From Jurassic World to Backwoods Sampling

This post was created by Nick Weit, a research student and recent Juniata College graduate who is attending Philadelphia College of Osteopathic Medicine this fall.  Post edited by Chris Grant.

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My brief sampling experience during June 17-19th was anything but normal. The story begins on Wednesday night at 6:45pm. I had just bought a movie ticket for Jurassic World in the Huntingdon Cinema’s Clifton 5 and had sat down with my friends in our seats when Dr. Grant called me. After a quick discussion, I was informed that the sampling van had broken down in Tionesta, PA and that I was needed to drive there in order to shuttle members of the field team back to the Homestead in Benezette, PA. After Dr. Grant explained the situation to me, I quickly got a refund for my ticket at the cinema and drove home in order to pack. At this point, the term ‘pack’ was an overstatement; I only threw a few articles of clothing in my backpack. Since it was a two and a half hour drive to Benezette and it was already past 7pm, I needed to leave as soon as possible. I grabbed my backpack and peanut butter and jelly supplies, jumped in my car, and I started driving North towards Benezette. The first two hours of drive went by quickly; however, the last half hour was a little eerie. I was driving along winding roads through the woods, and I only passed a few cars in over 20 miles.

Once I arrived in Tionesta, I realized that I finally had service and I was able to utilize my Google Maps app to find the actual parking lot where the broken down van was parked. The directions that I followed brought me to down a dark alley, which seemed completely deserted. I noticed that I was behind a larger building, and I assumed I was on the wrong side of the building of the correct address. I drove around the building and, sure enough, I found the broken down van with the field team. As soon as I arrived, we packed my car with the Electrofisher and other important equipment. My car was completely packed with only enough room for myself, Dr. Grant, Kelsey and Jada to squeeze in. We then began the next leg of the trip to the Homestead. This drive seemed to go quickly since I was able to converse with my passengers about their crazy day, hearing all about the field sampling, the van breaking down, and how everyone spent their last few hours. Again, very few cars were on the road, and it seemed that a majority of the life on the road was various animal species, especially deer. We finally arrived at the Homestead around midnight. Once we arrived Dr. Grant grabbed his keys and began driving back to Tionesta to shuttle the remaining field members to the Homestead. After my car was unpacked, I made my bed on the couch and fell asleep within minutes.

The following day was a great smorgasbord – learning experience and work out due to the hiking into various sample sites. At each site, I took water chemistry data, and I helped with acquiring methane and isotope samples. After all of these samples were collected and put on ice, I then helped with fish sampling as well as picking macroinvertebrates from the kick nets. My responsibilities encompassed a lot of methods including measuring fish lengths, weighing fish, extracting liver samples, clipping fish fins, and sorting through the kick net for aquatic macroinvertebrate specimens.

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Bucket of brook trout and crayfish after first pass of electrofishing

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Brook trout captured during electrofishing

The actual fieldwork was extremely fun because there was always something to do, keeping you on your toes. The time seemed to fly by, even when traveling between various sample sites because I was constantly consuming water and food. Overall, the sampling Thursday went smoothly because the weather was great and all the field members pulled their weight. It was dark by the time we returned to the Homestead, but everyone was happy and still full of energy from a day with no complications. So, after the blood plasma samples were finished being spun down and composited into collection tubes, we gathered around the TV for a few episodes of Bear Grylls. We began watching the outdoor survival show, but I was sound sleep after the first episode.

Overall, I thought my field sampling experience on Thursday and Friday were well worth the long drive Wednesday night. I will always remember those days because it began very unexpectedly and went by so fast. However, I learned various important ecological sampling methods as well as gained valuable friendships in between.

Hope you follow us to receive all future posts!

-Nick

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