Just a field botanist and wildlife biologist sharing an assortment of daily bits, random thoughts, and adventures while working to improve writing.

Halfway through

Halfway through my field season and I can't say I am enjoying myself.  I was very excited for this season. Wetter season == more plants.

Unfortunately, it is slim pickings for field technicians. Even more unfortunate was getting one without a good science background.  No concept of quality data or following protocols.  Also lacking in understanding what biasing data means. A lack of honesty doesn't help either.  I have worked with other techs that were a bit difficult and lacking in skills.  This is the first season I fully don't trust my coworker and am not able to fully compensate for that.  I am at a total loss on how to make this better and there is no replacement option.  I am essentially in damage control mode to finish the season with as little issues as possible. 

Worst part of all of this, is I feel like I am speaking a different language than either of the techs I have worked with so far.  Simple words that I would think one would understand working ANY job but apparently I am wrong with that.  I am also amazed at how attached the younger techs are to their phones.  Or their inability to not be able to cope with downtime without a signal. 

I am going to limp my way mentally through the rest of this season.  I am looking forward to its end. 

Current mood: #defeatedweasel

Field Season Chaos

Been a little since my last post but I went through an assortment of trainings and a few hitches in the field. This season is going to be a bit rough. Smaller crew, fresher crew (no previous experience), and a wild weather season. This is the second season in my career where flooding of sites has become an issue. Last year, it was drought, heat, and fire hazards. This year it is grasslands submerged in water, washed out roads, and dirt roads of clay you can easily get stuck for days on if they are wet. An ideal season would be a happy in-between where there is just enough precipitation to keep things green but not enough to prevent work.

On the plus side, I have already been to quite a few areas with gorgeous landscapes that I likely would never have even thought to go to prior.

I have some serious fine-tuning of the crew so we can be more efficient and have things flow better so it has been off to a rough start. Hopefully I can help build some better field skills for my crew and they can make it through the season intact and sane.

Current mood: #hopefulweasel

Screaming Kids

I have been taking regular walks to help prepare myself for my upcoming season. There will be a lot of hiking so I am trying to get some decent distance traveled every day I can. Unfortunately, the recent weather has kept me in town, mostly on paved paths. Today I went around a couple parks. One commonly has families and people running dogs or horses. I was walking by today and heard some kids screaming in an area with some people working with horses in a stable. Figured it was the usual business. Walked a little more and heard it again but thought those kids must be poorly behaved or something. Walk a little more, realize these are not kids, well, not human kids. Turns out they were showing off some goats in the stables.

Current mood: #confusedweasel

The Field Gear Saga

My goal has been to make sure I have all the gear I need to purchase done and in my possession a few weeks before I start. All to eliminate the need for last minute purchases. This effort has become a really odd series of events. I ordered a set of items from a surplus place, big thing I need is a pack as I have one that is too small for my gear and the field gear and one that is pretty much overkill for a day pack and will be my primary gear pack. Find the items I want all in one place and decent prices. Order arrives and gets stolen, yay porch pirates. I gave it a couple days to see if it would turn up checked with the post office to see what they would say and the company I ordered from. I also panic purchased a second pack, which is fine cause they are always useful. Company I ordered from, very kindly, offered to replace my order. They are now a company I will be ordering from again. Greatly appreciated. In the meantime, the other pack I ordered is sitting in limbo with no estimated delivery day, just a "delay." If that actually shows up before I start I will be amazed at this point.

I also ordered a new pair of field boots, since my current ones have no tread and are not very protective from cactus spines, something I paid for every week last year. I must have entered the wrong e-mail address. Since I never got a receipt for the order even though it is very much processed on my account. I need to not order things in a rush or make the assumption I will get the e-mail. This will require a call to know when it will be delivered since I don't have the order number or the e-mail address I used to when setting up the order because I got lazy.

I still have a few more things to get and I am not sure I want to order them if this trend is going to continue. I will have to be more adamant on making sure I have everything correct and recording order numbers so I don't end up with this mess again.

current mood: #exasperatedweasel

Field Botanists Excitement

Within the birding community, there is a lot of talk of the First of the Year (FOY) bird when a new year starts.  I get excited the moment I see new growth emerge on plants. Or in this case, the first flowers of the year(FFOY I guess).  Granted, it is almost all invasive species right now but it just means I will have species to look at soon and work to start. I already have my books laid out to review for work and am waiting for my last bit of new gear to arrive so I can start putting my field kit together.  I have a few items left to order but I should be ready to start in a few weeks. Have to go through the yearly training before the official data collection can start. I will admit I am itching to get started.  This is going to be a unique field season for me. 

Current Mood: #eagerweasel

Field Biologist Term of the Day: Hacking

There is no technology involved in this variety of hacking. In fact, it may be completely absent if one is in the field and far from any sort of connection to the world. In this case, it has to do with the inevitable breakdown of gear. Duct tape (the good kind) is our best friend. Tent poles cracked, duct tape with maybe a stick to stabilize. Hole in a shoe or article of clothing, duct tape. Our field gear can be difficult/costly to replace and in the field impossible even if it is required to function.

