Thursday, July 19, 2018

July Trip Highlights

Wow! The July Trip went by fast! We are just speeding through the summer. Here are some of the highlights of this trip!

Our Bear Encounter at Canadian Tire
BEAR ENCOUNTER. We saw two bears this trip. The first one was walking on the side of the road while we were driving back to Fort McMurray. He almost ran out in front of the road, but decided against it. Thank goodness. Our second bear encounter was at the Canadian Tire. He was a very nice bear. :)

MARIANA AND CROW LAKE. We needed more snowtubes for our new sites, so we decided to stop by Mariana and Crow Lake during this trip. Yev and I had moments of nostalgia at both of these sites, but they quickly subsided after getting stuck. They are still as beautiful as ever. 

Massive Tires.  While driving back from McKay, we were stuck behind massive tires. We say multiple trucks carrying similar loads. We spend the majority of the  drive trying to figure out what  type of vehicle used this type of tire. 
Massive Tires

EDMONTON. We had an spare evening, so we got to spend it Edmonton.  After a week of field work, it was nice to have a little fun. Our adventure evening began on a high note as we successfully completed an escape room at the Edmonton mall. We finished it with a second to spare. 


The night of fun continued as we explored the mall. We found an arcade and spent the rest of the night playing a variety of games from Mario Kart to Skee ball. The most laughs came from us attempted to complete several Dance Dance Revolution rounds. Our endeavors were successful as we earned an alien egg for our well-earned tickets. 
Eric and Spencer attempting to play DDR

Tuesday, June 19, 2018

My First Bog!

Taking a new perspective on the lovely bogs of Northern Alberta, I am a Villanova undergrad helping out with the project this summer.  Eric and I were wide eyed and eager for our trip up North, ready to get our hands and our boots a little dirty.  After cleaning, organizing, and analyzing in the lab we were very excited to see the real thing. 

After a couple easy flights we landed in Edmonton and headed up to Athabasca.  Excited by the saltwater pool at the hotel, we had a fun night before the real work began.  Then, the next day we headed to Athabasca University, prepping for all our sites: constructing the sippers, cutting boardwalk pieces, and getting all the materials we needed.  Then, after a long day at the garage, we got a good night of sleep and headed up to Fort Mac.  On the way, a site near Conklin was scouted, but to no avail.  We did get to see our first bear of the trip (kind of accidentally) as we were turning around to plan what to do next.  It ended up being a day off due to the new site not being what we were looking for (sigh).  So, the true fieldwork had to wait one more day.  We got up to Fort Mac, a little confused at how such a bustling town can be this far North, but actually really liked the town's unique charm.
Boots and Bogs

So, Friday comes and we head to MacKay to tackle the first site.  With Kel's and Kim's crash course in everything bog related, we were ready for veg collection.  We quickly learned the difference in root color of Fuscum and Capillifolium, had to scrape off Ledum from our gloves (the new growth is pretty sticky in early June), and tried not to get too stuck in one of the wetter bogs we went to over the week.  While it took some practice and quite a few questions, Eric and I quickly became pros at spotting all 10 species we were gathering.  With the help of SIU, Caitlyn, Yev, Kristen, Kim. and Kel, we cruised through veg and water collections at MacKay and then went to JPH4 where we got that finished pretty quickly as well.  I had never been in a bog before so I got quite a few pictures after I figured out my best path so that I wouldn't get stuck.

Eric at MacKay
The Mighty Kel
The next day was our first new site day.  We arrived at the site which we named Kearl and loaded up as much as we could to take out closer to the site.  As Kim mentioned, we had already seen a bear on the way and it was pretty clear that this is one of the more "off the beaten path" sites.  It was a hot and steamy day so we got to work right away to hopefully finish a bit early.  We hammered a lot of nails, pounded in posts, and set up everything pretty quickly on the site.  Then, with the help of SIU we struggled through getting veg for the sites (a couple of the samples were hard to find at some of the plots) and started packing up to get back to Fort Mac.  That's when Jeremy called us about the bear.  With this being the first wild bear I had seen while I am not in a car, you would think I would be cautious and careful, but no, I pulled out my phone to get a good video of the bear instead.  After a bit I realized, wow that was dumb, and pulled out my bear spray instead.  But, the bear sauntered on by and left us alone.

