Last spring, the Conservation Biology programme leader sent out an e-mail about a course run by the Zoological Society of London (ZSL) on camera trapping survey methods in Mongolia. The course was led by Nathan Conaboy, ZSL’s field representative in Mongolia and Oliver Wearn, an Imperial College London student doing his PhD with the ZSL. Instantly I knew that Mongolia was a place that I wanted to go to. I also wanted the chance to learn something about camera trapping and its use. And so I started the nerve-racking path of getting to there.
Writing a CV and personal letter was not nearly as stressful as booking tickets, acquiring the right vaccines and making sure I had a valid visa (I did not want to get stuck in Beijing). For someone not used to travelling, the experience of going through transfers in both Helsinki and Beijing almost convinced me to call off the whole thing. But I pushed on, telling myself that I needed to do this in order to become a more confident and stronger me. All in the name of self-improvement.
Once in Ulaan Baatar, the real adventure started. Just taking money out of the ATM was a challenge but two days later we were all crammed into vehicles to take us to our campsite, a three-hour drive outside the city along completely off-road trails. Once at the campsite everyone helped out in setting up the gers (yurts) and by the end of the day everyone looked forward to a nice cooked meal made by the hired cook in the kitchen ger.
For the next few days, we spent mornings in the lecture ger learning about sampling methods and the practical handling and setup of the cameras. Later in the day, divided into groups, we set up the cameras in transects within a woodland area. Of course every day almost everyone had their cameras and binoculars within reach in case anything fascinating turned up. The highlight of the trip I think were the juvenile golden eagle that landed in a tree not so far away as well as the little chipmunks that were anything but camera shy.
Being interested in insects I spent my free time exhausting my camera battery on close up photos of many of them. The most exciting one, Deracantha onos, a wingless, gigantic Tettigonidae always showed when no camera was in reach.
Later in the field trip, we had the amazing opportunity to catch and ring birds with Sundev Gombobaatar, the author of Birds of Mongolia. We took the measurements of the beaks, femur, wings and weight and all the information was recorded for Gombo to enter into the national database. The handling of the birds was scary at first but eventually everyone got used to their small size and managed to get all the measurements, except for a couple of buntings which managed to escape from the bag during the nervous procedure of getting the right grip without hurting them.
|Namee weighing a bird|
|Gombobaatar setting up the net|
|Ochko and Gombobaatar ringing |
a Wryneck, Jynx torquilla
One night we also conducted a small mammal survey with 50 Sherman traps but we only managed to trap one small Siberian field mouse so there was unfortunately not much handling done there. But any experience is good experience.
Because this large country still has a small population, most of the country is relatively untouched and the steppes still have their incredible meadow flora on which over thirty grasshopper species can survive. However, the government are now encouraging its people to start collecting hay for winter fodder, which has not previously been practiced. Future monitoring will tell if the meadows change or not.
Also during our stay, there was a meteor shower. Another student and I managed to take some pictures (of which I got one very blurry picture of a shooting star). Even without the meteors, the night sky was just amazing.
At the end of this trip everyone got a certificate that stated that you had taken a course in camera trapping by the ZSL, which I now proudly put into my list of additional experience on my CV. Next summer there will be a new adventure with things to learn and experience, I’m sure.