This term can also be tied into re-purposing, which is what prompted this post. I am in the process of preparing for the field season and replacing or adding gear as necessary. One requirement is to have a decent set of rain gear. Purchasing a "cheap" set from the regular big box store is not always the best choice. I picked the mid-range set, from a company that I have purchased some things from before. The problem with these is they do not expect you to be doing any kind of hard work in them. I always do a squat test to see if any of my pants will be able to tolerate the constant kneeling/squatting required to look at subjects on the ground. This pair split mid first squat. The jacket of the set is nice but the pants obviously are not a good choice. My solution, make a dry bag/pack liner out of the pants. Cut, trim, and duct tape the seams. Now I have a bag to keep my clothes or other choice items dry without having to make an additional purchase. This only needs to last a season or even part of one since I am working in a rather arid environment. It may become a duct tape bag, and that is okay, too.

Field Preparations Commence

Now that school is over for this term, I can start preparing for the upcoming season. It may be weeks away but gear needing repair or replacement needs to be addressed ASAP. I'll admit I am a little concerned I will be unprepared since this will be my first season full season backcountry hitches. I won't get the hotel stays or grocery store runs as I did during previous seasons. I have to plan 8+ days of food and gear so it will be a challenge. I am not the greatest food planner. Some new/replacement gear has already been ordered. My tent will hopefully last one more season.

My next task will be to dive into some plant identification refreshers. Thankfully I have all I need for that.

Current Mood: #eagerweasel

The Hovering

I think I am starting to lose my mind. To say I am irritable might be a bit of an understatement. I'm not exactly sure what is going on. I'm not in a big town by any means. Almost safe to say in the middle of nowhere.  A good 2 hours trip to the biggest nearby "city." Since yesterday, mid-morning, there has been, what sounds like at least, a helicopter just hovering around. I can hear it over a fan and through my window. It hasn't stopped.  I heard it all night.  I can hear it move, so it gets quieter and louder. I finally got annoyed enough to look out the window. Not seeing anything, just for a laugh I turn my fan off to see if I can hear the direction it coming from. The sound disappears...  

Yes, I did this all to myself. I am in the midst of final exams so levels of exhaustion and stress are high. Add in some poor sleep and it is not totally surprising.  Turns out the angle and placing of my fan is just enough to create a sound like a distant helicopter. 

A much needed break will be taken after this week is over.  I do not want to be that mentally worn out before I start having to stare at tiny little things on a plant that is barely grown and having to identify it.  

I am just going to make myself some tea and do nothing for a bit.

Current Mood: #exhaustedandembarassedweasel

Foot protection

I am almost to the point where I think I need kevlar socks to walk around my living areas. I have yet to verify what plant is producing these evil, little, spiky balls but man do I keep finding them. Walking barefoot is a hazard right now. I just pulled another one of these little daggers out of my foot. Drew blood this time. I would even prefer LEGOs to be all over my floor instead of these, that is how bad they are. I know the purpose of the spiky ball is for transportation of seeds, but seriously, it doesn't need to be this obnoxious. It's only one long spike surrounded by several smaller spikes. Maybe these are where the idea for caltrops came from.

On the plus side, it has reminded me I need to make sure I have comfortable leather boots ready for my upcoming field season. I wore fabric hiking shoes this past year, even though I know better, and had to pull out many a cactus spine. I really do not want to spend another season getting my feet stabbed daily by the surprise cacti hiding in the grass. I kneel down on enough of them already.

current mood: #puncturedweasel

Procrastination incoming

In my head, the excuse for this entry is to allow my brain a little bit of processing time for an assignment that I am having a little difficulty with.  The reality, of course, is I am procrastinating since it is going to be a mind-numbing slog of an assignment.  

Due to my field of work putting me in grasslands frequently, I started taking courses in relation to their ecology and conservation management.  They are also used as rangelands frequently so there is the management of livestock as well. I am not a livestock person and I don't plant on going full boar into ungulate management but the information is something I will benefit from. 

The slog is having to balance the numbers of animals in the pastures.  I knew there was some meat to planning usage of fields but never expected it to be this much of a pain. I think doing it by hand as a training is why it feels so difficult when I am pretty sure there are some pre-written programs to do this.  I just have to show all my work so having something do it for me automatically isn't an option. 

Current Mood: #procrastinatingweasel

Update: The procrastination turned into trying to figure out how to reorganize my furniture in one room...

The joys of automated grading

I'm all for technology making things easier but sometimes I just can't help but wonder why some things happen. I've been doing courses online for awhile now and I can go a term or two without having any issues and then there is the one term where issues are everywhere. The biggest one is the automated grading process. Taking a quiz or test online can be obnoxious enough but add in the weird quirks of the automated systems and I end up staring at my screen and questioning why on earth something is wrong. The very worst experience tends to be in the math related courses. Statistics almost broke me sanity wise. I come up with the answer 4.4, it is marked wrong, the correct answer is 4.4...