The last three sites, McMurray Bog, Anzac, and Horse Creek, all went without too many problems and the rest of the week was pretty smooth sailing.  McMurray Bog was pretty dry on the walk out there and no one went for an unintended swim, the rain wasn't too strong at Anzac, and the Horse Creek setup went quickly now that we were pros at setting up a site. 
I was honestly a bit sad to leave Fort Mac, but was excited by the thought of our nice hotel beds waiting for us back in Athabasca.  We then made quick work of wrapping things up and headed back to Philly and the lab.  Overall, I know both Eric and I learned a lot being out in the field as well as had a good time with it.  Other than a few less horseflies, no complaints from me.  I can't wait to get back up there next month!!
The Bear!!

A new fan of peatland bogs,


Tuesday, June 12, 2018

The Bears Will Wait

Heading back to the trucks post bear
There are fieldwork days and there are fieldwork days.  Site set-up days are the latter. Full of hauling, and hammering, and organization, all told, our set-ups this trip went pretty smoothly.  At our first, there were 12 of us eager and ready.  I pulled out my flagging tape and forged the path pre-delimited.  We trooped in with raw lumber, t-posts, weather station, electric fence supplies, nails, hammers, chainsaw, sample bags, spectral analysis equipment, water wells, augers, post-pounders, sphagnometers, resin tubes, hose clamps, funnels, nut-drivers, loppers.  Within 30 minutes everyone was smoothly onto jobs most have probably never done before.  It was to hit 31 C this day according to the newly deployed weather station and the horseflies provoked.

Our crew is great.  Our VU contingent is 7 strong – including two new undergrads who are experiencing the wilds up here for the first time.  Spencer and Eric are great additions to our team – they are already comfortable ID-ing Ledum, know leaves on bog rosemary are opposite and not alternate, and can tell Evernia from Usnea.  Power tools, hammers, chainsaws, big trucks – no problems.   I’m proud of everyone.  It has not always gone to plan on this trip, but it never does, and rolling with it and improvising have been and continue to be strengths for us all– qualities all field ecologists need in spades.  Joining our VU crew, the SIU team set up with us, and it was just right.  They are family.

But I digress….   the set up.  I heard a ring.  Jeremy was calling.  The SIU crew had just finished up and had headed to their diesel.  I had one more thing to do in the bog and the VU crew would be right behind them.  Jeremy is calm: “There is a bear in the cutline just hanging out – I don’t mean to be alarmist, but you should know.”  I decided the last thing on my agenda could wait.  I walked out of the bog with Caitlyn to where the crew waited and to where the bear decided to explore.  Eric was yelling at the bear and waving his arms.  Our group tried to look large.  The bear seemed nonplussed.  I hit the airhorn.  The bear just looked at us. Again, with the airhorn - to the point, where it became obvious to me that airhorns are good for notifying your friends that you might be in trouble, but might not be the best at motivating a bear to curb its enthusiasm.  Good to know.  Kel had his bear spray at the ready.  Ten meters away, the bear stared, curious, and ambled, slowly, into the bog. 

That was the second bear of the day for us – the first was a beautiful Cinnamon roused from its grazing near the road.  I personally saw 5 bears this trip – all but the curious one, from the safety of our F-150.  It could be an interesting year.
Jeremy Hartsock took this pic of the Cinnamon from the SIU truck. A Boreal beauty.
It is now 6 C and raining and we are driving back to Athabasca.  Thoughts of snow-tube extraction from Crow Lake niggled at us this past 24 hours or so, but today is not the day.  We have until October and hopefully conditions will be better next trip - or the next - I’m not complaining.  My joints are tired.  I think we are all ready to head home and take a day or two to realign our alternate realities back home;  I know I am.   For now, the bears, bugs, and bogs will have to wait.  The beers, however, will not.  Cheers from Alberta!  

Friday, May 18, 2018

We're on a Mission: On a Mission for Bogs

Tasked with scouting new sites for our project, we were excited to be on our own.  New bogs, here we come!  I love walking through bogs and today we planned to hit several.  The sun was shining, we had Tim Hortons in our bellies, hot tea in the thermos, and noises of Fort McMurray were soon behind us.  Armed with black and white printouts from Google Earth and a sense of adventure we set off southbound with our ‘bog-eyes’ on. 

Every so often, this happens… we expand a project or find a new project and all of a sudden, we’re out driving around in the truck with our boots on ready to stop at every peatland with potential.  We get out, walk around a bit, give it the thumbs up or thumbs down, and move on.  Today we had prepared for a few sites. 

