We just got back from the desert about a half hour ago, at 2:30 am, after a pretty successful evening. We also went earlier in the day to build a fenced off enclosure where we could run the animals in front of Talia’s infrared cameras. As we were getting into the car, I said to the girls “I’m not expecting anything, but I’m curious to see if the driver decides to pitch in at any point since he seems really interested in what we’re doing.” I didn’t expect it because we’ve only hired the guy as a driver, not to help with the field work. But he quickly surprised me by heading straight up the sand dune with us and then helping Talia to construct the fenced area while Sarah and I set traps to see what we might catch this evening (6 more gerbils for anyone who is keeping count). By the time we returned to where they were working, they had all of the stakes in the ground and the netting in place and were wiring the last side. Pretty good teamwork with some charades and basic Chinese.
The driver was concerned about leaving our things in the desert and wanted to call someone to come keep watch while we went back into town for dinner, but we convinced him that no one would bother any of it. Plus he stopped as we were leaving and asked some folks who were collecting medicinal plants in the desert to just keep an eye out for as long as they would be there. It was getting dark soon anyway, so I wasn’t too worried about more people coming along. After dinner, we rallied again and headed back to our study location to get some animals moving. The Chinese man who had been catching animals for us came along, and we sent him and Yang off to do some catching and bring a few more of the 5-toed jerboas. They weren’t even gone long before they returned with five animals. I think they are relatively easy to catch as far as jerboas go. They jump around a lot more than the 3-toed ones, but they seem to startle in the light better.
So we got all of the lights and cameras set up and got animals into the enclosure one by one, starting with one of the gerbils. He just kind of went bonkers everywhere and kept trying to climb the netted walls of the enclosure. His galloping run looks pretty awesome on the high speed video. The 3-toed guys just sort of hop about and don’t seem bothered by much, but the 5-toed ones are a lot more active. Toward the end, once we got all of the lights in the right positions and figured out how to get good video, the last one we used was hoppy all over the place. Really good study animal, so he got a star in hopes he’ll continue to perform well.
After about three hours of running around, we decided it was good for a first trial and packed up shop to head back. As we were loading things back into the research building at the field station, I noticed there were two boxes in the middle of the entry way floor that were about the size of old TV boxes. And they were making noises. Clearly something alive was inside. I was surprised, because I thought we were the only ones working on animals here. Everyone we’ve talked to is doing work on soil or plants. So we flicked on the lights and cautiously approached to discover that each box contained about 10 live chickens. Sarah and I busted out laughing. She pulled out her iphone and started documenting a short video. She’s been pretty good about narrating videos of what we’ve been seeing and doing. I think it’s the delirium of the late hour combined with the fact that there were two boxes of chickens in the research building, but we just kept laughing between blank-faced statements of “Of course there are chickens. Why wouldn’t there be?”
So I’m back, it’s 3 am, I’m showered, and I know that every mole or skin tag on my body really is a mole or a skin tag. That had to be determined before I could sleep well tonight. I’ve blogged about this in past years – the drawback to the awesomeness of camels in the desert is that there are also camel ticks in the desert. And they’re disgusting. I’ve seen a half dozen or so, including one I pulled off my leg before it had managed to latch on for a meal. That was before I got smart and tucked my pants into my socks. They drop out of the shrubs and follow you through the desert, so you have to keep moving to keep them off. That’s tough when you’re in a fixed position next to a camera for an extended period of time. Sarah flicked one off her leg earlier in the day and pulled another off of the back of Talia’s shirt. She thought they were spiders because they have weirdly long spindly legs, but nope. They’re definitely ticks. And we have another week of experiences that are starting to give me signs of delusional parasitosis.