Current issue, also my reason for this little vent, is I answered a question with a very specific word. No spelling errors or anything and yet it is still marked wrong. The reason for it being wrong is the lack of an uppercase letter at the beginning. That's it, just the lack of being uppercase is why this answer is wrong. The word is correct, the spelling is correct, just missing that little capital letter at the beginning. Two points on a difficult exam is two point. Now I need to write an email to see if I can get it fixed. It is a technicality. A minor typo. A legit typo creating a spelling error is totally acceptable to be wrong. I will fully admit I am not great at spelling. This is not some official document, just a quiz.

Oh well, I will write this email to see if I can get some points. 

Current mood: #frustratedweasel

New Year, New Things

I am in a gear upgrade mode this year.  A good portion of my field gear(tent, camp stove, cooler) has seen multiple seasons of hard wear and tear.  While still in good condition, the time approaches that an upgrade would be a good thing.  Spending weeks at a time out of a tent in all variety of weather conditions really puts a lot of stress on the fabric and the supports. There is also the factor of size.  When you are trying to do paperwork or enter date into a tablet or laptop in a tiny tent that also holds all of your gear, it can wear on the sanity pretty fast.  This year I will be dispersed camping at locations so no picnic tables around to do work unless I bring one with.  I very well may splurge on a 3-person tent for this field season just for some extra comfort in the field. 

I am going to get a second loupe for my field kit as well.  I currently have a 10x for seeing close up parts of plants.  Unfortunately, I need a 20x magnification on occasion to be able to identify some plants when certain identifying features are missing. A grumble is always heard from me working through a dichotomous key and get stuck with a "using a 20x lens do you see this feature." 

Current mood: #upgradingweasel

Almost over

2021 is almost to it's end. I can say it has been a bit of a wild ride for me with work and life in general. I am looking forward to 2022 right now. I already have work lined up in my preferred field with a pay boost along with it. Next year will bring plenty more botany posts and hopefully more regular posting again. I needed some down time after a long season and some draining work towards the end.

current mood: #relaxingweasel

People are Weird

I can enjoy some unusual folks. Many would say I am unusual. I will go on a long hitch of a field season that is basically months of car camping and I will be bringing a handheld game system with me or a bunch of previously downloaded manga/anime to enjoy while chilling in my hammock. I have done GIS work at random picnic tables using a mobile hotspot (I don't recommend this but gotta do what you gotta do). I will put holiday lights on my tent if I am camping around the holidays or just for fun because they can be easier to read under. Anyway..

I bring up people being weird because my neighbor was screaming for their dog again. They named their little dog Covid. I wish that were a joke but it is not. I hear them call for the dog every single day/night. But why? Why did they name this obnoxious little dog Covid!? Were they fever sick when they got the dog? I know they have a meth problem (could easily be it's own blog entry) so maybe they were high? I honestly feel bad for it sometimes. When they are on a bender, poor little Covid gets left outside for a couple days. They also like to just chain it up and leave food in random piles for it. I've almost tripped over the leash a few times now. This morning, it was playing with the remnants of a squirrel.

Oh well, I will likely never know the answer to this.

Current Mood: #baffledweasel

Dust in the wind...and everywhere else

Living and working in a semi-arid environment means dust everywhere. Add in a drought and it means even more dust. I have to wipe down everything in my apartment once a week if I do not want dust buildup. I get lazy when I am busy with work and let it slide. The accumulation gets noticed when I see something that is supposed to be black is not black anymore. Wipe down a shelf and the layer returns the next day.

I am down to one slightly functional fan. The motors burn out fairly quickly with a combination of dust and hair and more dust. A day outside during my field season and the water will run brown in the shower that evening due to dust build up. I remember one day getting into the work vehicle and hitting my leg and just seeing a cloud billowing from my knee. The dust bunnies become dust elephants fairly quickly. If they go unnoticed they become dust whales.

I am losing my battle with the dust. I am not sure it is even possible to win. It has become a fixture of my apartment.

Current Mood: #dustyweasel

Field Botanist Term of the Day: Symbol

When collecting data on plant species composition, it is ideal to use the scientific name for plants as the common names* can vary by region. The symbol, or sometimes referred to as code, is a short hand way of identifying a plant species.  The USDA symbol is a 4 to 6 alpha-numeric code for each plant species.  These can add to some fun antics in the field, especially after long days in the sun looking down at the same things over and over.  These codes do form words of their own.  For instance, I can say "I've got some HYPE in here" and that just means I found some Hypericum perforatum(St John's Wort). Another one, "It's ASSY over here" meaning Ascpleias syriaca(Common Milkweed) has been found. It is easy to be reduced to giggles in the field when one's brain is fried.  

*Common name use is a huge pet peeve of mine.  I understand their use as a quick and dirty way to relay information, but when a single plant has 5 different common names that overlap with other plant species it can be a real chore to translate what is being discussed.