The first bog of the day was out a sandy rutty road which was precariously positioned steps from a very large lake seemingly retained by a small berm… cattails flanked the north side.  It has been dry here for quite some time, so we had no problems; the visual, however, was a bit disturbing.  The bog was also right there on the road – just how we like them.  We stopped and put on our boots with two out of three of us squishing a bit from yesterday’s soakers.  The woods were lovely dark and deep and almost immediately we stumbled upon an animal burrow – something we are unaccustomed to seeing.  The openings – 12-15 cm diameter or so – seemed just right for a mustelid of some kind.  Pretty cool stuff.  Full of puffy feathermoss and big black spruce trees, it was not the bog we were looking for, but it was very pretty and after a bit of exploration, we wished it well.  We moved on:  the piece de resistance was yet to come.

Our big goal that day was a fen-lake-bog islands combo.  We should have known it was going to be trouble.  Step one:  finding the road.  We missed it on first pass because we were informed it was a paved road.  It wasn’t.  That’s ok, we went down another road, instead, and found a whole lotta’ VERY DUSTY bogs that could have been delightful were it not for the choking dust haze squelching everyone’s happiness.  We backtracked and found the correct road.  We check in with the woman who is sitting in her truck all day flagging people down to take their numbers and tally business.  Up and down big hills, over one lane tiny bridges, we pass beautiful landscape and countless Jack Pine forests, Aspen uplands, fens, and little bogs.  We pass very few trucks, and eventually, became the only traffic.  Fifteen miles down the dirt road, we stop on the side of the road and hope against all hope that this is the spot.  We only have our odometer and our satellite imagery at this point, foolishly leaving our gps at home.  There is no cellular service here.  We are in the middle of nowhere.  We can only assume we’ll come on it eventually if we walk south from here.

So, we start in.  Brambles.  Lots and lots of prickly brambles.  I’ve never been so mad at wild roses in my life.  They were mixed in with drooping, criss-crossing, akimbo, skinny, branchy, shrubby crap that morphed into full-fledged willow mess at decreasing elevation.  We were scratched, irritated, and realized we should have brought lunch on this adventure.  With willows came wet.  Sloggy mess morphed into treed sloppy mess with holes ready to take a boot.  Avoid trees, avoid willows, avoid holes, slap at bugs, overheat, repeat.  Finally some boggy parts – hummocks, thank God!  But still willows and still larch now and still sloggy holes and not at all what one might want for a scientific research site that must be accessed 5 times a year.  By now, we were demoralized and quite frankly were growing stupid (save your jokes).  We had done way too much fen tromping, willow avoiding, and bramble broaching and now were too tired to truly explore the innards of the Bog island, but from our vantage, we saw big ole’ larch overhead much farther in (in bog parlance, again…. No bueno).  We headed back hoping to find a better route.  

We found cutlines in the fen, so knew where we were and tried a more bee-lined approach to the road.  It took us, eventually, to a beautiful – and I mean BEAUTIFUL – forest of spruce so dense, it shaded out the world.  There were no vasculars in the understory, but Pleurozium moss carpeted the floor.  Everything was covered with it.  We had found what appeared to be a two species forest.  I’m sure there were more species there, but you get the idea.  It was dark and calm and beautiful and amazing.  We sighed a sigh, calmed our brains, and gathered our strength for tackling the brambles to come.  At the edge, Ledum of unusual size appeared, and willows began anew.   We had definitely found a much better way to scale the upland.  Everything seemed better on the way out.  Shockingly, we popped out AT OUR TRUCK.  Amazing.  We filled our water bottles, breathed the air, ate apples, and made peanut butter and jelly sandwiches on the tailgate.  Deer crossed the road, we recovered, and looked at each other with relief.

We had an adventure filled memory-making day.   I'm sure there are many to come.  Happy return to field season, everyone!

Friday, January 19, 2018

Veg Picking Doldrums

I heard on NPR the other day that Moscow had its darkest month ever recorded with only 6 minutes of sunshine for the entire month of December, 2017. This, down from an average of 18 hours of sunshine/month. I’m having a hard time imagining either scenario.  That said, it has felt terribly dreary this winter with some pretty serious cold temps keeping us inside a lot of the time.  Our inside winter jobs have kept us busy in our pursuit to finally catch up on a backlog of samples and as the lab chugs along and the days grow longer, we start thinking about the upcoming field season.

We will have a busy field season, and I think I can speak for us all when I say that we look forward to getting outside into the wilds and out of our veg cleaning doldrums.