sharks, whales and dolphins (including orcas) in Scotland (http://www.biosphere-expeditions.org/scotland)

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!

marmite

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!

Team 3
Team 3

 

Continue reading “From our marine volunteer holiday with basking sharks, whales and dolphins (including orcas) in Scotland (http://www.biosphere-expeditions.org/scotland)”

From our marine volunteer holiday with basking sharks, whales and dolphins (including orcas) in Scotland (http://www.biosphere-expeditions.org/scotland)

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.

Wet + windy = rainbow
Wet + windy = rainbow

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!

Continue reading “From our marine volunteer holiday with basking sharks, whales and dolphins (including orcas) in Scotland (http://www.biosphere-expeditions.org/scotland)”

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