Life as a falconer, insect systematist, and double Masters Student (or a look into the mind of someone who is questionably sane).

10 December 2011

Glowworms [HRE]

9 xii 2011
1134- sleeping, sorrowfully back in my bed
1248- sleeping soundly
1439- meeting with Emily
2052- Picking up the camper van

Lunch- a banana, some salami, and 1/5 a gallon of milk
Dinner- Beer battered fish and chips with a hard cider.

Well I slept on the balcony until about 4, when I woke up and the noise was too much for me to go back to sleep.  I was surprised though how warm it was out there, minus the noise it was quite present.  Woke up about 815, ate a chocolate croissant as I walked to the conference center and met with Emily Fountain.  She gave me the details on her DNA protocol.  She too was using the DNAEasy kit, and that worked great with stuff younger than the 1970s, but anything older and she needed to do silica based extractions.  Once she figured out her protocol though she had really good success.  She's been trying to graduate, but with the earthquakes getting specimens from the Christchurch museum was impossible.  Finally she was able to get some from BMNH, apparently weevils are no easier than leafhoppers to get on loan from there. We talked some more and I discovered I had found my Pennsylvanian (by way of New Zealand) clone.  She wanted to do 2 PhDs but the university wouldn’t let her co enroll, one doing her weevil work and the other on frogs.  I told her about my disjunct research interests.  Then I found out her roommate is from the UK and trying to become one of the first falconers in NZ, and fly Harriers (NZ falcon is endangered on the south island).  I mentioned my need for grassland leafhoppers and she said she was going to be in the field checking her traps on Sunday so she would collect any leafhoppers for me and could meet me at the airport with them.  Then just as we were about to part ways she mentioned she had a chewing lice side project.  We are actually doing similar things with different groups of birds (passerines vs. raptors).  She's going to Australia in a few months to collect lice so if she gets any raptor lice shell send them my way and I'll try to get some North American passerine lice for her.  Small world.  Then I pulled down my poster and headed back to the hotel to finish packing.  We caught the shuttle, got to the airport and checked in.  We ate some lunch and then called my Grandpa George to wish him a happy 97th birthday, then boarded our flight.  I slept most of the way, until just before we landed in Christchurch.  The countryside looked amazing as we landed.  Caught another shuttle and got dropped off at the campervan place.  We got our van sorted and then we were off.  Driving wasn’t nearly as hard as I remember it to be, I think walking around the city a few days getting use to the flow of traffic helped a lot, because I didn’t make any mistakes.  My mom though the first thing she told me was I was in the wrong lane (nope, defiantly the correct one).  The drive was beautiful, passing a lot of farm land and some reserves also, then reached Lake Tickapo at about 7.  The lake was a brilliant blue, from the sediment caused by glacial erosion.  The sky here is also suppose to be the best in NZ, and there is an observatory just up the mountain.  However, the clouds were a bit much and so I don’t think we'll get a good view of the sky tonight.  I went and set up some YPTs and then we went to dinner at a place in town.  The town was walking distance away so we followed the lakeshore there.  Dinner was amazing, the fish was quite tasty..  My cider was also really good, as was my parents black beer.  I finished up my mom's pint for her,  quite a sacrifice.  On the walk back we stopped and took some pictures of night falling, (about 2200), and I chased rabbits, hoping to decrease their fitness a bit and maybe if I was lucky kill a couple or lead to their demise.  I also  picked up a dead bird, but it was too long dead to get lice off of.  Once back at the van my dad and I went on a hunt for Myerslopia without any success. We did see a weird looking lep that seemed to have reduced wings and couldn’t fly.  We gave up searching after maybe 30 minutes, the leaf litter was too compact and dry I think for good habitat for a flightless leafhopper, so hopefully we'll have better luck somewhere else.  The sky cleared a little, and we got a good view of the southern cross and Orion (upside down of course) before calling it a night. 

Random Fact: Lake Tekapo gets its brilliant blue color from rock flour- the pulverized bits of rock produced by glaciers as they move.  The particles are suspended in the water, and the way they interact with light make the water very blue.  This also happens in Alaska, although these seem more blue green instead of blue grey like you see there.

10 xii 2011

359- Getting my tent on top of the van put up.  I ended up having to stand on the tire and turn the bar in order to keep the bar from falling out
1344- Eating breakfast- peanut butter and jelly sandwiches.  I tried to lure the mallards in with my crusts, but only got them within 4ft or so before they wouldn't get closer
2040- About an hour from Te Anau.  My mom was driving, she did pretty good actually.

