From our conservation holiday volunteering with lynx, wolves, bears and wildcats in the Carpathian mountains of Slovakia (http://www.biosphere-expeditions.org/slovakia)

On Wednesday we surveyed Honiaca, Rakytov und Rakova valleys.

During the de-brief the valleys were renamed more appropriately as Getting Lost, Death Valley and Bear Paradise. In the latter Tomas’s team must have been surrounded by bears. Tracks of a couple of mothers with young ones were found. On one of the meadows the bears must have thrown a party. The whole area was covered with footprints. Not much other wildlife, though, for this group, but the first sign of wild boar presence this year.

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By contrast, Death valley, surveyed by Noro and his team was more or less abandoned, except for one bear and one pine marten track. Quite a few pictures were taken of funny snow shapes that still would not pass for an animal track for our scientist, despite persistant bargaining during the de-brief. Tomas finally admitted a 50% bear, track but didn’t allow an entry into the data sheets. Everyone was happy in the end. 😉

Getting Lost during this expedition is classified as a medium risk. Statistically it happens to one group during each slot. It was team 1’s turn yesterday given that being (very) late would also count for this category. But their data sheet included more than thirty entries starting from squirrel, pine marten, badger to bear and lynx (two walking together) and once more wildcat. Everyone was back at base by around 17:15, some with, others without having had a hot chocolate or two at Pod Lipami.

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From our conservation holiday volunteering with lynx, wolves, bears and wildcats in the Carpathian mountains of Slovakia (http://www.biosphere-expeditions.org/slovakia)

Great success on our first full survey day on Tuesday. All three teams found bear tracks! So, instead of hibernating, some of them are roaming around. Even at least one of the old ones, the so-called “King of Lubochnia valley” is active, as proven by a footprint of 22 cm width that Noro’s team of Angelika, Anne and Karl-Heinz found in Turecka valley. The bear weighs about 320 kg, Tomas told us.

Tomas took Gilli, Ed, Idan and journalist Chris to Lipova valley for a 16 km survey walk. Two camera traps were set up, one right at a lynx marking place. The steep shortcut they took back down to where the car was parked wasn’t managed in proper walking manner, though 😉

Most wolf tracks were found in Turecka valley. Noro’s team reported that they were surrounded by wolves in the beginning and by bears later on.

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About 35 recordings were put in the data sheets including also lynx and the black woodpecker – quite impressive.

Another exciting finding were very clear wild cat tracks in Krackor valley . Angela and Philip both claimed to be first at spotting them, but I think everyone on the team (Marina, Peter and myself) saw them at about the same time on the trail we were walking. We came along an active logging site, but the wildlife doesn’t seem to have vanished from this area. Lynx and bear tracks were found, as well as Hazel grouse footprints.

After finishing the surveys, we met at the Pod Lipami inn at the entrance to the valley, famous for its hot chocolate. It reminds more of a pudding than a drink topped with cream. Heaven after a day out in the snowy mountains.

 

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From our conservation holiday volunteering with lynx, wolves, bears and wildcats in the Carpathian mountains of Slovakia (http://www.biosphere-expeditions.org/slovakia)

Everyone arrived safely on Sunday.

This week we are a team of ten team members form the UK, USA, Germany, Israel and of course Slovakia.

After a journey of about four hours from Bratislava station to Švošov we had lunch and then went straight into briefings and training sessions. In the evening Thomas’s film about the two lynx Lisa and Muro that were born in a zoo, then raised by hand for two years and finally been released into the wild in Lubochnya valley, our study site, rounded up the day.

There was more training on Monday morning, including navigating with maps, compasses and GPSs as well as first experiences with walking with snow shoes. Taking with us all our lunch boxes and the equipment, we left base at 11:30 for a training walk in our study site.

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We found the first fresh wolf tracks only a few dozen metres away from where we had parked the cars. Not only one, but lots of them. So we spent quite some time in this spot until all data were recorded. We proceeded to beautiful lake Blatna and had lunch there. The lake was still covered in layers of snow, despite the thaw of the last four days.

Today will be our fist ‘real’ full survey day out. While I write this, everyone else is having breakfast and preparing for the day.

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From our conservation holiday volunteering with lynx, wolves, bears and wildcats in the Carpathian mountains of Slovakia (http://www.biosphere-expeditions.org/slovakia)

I arrived at base on Thursday afternoon. It was a long drive of more than 1,000 km from where I started two days ago, with heavy snowfall most of the way through Austria and wintery driving conditions in Slovakia too.

