Group two has arrived safely, was briefed and met with a light dusting of snow in the valley (and more higher up in the mountains). It made for great conditions on our first group survey. It even gave our team member from Australia, Angie, the chance to make her first ever snow man!
The snow was so fresh that many of the mountain inhabitants hadn’t had a chance to walk out in to it yet! Still, we found badger tracks and some bear prints that were so fresh, they were still warm when the group spotted 😉
In their smaller groups, the team put in a valiant effort on day two. We surveyed more than 62 kilometres – a record distance for one day for this Slovakia expedition and in driving cold rain too! Many tracks of bears, wolf, lynx and wildcat were recorded.
On day three we had extremely cold rain in 1 degree C. When we started, we did so with low expectations as the remaining snow had melted and washed away. But there are still enough north-facing slopes left, so we could find lot of tracks and scats again!
On Saturday we waved goodbye to the first group of champion trackers. What a week!
We were all a little apprehensive at the beginning of the week. The low snow levels lead us to believe that tracks would be less apparent, oh how wrong we were…. The findings were incredible. Almost 230 km were surveyed in the past five days, a huge area covered. We have found many bear, wolf and lynx tracks, as well as a wildcat track, two bear sightings and bear and lynx camera trap shots. We have also discovered the presence of two possible new wolf packs in the Veka Fatra National Park…! All these pieces of information are invaluable to the project, and therefore the protection of these wonderful wild creatures.
Katie, Dave and Sonny made it to the summit of mountain Klak and Linda, Louise and Martyn walked an incredible transect of more than 22 kilometres! Back at base our fantastic host Frantisek had prepared a birthday cake for Jeroen, which we promptly ate up. Happy birthday!
A huge thanks to team one, courageous, valiant and committed to the cause!
In the past couple of days, the team of 14 have broken into four smaller groups and surveyed side valleys, ridges and summits; In total we have surveyed 114.1 kilometres of the Velka Fatra National Park.
Several separate lynx tracks, bear tracks (the warm weather means bears are not hibernating), wolf tracks, and many golden eagles sightings.
One group have discovered a bear’s den. Tomas (our scat and track pro scientist) was disappointed that rather than venturing in to count how many bears were in the den, take some pictures, collect some scat samples and perhaps stay for a cuddle, the group pushed on, rather quickly…. Probably keen to get to cafe ‘Pod Lipami’ for hot chocolate delights.
The group have made great progress and are in good spirits. The data collected has already been incredibly valuable to the project.
Yesterday everybody arrived safely in Slovakia and we immedialety started the introductory talks and briefings on safety and science;
followed by training on the equipment this morning. We then went out as one team to get used to the terrain and learn about ‘the tracking techniques’.
Without much snow (it’s thawing at the moment) we walked almost 14 kilometres and found lots of stuff: Tracks of three lynxes, tracks of a wolf pack and two single wolves, tracks of two bears, a bear scat, two wolf scats, a bagder track, and a so far unkwown badger den, also, tracks of a haselgrouse, sightings of a herd of red deer and two golden eagles.
First results of our camera traps include photos of a fox and a pine marten on our deer carcass.
Since we started working in Slovakia, this has been without a doubt the day with most findings 😉
We all went out into the national park today to set up some camera traps. There is a dusting of snow up in the mountains – enough to detect animal tracks. The foresters reported wolf tracks to Tomas only minutes ago by text message. Whilst in the national park, we placed a camera trap next to a fresh carcass of a red deer we found in the middle of a forestry road – killed by a pack of wolves. At the next turn of the road we found a huge track that must have been made by a massive bear.
All very exciting. We look forward to you helping us to find out more.
Hello everyone and welcome to the first entry of the 2014 Slovakia diary. We’re Peter Schuette, your expedition leader, and Astrid Callomon, your assistant expedition leader. At the moment we are busy preparing the paperwork and all the little things that need to be done before we head off to Slovakia in six days. On Sunday we will meet Dr. Matthias Hammer, Biosphere Expeditions’ executive director to pack up all the gear and then drive to Vienna go collect three Land Rovers kindly provided by Land Rover Austria for the expedition. Then we’ll also meet Tomas, our scientist, to drive on to base in the Velka Fatra. Tomas was there for a recce two weeks ago – no snow, but temperatures are dropping, so keep your fingers crossed for some good tracking conditions.
If you want to ‘meet’ Tomas before you actually meet him, have a look at this
Peter is here
Astrid is our new kid on the block, expedition leader in training and assistant leader to Peter, so no videos of her yet (but we will soon fix this). More about her is on www.biosphere-expeditions.org/about > “Staff”.
Peter’s mobile number will be xxxx (to be confirmed once it’s switched on an working by next Tuesday). Astrid’s number should be xxx. Remember that both are for emergency purposes only (such as missing assembly).
We’ll be back with updates as we pack up and leave. We hope your preparations are going well too. Safe travels and see you in Slovakia!
Overall we have had a very successful week in the desert and Steve the scientist is really happy with the data we have collected; particularly gazing at oryx bottoms to score their body condition while they are feeding – and of course the fox jackpot. Each individual oryx of twelve herds has been scored and the team members will all bring back hundreds of photos of oryx backsides! Six months ago the feed was increased due to the poor condition of the oryx. Our preliminary results of the expedition show that they are now generally very healthy and well fed.
Last night we enjoyed dressing up for an evening at the bar of the Al Maha Resort with drinks (and desserts!) It was well after bedtime by the time we returned to camp (at 22:15), so we had an extra long lie-in until 07:00 this morning : ) It seems like we had only just set up camp when it was time to break it down again.
A big thank to everyone on the team – so much can be achieved in such a short time with so many eyes and ears. Research like this would not be possible without your contribution!
Another thank you goes to Starwood Group for supporting conservation by making sure we were well fed (like the oryx).
Safe travels to everyone for their onward journeys, we will be on our way back home on Monday and will be in touch with a link for everyone to share their photos. Hope to see you again some time somewhere!
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.
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.
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.
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.
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 😉
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!