This is what my kind of field work looked like in Denali. It was a lot of hiking for four days to our transects where we would locate our sites using our GPS. We would then dump the contents of the cup (soapy water, coolant/antifreeze, and the arthropod bodies) into a strainer, reuse the liquid by dumping it back into the cup(add more coolant if needed for preservation purposes) and place the strained contents into a whirl-pak as pictured. At times we would fill one entire large whirl-pak and sometimes more in each site (most of what fell in our traps though were non-target species such as black flies and forest gnats).
Once we were finished with our four days of field work that next week we would spend hours under the microscope looking through the whirl-pak contents and working to separate the arthropods (bees, flies, beetles, spiders, butterflies, moths, etc.). After sorting through all of the baggies, if time permitted we got to wash the bumble bees in a mason jar using dish soap and then blow dry them with a hair dryer to get their fur fluffy and nice for pinning and identification.
It was definitely a messy task, getting coolant on our clothes and hands, having bug parts accidentally on our hands and arms and getting ethanol on the desk and on us, but that, I’ve learned is how field work goes and that’s how it went.
My favorite net collecting day in Denali was when we hiked all the way to the tippety top of Sable Mountain. We are particularly interested in collecting syrphids (bee mimics) since they like hanging out in the rocky outcrops of the landscape. Initially our ascent began with hiking along Tattler creek which is very well known for high bear activity and is also the location of where the park discovered its first dinosaur footprint tracks embedded on the rock walls. It was a nice hike up the creek and we reached the gully where we then entered the tundra. In the tundra we collected a number of bees that were pollinating the variety of flower patches. We didn’t see bears, we didn’t see the dino footprints.
This isn’t the point. What was moving about this hike, was the name of the mountain. Sable mountain, the name of my elementary school, Sable elementary. That’s the age in which I realized I loved hanging out with insects. Those elementary years were the years where I owned my first ant farm, fed, watched them grow, that’s when I learned and became comfortable with catching grasshoppers with my bare hands, and catch lady bugs to count their dots. And here I was standing on Sable mountain, doing just what I learned to love when I was little, except a decade or so later, as a grown adult, with a paid job doing what i’d always been fascinated with and enjoyed so much.
There was also great views!
The last few weeks here have been busy with field preparations and field work. Because we are working with insects, there are many details that go into preparing transects and in making sure we pack enough of what we need before going out. Aside from work, I went on my first hike in the park the second week I got here and got to do some exploring with a friend who lives in the area. On this first hike I encountered my first grizzly bear on the trail. I didn’t think bear encounters happened frequently, making this encounter feel as if it was just a figment of my imagination. Of course, till it started walking towards us. Luckily we followed procedure raising our arms in the air and backing away slowly and being a curious rather than aggressive bear, it simply continued eating, foraging for food while occasionally making eye contact with us. This bear was 25ft. away in front of us. Rather than taking a photo of the instance (which would have been a pretty terrible idea), I later decided to sketch the encounter from memory. My first drawing of the summer. It’s a little rough looking but I had to put it down on paper to con
vince myself that it truly did happen.
Anyway, my favorite plant here is the cotton grass which is only found in certain small sections of the park. They remind me of the truffula trees from the Lorax and are simply just comforting little plants to touch and admire. Aside from just enjoying the surroundings, I will be honest and admit that field work has been a little rough. Not the actual work and measurements, but simply the hiking that is required. I’m way slower that I thought I was compared to my coworkers and i’m always falling behind not because i’m stopping but because i’m slow and fall short of breath. It’s made me feel pretty weak as a team-mate and because of it I enjoy the microscope work way better.