The following day (Tuesday, February 26, if anyone is trying to keep track) Kelly and I volunteered to go our in the field with Kara and Jessie to help them collect leaves along one of their transects (sampling lines). A few days ago, they had run a line 420m up a hill through mixed scrub that included a species of Eucalyptus called “stringy bark,” known to be among the species foraged by koalas. They had identified 8 groups of 4 spaced at 60 meter intervals along the transect, and we had to collect two samples of leaves from each tree, one to be chemically analyzed for its nutritional value and toxin content, and the other for moisture content. Each sample included on the order of 100 leaves, and the leaves had to be from a particular location on the tree and of a particular stage of maturity.
Since some of the branches deemed appropriate fro sampling were considerably out of reach, they required either a pruning pole, and/or a trebuchet and rope to pull them down. Furthermore, once collected, the leaves had to be kept frozen. This required putting them between layers of -80°C gel packs. All of these sampling materials, as well as our food, water, and personal gear, had to be dragged up the hill, under branches, over pits, through prickly bushes… and then back down again at the end of the day. But at the end of 10 hours, we completed the task with only a few scrapes and one leech (Kara was the lucky blood donor) and no ticks or snakebites among us. Intermittently, throughout the day, Kara would say, “I love my job,” such as when we’d see a flock of galahs or tuck another bag of leaves into the cooler, and “I hate my job,” such as when a branch was particularly hard to access, or there was no where to go but right through the thorn bushes. I’m pretty sure I’m glad I didn’t elect to pursue a similar line of work.
Because the surroundings were so dense, if we put anything down on the ground, we were likely to lose it. That would be bad, so everything fro glasses to backpacks to water bottles to cameras to gear got flagged with pink tape to make it easier to locate. We were stylin’!
We got a treat when we found these orchids in three different locations.
After dinner, we drove back to have a spotlight survey at one of the sites where we had helped lay out a transect among the giant gum trees a few days ago. We saw three ring-tailed possums, four tawny frogmouths, two koalas, a number of bats (not in the spotlights, but flying past our faces) and a wattlebird with its head so tucked under its wing that I thought it had been decapitated. We also heard cicadas and a lot of birds I couldn’t identify, and as we returned to the truck, we found a huge beetle sitting in the road. This is a good way to be exhausted!