Sunday, 31 January 2010

Photo album

Here are the photos that belong with the last post :)

Rob continually getting soaked while filling up the bucket.

Rob and me doing science

More science

Martin doing science

Martin not doing science :)

Friday, 29 January 2010

Quicksand: the very definition of aventure.

Educational Services (Schools) General Staff Award 2010

I dont want to talk about the last couple of days, but I will tell you about the days before that. As you all know, I spent two days doing intensive invertebrate sampling over the last week. The operative word in that sentence being 'intensive'. I'm sure that all of my volunteer helpers would say that it was a pretty intense couple of days.

On Tuesday, it was, of course, Australia Day and my parents had the day off and decided to devote it to helping me out with prey sampling (aren't they lovely). Mum and Dad went camping the night before so that they wouldnt be too far away from Bicheno in the morning and we could get started nice and early. Unfortunately, their lilo let them down (literally) and they didnt have the best nights sleep, but they managed to be pleasant company anyway. I left Hobart a little after 6am and Mum and Dad joined me on the beach at 9am.

The way intensive prey sampling works is that at 6 locations along the beach (at 2 Hoodie territories, 2 Red-cap territories, and 2 sections of the beach between territories that is unused by either species) 40 sand cores are taken, seived through a very fine mesh sieve that lets most of the sand through but keeps all the tiny little creepy crawlies, and then the bugs are picked from the sieve using forcepts and put in a sample bag labeled with the date, territory and location. 40 samples are taken at each of the six sites; 10 in the swash (where the waves are lapping on the shore), 10 in the lower beach, 10 in the hight tide mark, and 10 in the upper beach. All in all, I took 440 samples over 2 days.

Here, have some photos.

These are taken at Denison beach just north of Bicheno when Mum and Dad were helping me.

On Tuesday night I returned to Hobart after hanging out with Mum and Dad for a while (and having a very nice BBQ, seeing an Orca, and having a very much appreciated cup of coffee or two). We didnt finish sampling until after 6pm, but I dont remember how much after that it was. I dont know if Mum and Dad enjoyed themselves, but I actually did. I like being able to share my wonderful beaches with people - they are far more enjoyable that way. Unfortunately, it took so long doing the sampling that it was cold and windy by the time we finished and Dad and I didnt get to go snorkeling around the awesome rocks near Diamond Island.

On Wednesday I had to repeat the whole process on Friendly Beaches in the Frecynet National Park with two of my friends for volunteers. With only just over 4 hours sleep, I was very glad that Moose was doing all the driving and all I had to do was talk enough dribble to keep him awake. Rob was completely useless in this regard and snoozed in the backseat on the way up and back down. We stopped at Macca's in Sorell for breaky on the way and got to the beach around 10:30 and set to work.

We sampled all day (well, I did - the boys had a bit of break in the middle), but still had time to have a slight adventure and get eaten by quicksand on the edge of the lagoon. I knew there was quicksand at the lagoon from a previous experience getting my foot eaten, but I thought that it was only at that one place on the edge of the lagoon so I was telling the boys all about it, standing at the edge of the lagoon when suddenly I disappeared up to my waist - I really wish Moose had been quick enough to get some photos, but I was pretty quick to get out incase I got eaten completely. Then Rob decided it was his turn but he only disappeared up to his shins. The awesome thing about quicksand is the fact that you can stand there for a few minutes before you overcome the surface tension and then *slurp* you're gone. If you struggle you'll just break the surface tension more and sink further so you have to stay calm and try to increase your surface area in contact with the surface of the sand (eg you lie down and crawl/wiggle gently away until you're safe again). It was awesome, though, because, as you know, quicksand is the very definition of adventure.

Moose took some photos of us working and playing around and stuff, but I dont have them at the moment. I will, however, put some up if he sends them to me.

We got off the beach at around 7:30 (I think) and headed back down to Swansea for a BBQ, followed by chocolate biscuits and junkfood all the whole way home. We eventually got back to Hobart at 10:30ish, but it felt more like 2am. I was very glad to have a bit of extra sleep that night, I can tell you.

Anyways, I had a good couple of days and am very grateful to all four of my volunteers (Mum, Dad, Moose, and Rob) for coming and helping me and being good company despite long days, early starts, not enough sleep, quicksand, wet shoes, and marsh flies. Cheers guys, let me know when you need me to return the favour. I hope it wasnt too horrible for any of you, and I'm glad we're all still talking to each other.

Sunday, 24 January 2010

The week ahead.