Lunch- I had some strawberries we got at a roadside stand.  The stand had a  bunch of coins from all over the world pasted on a map.  Pretty cool idea, I think I'll do something like that.  They didn't have any Swazi coins, and I couldn't remember if I had any in my backpack still.
Dinner- Sausage, Pepperoni, and tomato pizza at an Italian restaurant (complete with Italian music and people wearing shirts with Italy maps).  The pizza was pretty good

My mom woke me up about 830, I slept pretty well up in my tent.  I had a sandwich for breakfast, put the tent away (which took a while to figure out and the assistance of the guy across the road), then went and picked up my traps. There were a few leafhoppers in them, and some other insects, including a bunch of larvae.  Once I was back we loaded up and I drove over to the town center.  We walked to the collie statue. It looked a lot like Dapher pup, we took a bunch of pictures.  There was also a small church right by it, but there was a wedding going on so we didn’t get to go inside.  We then walked to the information center, and got reservations for tonight at Te Anau, the glowworm cave and Milford Sound.  I saw there was a bird trapped inside the shop, so I caught it and took it outside.  It didn't seem to have any lice on it, but it's hard to say without being able to dust it.  Turned it loose and then once my parents were done we headed off.  I got stuck behind some slow dude, passed him then shortly thereafter my mom wanted me to pull over so she could get a picture of the lake.  I did, and the guy passed me, since he was still going about 70km/h I caught up with him shortly and had to pass him again.  This happened a few more times, including when we stopped to get a picture of Mt. Cook, which was visible for a bit when the clouds cleared.  Eventually I decided it was open road enough my mom could try driving, so I let her give it a whirl.  She did pretty well.  We stopped at a fruit stand and got some dried apricots, nuts, and a carton of strawberries.  The views for the entire drive were pretty amazing, we went through a gorge where they do bungee jumping, but no one was jumping when we went by.  We got to Te Anau about 1700, went to the store and picked up some paper towels, and then found our campsite.  Then we walked into town, figured out what was going on with the glowworm tour, picked up some alcohol to keep my bugs in at the pharmacy, and got dinner.  While we were waiting for our pizza my mom went to the grocery store and got the rest of the things on our list.  Then we went back to the campsite, got the tent ready, and then walked to the boat dock for the tour.  The ride across was nice, we stood on top the whole way.  Saw some ducks and some neat coves.  Apparently Lake Te Anau averages 200m deep, and so even though it isn't the largest by surface area, it is the largest by volume in Oceania.  Once we docked there was a short lecture on the cave system (it's about 7km long, but to get past the end of the tour you would need to dive through a submerged portion before it gets above the water table again), and the glowworms themselves.  Then we were divided into groups to enter the cave.  We were in the last group, so I wandered around outside for a little bit before coming back in for a short video on glow worms, including a segment of them fishing for food, and cannibalizing smaller glowworms.  Our group only had 10 people (the rest had 14), so that was nice. The walk through the cave was impressive- the glowworms looked like stars against the night sky.  The cave was young (about 12000 years maximum) so no stalagmites or stalactites over a few inches long.  Water flowed really fast through the cave and included some neat waterfalls.  At one point the glowworms were on a really low ceiling so we could actually see the threads they use to catch their food.  Once we got to the end of the walkway we boarded a small dingy and entered the glowworm grotto.  It was pitch black in there, with just pinpricks of light from the glowworms.  After whirling around in the boat for a few minutes we were taken back to the walkway and disembarked.  On the walk back we saw a long finned eel, which was about .8m long.  The largest reach 2m, and they are quite strong swimmers- they can swim against the current and can even climb waterfalls.  They breed once- in the ocean and the young make their way back to the caves.  As we were the last group in the cave, we went straight to the ferry and then we were off.  We again rode on top of the boat, although this time there were only a couple of us that braved the cold wind.  We are at a high enough latitude, it was still twilight even at 2215.  Back on shore we went searching for a bar to get a beer, but the only one open was too loud for the parentals to want to go to, so we went back to the campground.  I am currently sitting with the electronics charging them, since we have to charge them in the common area (apparently New Zealand campervans have a different plug then normal New Zealand outlets, so our extension cord won't work for the provided power…

Random Fact: Glowworms deploy silk threads, like fishing lines, which are sticky and covered with drops of a paralyzing agent.  When an insect hits one of these lines they become stuck and the glowworm reels the line up and sucks up the hemolymph.  A single glowworm can have a clump of up to 70 of these threads and it sits in the middle glowing to attract prey. 

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