Sunday, 22 April 2012

South Africa 2012: Days 5 and 6

Day 5 – Saturday 7th January 2012

Got up at 5.30am this morning for a 6am walk around the camp at De Hoop. We saw loads of flamingos flying across the lake and then they came to rest on a little sandy island in the middle. When I had a look through my binoculars I saw 2 pelicans on the island too which was really cool. We also saw a barn own which was nesting in an old grain store tower or something, it was cool. It was slightly annoying that we would only stop to look at birds, and whenever I tried to stop to look at a lizard or something I would get told to hurry along. But hopefully this won’t matter and I’ll get loads of time to explore over the next few days (this never happened which was really annoying, especially as the reason why I had no free time was because of something I tried to prevent, but more on that in later days).

The walk was baking hot even though we were only out walking until about 7.45am! I’m really hoping I adjust to this heat quickly as it’s only going to get hotter (I was very right on that point! That morning was mild compared to some of the weather we had the next week!)!
Flamingoes! (plus a pelican, it's the slightly bigger looking bird towards the top left. You can see it if you squint)

I just about managed to have enough free time to cram in a shower before breakfast.I didn’t manage to get a seat at the table again at breakfast (I didn’t manage to get one at dinner last night either) – why me twice?! (just proves how cliquey and selfish people on my course are...)

After breakfast we were told who we were in groups with for our projects – I’m with people I like which should be cool. We spent the rest of the day trying to decide on what to do for our project. Our first idea was to measure the insect diversity in different types of dung (different levels of digestedness, different ages/drynesses, different sizes etc). We went out and collected some samples and decided to mix them with water in order to break them up and see what was in them – it was so disgusting as bits kept flying everywhere and the baboon poo was really fresh and smelly and full of things that looked like tiny little white worms – the other 2 people (both girls) in my group didn’t look like they were bothered at all about touching it but I was really wary because I don’t want to get ill this early on! Luckily it was too difficult to break up the poo and it didn’t look like there were any insects so we gave up on that idea and decided to look at jump length in aposematic vs cryptic grasshoppers. We couldn’t find any of the aposematic species we wanted to use which was disappointing, but we tried out our method with out abundant cryptic grasshopper species anyway so we’re ready to start tomorrow.

Somehow me and one of the other girls in my group didn’t get told that dinner was at 7pm tonight not 7:30pm like it was last night so I ended up not getting a seat for the third night in a row! I found out at dinner that baboons have already started breaking into tents – one guy left a mango in the middle of his tent and the baboons ripped their way into the tent to get it. He was so stupid to do that, and now the baboons are going to keep coming back to go through the rest of our tents!
Beware the baboons... they are watching you from the trees with their evil little eyes, waiting to rip their way into your tent and steal anything that even remotely resembles food...

I didn’t get to go on the night drive tonight but I’m going tomorrow and I’m really looking forward to it. I’ve been finding it really difficult to get to sleep tonight because it’s far too hot and I’m scared of baboons coming in. More project work tomorrow. I’m hoping it goes well and we get loads of data and find our illusive rockhopper grasshoppers!

Day 6 – Sunday 8th January 2012

(Not very many photos from today unfortunately. Too much time was wasted on pointless arguments. Blergh.)

Yet another bright and early start this morning to go and look for the rockhopper grasshoppers we need for our experiment. The 2 girls I was working with kept wandering off and leaving me which was really annoying and made me quite upset. I was nearly included back in the group when I thought I’d found the a rockhopper, but it turned out I’d just found some with a little red bit in between their wings, not whole red wings like the ones we were looking for.

We went inside for breakfast at 8:30am and I managed to get a seat of my own for the first time! Breakfast had scrambled egg with it again – hopefully we won’t get it every day because it tastes a bit odd (alas, we did. Every. Single. Day.)
The teeniest lizard I've ever seen!
After breakfast we decided to have a rethink about our project. One of the girls suggested doing a predator defence/escape experiment out in the field involving walking along a transect and seeing how close the “predator” could get to a grasshopper before it jumped away and how far it jumped. When I tried to explain why I thought it was a bad experiment that would be almost impossible to conduct accurately, both of the girls just beat me down and refused to listen to my ideas to try and make the experiment work, and one of them said I was just dragging the whole group down. This really upset me and I was on the verge of tears – I was only trying to do the right thing and improve the project as it’s such a big part of our marks, and I knew that what I’d been saying was exactly what the lecturers would say when we asked them about our project.

Eventually one of the lecturers came over to discuss our new idea with us, and he said exactly what I’d just been saying yet all of his criticisms were instantly accepted! This made me feel bloody angry but also quite smug as I knew that I was right and they were wrong. After talking to the lecturer we finally reached a compromise and decided to use the same idea but do it on the lawn next to the restaurant using a grid system marked out with string to make rough measurement estimates. This turned out not to work either as it was really windy and the grasshoppers were still so easily able to disappear into the grass making it impossible to recapture them for the repeat measurements. I was getting really panicky by this point because half a day of our 2 days of data collection had gone and we still had no project.
Getting pretty close to an ostrich on the path
 FINALLY we agreed to do it in the sheltered, concreted courtyard, and thankfully when we moved there we were able to start getting some pilot data. Unfortunately the bad mood from this morning still remained so whenever we had a problem and I tried to come up with a suggestion for solving it I was either ignored or told we didn’t need to worry about that problem now, only for one of them to suggest the exact same thing later on – ARGH! I’ve been in such a foul mood all day because of this – I feel stupid and useless, and it just reinforces the idea that no-one on this course really likes me and for some reason I’m impossible to get along with (I still feel like this, and not just on this trip but in my life in general. Ho hum, in exactly one month I will have finished my last ever exam and be free from the miserable experience that has been university and free to (fingers crossed) make some new friends...) At least there’s only one more day of data collection left and one further day to do stats and presentations, then I won’t be forced to spend all my time with them. We’re getting to the courtyard for 6am tomorrow morning to do a solid 12 hours of data collection to make up for lost time – I’m absolutely dreading it but it needs to be done and hopefully we’ll all get along better.

Going out on a night drive tonight cheered me up. We saw bontebok, ostrich, a poor lame eland that was probably going to die soon L, and a nightjar (that I probably would have spotted before everyone else but I couldn’t decide if it was a rock or an animal!). I found it really difficult to see the animals’ eyeshine (light reflecting on their eyes, which is basically the only way you can spot animals when it’s pitch black. And I mean literally pitch black, there was zero light pollution like there is in any town or anywhere vaguely near a road), and I kept getting confused by light reflecting off insects! (it’s a really big thing on a course like mine to have super-sharp animal spotting skills, and there’s massive glory associated with spotting something cool / illusive / rare / that hasn’t already been seen on this trip. All the twitchers (hyper-dedicated bird watchers) were desperate to see a nightjar, and I was desperate to be the first one to spot something, so I was gutted that I only realised the nightjar wasn’t a rock when it flew up from where it was sitting on the road!)
A bontebok (not the one we saw on the night drive though, in case that wasn't obvious...)

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