Its lunch time, so I'm taking a short break from my gruelling mental gymnastics for a few minutes to update you on how everything is going at the moment.

I was really looking forward to this week. All last week, I just couldn't wait for it to be Friday so that I could go home to my little shoebox of a flat in Hobart and not have to leave again for an entire week. Well, I would have to leave everyday, but the point is I could come back again every night. I was really looking forward to having a nice relaxing weekend, too. While Sunday was nice and relaxing despite being overtired and having a headache all day, Saturday really wasn't. I spent over 10 hours of my Saturday in my office at uni working on the research proposal, which, despite my best efforts, has been taking a ridiculous amount of time to finish. I just keep hitting road block after road block with it. Thankfully, all that remains to be done now is to put all the scattered sections into one coherent document and email it to my supervisors for their feedback. I fully expected to have it emailed off by the end of the day today.

Once that is done, I have to organise field equipment and do some paperwork so that I can spend the rest of the week doing far more interesting stuff. This week, I'm taking a break from my usual observations and focusing on some slightly different areas of my research project. One of these areas is a block of intensive invertebrate sampling covering two of my study beaches. Due to the intensiveness of this sampling, its not something I can do by myself so it is given me a great excuse to have some fun with my family and friends while working. Tomorrow, Mum and Dad are helping me in Bicheno and on Wednesday I'm bringing a car load of friends for a road trip up to Freycinet National Park to help me sample there. While there is quite a bit of work to be done, I'm really hoping that we manage to get it done quickly enough to fit in some fun on the beach as well. Hopefully, there will be some photos of said fun on the beach that I can upload later in the week.

Thursday will be spent in Hobart at uni, staring down a microscope all day to sort the samples that we've collected (not fun but at least its something different and I get to stay in Hobart another day).

Then on Friday, if everything falls into place, I get to sleep all day and work all night. I've been having a bit of trouble getting my hands on one of the pairs of night vision binoculars owned by the school, but I should be able to get them soon. Once I know whether I can have the binoculars on Friday night, I'll know for sure what I'm doing on Friday. I'm quite excited about doing nocturnal observation because no one actually knows what my birds do at night. There is a general consensus that they expect them to forage at night as well as during the day, but no one has actually seen them do it. Plus (and this is a very big plus) I can get a full nights observations and not have to worry about sunscreen or a hat or anything. I like it! The problem will be trying to figure when to eat and what to eat and how much coffee we have to take with us to be able to drive back home from Orford on Saturday morning.

I suppose I should get back to work now.

Saturday, 16 January 2010

Gotta love House...

I'm just about to jet back up the coast for the rest of the week. I would much rather spend another night here in my own bed (actually, for that matter, I'd like to spend the entire day in bed), but the birds need observing.

Just wanted to say that yesterday at uni went fairly well - could have been slightly better, but I was very proud of myself working all day from just after 8 to a bit after 6 without getting too distracted by facebook or checking my email or anything, but managed to limit it to a 5 minute break every couple of hours. Everything isnt quite sorted yet, but it is all going much better now.

Friday, 15 January 2010

Honours (sigh)...

Yes, honours is hard. People have been telling me for months that sooner or later I'm going to figure out just how hard it is to do all the fieldwork, lab work, analysis, and writing in the the short amount of time allowed and have a meltdown. I have had three fairly minor, but quite distinct meltdowns over the last couple of weeks. The last one of these meltdowns was by far the worst, but still not bad at all compared to what I know some of my friends at uni have recently gone through.

I now have only 6 weeks left to finish all my fieldwork and lab analysis of the prey and scat samples. That's not long when you consider how much I have to do in that time.

Here's how everything is going at the moment:
I have been getting a good number of observation hours so far, but Orford is still over-represented because it is so much closer than my other sites and the birds are all packed into a small space so I preferred to go to it rather than my other sites when I first started fieldwork. Recently, I have found a method of rather drastically improving my scat sample collection (no I'm not doing anything cruel to the birds - just getting smarter about how to locate the 'jobbies' they are already leaving behind) so that's going well at the moment too. Unfortunately, two of my sites are very heavily Hooded Plover dominated so my observations are skewed in favour of the Hoodies at the moment and the Red-cap observations are falling behind at these sites. There isn't much I can do about that so I'm just focusing on observing the Red-caps at those sites as much as I can and will tailor the statistical stuff to fix the problem later when I've finished fieldwork.