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Driving conditions in Slovakia

In Bratislava, I met up with Tomas, the expedition scientist. It was a brief encounter at a service station on the way to discuss preparations, logistics and permissions for the expedition vehicles in the Veľká Fatra National Park. The forestry department staff there have told Tomas that quite a few bears are active instead of hibernating, some even having young ones. Maybe we will be lucky!

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Tomas

By the way, the Veľká Fatra National Park National Park has a fairly active Facebook page (www.facebook.com/Národný-park-Veľká-Fatra-168367143242479) with some good pictures and videos of their trapping efforts, showing lynx, bears and wolves, amongst other species.

At base in Švošov I was warmly welcomed by František Pompáš, our host and owner of the house we will call home for the next couple of weeks. The welcoming drink offered was Tatra tea – a very special homemade refined vodka with honey, wild flowers and some other unfamiliar spicy stuff. Beware the Tatra tea!

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Unpacking boxes at base

After tea, I spent most of the rest of Thursday unpacking boxes, writing shopping lists and going through paperwork.

It’s been thawing here, but there is still now on the mountains. The forecast (www.wunderground.com/sk/ruzomberok) is for more thaw and rain for a few days, followed by a drop in temperatures and snow.

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From our conservation holiday volunteering with lynx, wolves, bears and wildcats in the Carpathian mountains of Slovakia (http://www.biosphere-expeditions.org/slovakia)

Hello everyone and welcome to the Slovakia 2017 expedition diary.

My name is Malika and I will be your expedition leader. It’s been seven years since I led this project and I am really looking forward to returning to Slovakia.

In a few minutes I will be leaving from Höchberg in Bavaria, Germany. I have packed items such as GPSs, binoculars, paperwork etc. from the stores into three boxes; the rest is already in storage in Slovakia.

malika

Today I’ll drive for seven hours or so to Vienna, and tomorrow another four to our expedition base in Švošov, where I should arrive around noon on Thursday to set up. Tomas, the expedition scientist and his assistant Noro will join me on Saturday morning.

From what we’ve heard from our partners on the ground, the study site is covered in snow – good conditions for our surveys. Keep your fingers crossed that the temperatures will stay low enough to get more snow instead of rain.

I hope your preparations are going well. I will be in touch again once I have arrived at base with updates from the site.

That’s it for now – I’ll keep you updated.

Regards

Malika

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Update from our Arabian desert expedition / working holiday volunteering with oryx and wildcats in the United Arab Emirates (www.biosphere-expeditions.org/arabia)

So the expedition is over. Our scientist Greg summarised the results for us this morning.

We found 168 known fox dens and discovered 19 new ones. On our circular observations we counted 104 oryx, 77 Arabian gazelle, 4 sand gazelle, 140 palm trees, 843 ghaf trees, 28 acacia, 12 Sodom’s apples and a whopping 8000 or so broom bushes. The random observations yielded 31 bird, 11 mammal & reptile, 11 insect and 15 plant species. The 18 camera traps took 16247 (!) pictures, 13000 from one camera photographing moving tree branches or something similarly exciting :), but also of course a variety of species.

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Our live trapping was unsuccessful this year, but if you don’t try, you don’t get. Who knows when we will get the next sand fox or Gordon’s wildcat. We’ll keep at it.

So all that remains is for me to thank the team again for all its efforts. Thank you Jörn, Karin, Jörg, Sigi, Kathie, Albert, Jim, Martina, Yvonne, Samar & Laura. You could have gone to the beach for your holiday, but you chose to help Greg here in his beautiful office. I take my hat off to you for this and I hope you will come and join us again. Thank you Amadeus & Tessa for being the kind of staff that makes Biosphere Expeditions what it is. And thank you Al Maha and Platinum Heritage for your support. And thank you Greg for letting us share your office and vision.

Farewell everyone, safe travels home and I hope to see you again someday, somewhere on this beautiful planet of ours.

Matthias

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Update from our Arabian desert expedition / working holiday volunteering with oryx and wildcats in the United Arab Emirates (www.biosphere-expeditions.org/arabia)

It’s already Friday and the team have worked really hard. For the first time ever we will manage to cover all cells of the reserve this year. That means 63 circular observations, some of which require quite some trekking through the beautiful dunes to get to. As you walk through this amazing landscape, you often wonder how anything can survive, let alone thrive here. But it does, thanks to the hard work of the Dubai Desert Conservation Reserve staff, and especially Greg and Tamer, who we have the pleasure and privilege to support here. So as you walk, you come across fox dens, sand fish, gazelles flitting about between the dunes, oryx standing majestic on their crests, old date palm plantation swaying in the wind and the sun painting the dunes in a million hues of red, yellow and gold.

It also means six live and 18 camera traps out between the dunes, vegetation surveyed and dens accounted for.

Our days are full and the nights are now colder. The cloud has passed and the wind has lessened, so for the past two days we have experienced the desert as we expected it in our heads. Hot and with blue skies over a sea of sand.

On Wednesday night our routine was broken courtesy of Platinum Heritage Luxury Tours & Safaris who took us out on a beautiful sunset drive in some vintage Land Rovers and then treated us to some Arabian hospitality, food and an astronomy lesson under the night sky. Thank you for this!

As I write this, teams are coming in from the field with SD cards from the camera traps, live traps and the last lot of data for Greg. I will write more once the preliminary results are in tomorrow

 

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Update from our Arabian desert expedition / working holiday volunteering with oryx and wildcats in the United Arab Emirates (www.biosphere-expeditions.org/arabia)

It’s Wednesday and the expedition is in full swing. All camera traps are out, as are the live traps. We have four teams in the field, working for around six hours each day. We’ve had wind blowing the sand in our faces, overcast days and sunshine, even some rain at night at base camp. The team is doing well and we are on target to cover all our research cells by the end of the week and finish all the tasks that Greg has set us.

We’ve counted hundreds of oryx and gazelles, thousands of ghaf trees and broom bushes, seen beautiful Pharao eagle owls swoop up in the air on their silent wings, a red fox flitting across the dunes, a red streak against the wavy ocre of the desert, agamas burying themselves in the sand, gerbils racing for their lives in a white dash across the tracks, and the sun set and rise in all its fiery beauty as we get on with our jobs.

We have covered countless kilometres all across this beautiful reserve, crunching sand and gravel under our tires, without getting stuck yet, due to some very good driving skills. Two more days to go. Thank you to the team for working so hard!

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Update from our Arabian desert expedition / working holiday volunteering with oryx and wildcats in the United Arab Emirates (www.biosphere-expeditions.org/arabia)

It’s the morning of day four of the expedition. After a day and a half of training, the team did well to start collecting data on day two. By now all camera and live traps have been set and we are working our way around the 63 circular observation points (15 done already), filling in the random observations sheets (sightings thus far include Arabian oryx, Arabian and sand gazelle, Arabian hare, Arabian toad-headed agama, eagle owls, francolins, larks, shrikes, wheatears and more) and counting vegetation (lots of broom bushes, Sodom’s apples and ghaf trees) and fox dens.

We get up before sunrise, are out as the day dawns and back as the sun sets in an orange orb over the desert. Our camp in a ghaf tree grove echoes to the sounds of turtle doves who call this little oasis their home too. Yesterday we braved the winds and sand to push on with our work despite the stony grains crunching between our teeth. Last night it rained, but this morning looks calm and rosy as the morning rays bathe the sky in a pink hue over this beautiful, calm desert bubble, not far from the bustling machinations of commerce and development in Dubai. The food al Al Maha is great and since an army marches on its stomach, this army of citizen scientists is marching well.

Starting today, we will be checking our live traps daily (and the camera traps at the end of the week), continue to tick off circular observations (basically sitting on a dune and counting animals and vegetation for 30 minutes), check more fox dens and count other species of interest as we criss-cross the reserve in four teams all day.

More soon.

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Update from our Arabian desert expedition / working holiday volunteering with oryx and wildcats in the United Arab Emirates (www.biosphere-expeditions.org/arabia)

We’ve arrived and we’re unpacking, shopping, setting things up. The food that Al Maha kindly provide for us is great. The sun is shining, it’s warm during the day and not too cold during the night to sleep under the stars (but there are plenty of tents too).

Today we are working with Greg on the research side (I hope you’ve read the 2016 expedition report to set the scene for you) and tomorrow we are tying up loose ends. And then we’ll see you at the right place and time on Saturday morning. Safe travels to get you there.

In another piece of excellent news, we’re a finalist for the 2017 Tourism for Tomorrow Awards! That in itself is another great feather in our cap. Now wish us luck for the final round, which entails an assessor joining our team for the week, who will take part in the expedition as normal, as will a journalist from National Geographic, and they will both want to talk to the rest of the team, so be nice to them please 😉

See you soon!

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