All that sounded fairly positive, didn't it? Nothing to have any meltdowns about so far, right?
Here's the problem:
That's only one aspect of my fieldwork. There are still two other projects that I haven't even been able to start yet! I still need to start (and hopefully complete) a round of nocturnal observations and prey sampling. Both of these have created problems for me as there is some field equipment that I need for each of these projects that I have so far been unable to get. The problem is that with Christmas and New Years and everything eating into all my weeks I have only had time to do my fieldwork and not spend my usual 1 day a week in my office at uni sorting these kinds of things out. My one day this week was spent typing my observation results into my rather massive spreadsheet and trying to find five minutes when Mark was in his office without being on the phone or with one of his post grads to talk things over with him. I didn't manage to find this five minutes until almost 5pm (after I spent 6 hours typing gibberish codes into my spreadsheet and then another couple of hours researching some stuff) by which time the tech staff had left for the night so I couldn't organise anything with them. I'm glad I talked things over with Mark before organising field equipment, though, because he wants me to do things slightly differently to I had planned (and actually for a good, sensible reason for once). Unfortunately, this means that my hands are still tied with regard to starting these other projects until I can get my hands on the required equipment. I hope to resolve this problem on Monday, however.

While things are starting to look a little darker, I'm sure you still cant see any reasons for a meltdown, can you? That's because there isn't one yet.

The problem:
I have been so flat out spending more of my time (by far) away from home doing fieldwork than at home doing other important aspects of my honours degree. Zoology honours degrees require that you submit a Research Proposal. This is a strange document in which you invent a one-year zoological research project on whatever you like (it can be anything at all - doesn't even remotely have to resemble the area your honours project is in) and write a proposal to a funding body for it. Its not easy. Its quite complex and a lot of time and energy goes into it. Its very important for your overall mark at the end of honours. Its due in 3 weeks. I've barely managed to start it. Mark is going away in 2 weeks. Mark wants an almost complete draft early next week.

Panic time!

That's why I had a minor meltdown the other day. I'm surprised it wasn't a more major meltdown considering everything. I'm a little jealous of my counterparts with projects that allow them to live in Hobart full-time and have a little more free-time to work on their research proposals (and got to have the full 2 weeks of Christmas holidays). Anyway, there's not much I can do tonight as I need to go back to uni in the morning (yes Saturday morning at uni) to get some things from my desk so I'll probably work on it at uni for a while. I think now I'll just watch Midsommer Murders for a while, unpack my stuff from being up the coast all week, put on the washing, and get an early night.


Thursday, 7 January 2010

Not such a good day.

It looks like a beautiful, serene stretch of road along the coast, doesn't it. This morning it was anything but. This is Kelvedon beach, one of my four study sites. This is where I was this morning.

I had just settled in to watch a Hooded plover foraging when I heard the sound of horns blasting, and cars colliding. I ran up the beach to the entrance of the car park and was the 3rd person on the scene of the accident. A Mazda 323 had collided with a large hired campervan. Apparently, the Mazda had been in the carpark and had driven out straight into the path of the oncoming campervan. The family of four in the campervan were on the last day of their holiday from Sydney. They were uninjured but shaken. The 7 year old girl who was a passenger in the Mazda was bruised and distressed and the P-plate female driver was badly injured and trapped in the car. Thankfully, the first person on the scene was an off-duty fireman and he immediately took control and gave first aid to the trapped driver. An older lady and myself spent our time trying to calm and comfort the young girl who turned out to be the driver's niece. More people pulled up to help and soon we had both a nurse and a doctor helping the trapped driver. Eventually, the ambulance, SES, and a firetruck all arrived. Another passerby managed to make contact with the young girl's mother who was working only a few minutes up the road and was quickly at the scene. Eventually, a second ambulance and the police arrived as well.

I was in shock, as were most others at the scene (the site of blood and broken glass does that to people), but I kept it together while I watched the SES use the jaws of life to free the woman and the ambos do their work. Eventually, both the young girl (who needed to be checked for internal injuries and was in quite bad shock) and the driver (who had suffered head injuries from hitting the steering wheel, suspected spinal injuries, and a suspected broken collar bone amongst other things) were taken to hospital a full hour after the crash happened. Once the two ambulances left I went back down onto the beach and fell apart for a while. It took a good half an hour for me to stop shaking. And another hour after that before I felt capable of driving anywhere. But I'm home now, and I couldn't be more relieved. The strange thing is that even now, 7 hours after the accident, as I write this I start to shake again. I always wondered when I was doing first aid courses how I would cope on the scene of a serious accident, now I know.

Here's the news item about the crash. According to this one of the family of four in the campervan was also injured and taken to the Swansea medical centre, probably the young girl (about 7 years old) who also had a seatbelt bruise.