Sunday, July 31, 2011

Best Birthday Ever!

Pulled my first experiment from the Mara River and got cool data, took a hot shower in the woods with an entire 4 gallons of water, and had my amazing husband fly in pizza and sushi for a fabulous birthday dinner with friends! I am so blessed!

Saturday, July 30, 2011

Tall grass is bad... and other experiences from JJ's visit to the Mara

On the way to pick JJ up from the Mara Serena airstrip when he first arrived, we came across a pair of lions blocking the road.

That's when we knew we were going to have an amazing time during JJ's visit. It was hard to keep up with the blog during his visit because we stayed so busy, so I wanted to recap some of the highlights of our two weeks together.

1) Traveling several hundred kilometers through the Mara River Basin in a 1994 Land Rover

2) Building and deploying 3 nutrient diffusing substrate arrays throughout the basin with a total of 180 individual samples

3) Collecting and filtering an epic number of water samples

4. Seeing an incredible amount of wildlife, including miniature giraffes!

5. Living in a safari tent, where you can hear lions just on the other side of the canvas

6. Seeing wildebeest and zebra jumping down a cliff in a dramatic river crossing

7. Having lunch at a luxury tented safari camp with good friends

8. Walking 4 km along the banks of the Mara River, counting 3,376 wildebeest carcasses

9. Collecting water samples and water quality information from the banks of the river

10. Kick netting for macroinvertebrates in "The Most Dangerous River in the World", full of crocodiles, hippos and wildebeest carcasses

11. And of course, from  the title of the post, learning that "grass is bad" after surprising, and being surprised by, a buffalo! No pictures of that experience... we were too busy running!

Thanks for an amazing time in the Mara, JJ! We're looking forward to your next visit!

Tuesday, July 26, 2011

River Crossing Gone Wrong

The wildebeest migration arrived in the Masai Mara in early July, and by about July 10th, they had started crossing the river. This spectacle draws tourists from all over the world, to watch as huge herds of wildebeest leap into the river and swim through crocodile-infested waters to reach the other side. Typically a number of animals are lost during each large crossing due to crocodile attack, exhaustion or trampling from other wildebeest desperate to reach solid ground. However, sometimes very high losses can result when the wildebeest cross during very high flows or at a particularly bad place.

A wildebeest crosses the Mara as another one behind it is taken by a crocodile
On July 14-15, a very large river crossing went terribly awry, and thousands of animals drowned in the river. We were traveling to collect our water meters at the time for some more focal sampling, and when we returned, the river was literally full of wildebeest bodies. The folks at the Mara Conservancy tell us that the wildebeest had been crossing at a particularly bad place, and they believe they tried to cross at night, which resulted in the high mortality. River flows are a bit higher than normal for this time of year, which may have contributed to the event, but that doesn't seem to be the major reason in this case.

Crossing location where many wildebeest died
It is hard to imagine how so many animals could die during a single event, but we had the opportunity to watch an earlier crossing that occurred at the same location. Animals were streaming across the river and piling up on the far bank, which has a steep, rocky face that is difficult for them to climb. Even as some animals were stranded there, others kept swimming across and then desperately trying to get out of the water, trampling others on the way.
Wildebeest crossing the river

Scrambling up the river bank
Stranded below the rocky ledge
This huge input of animal-borne nutrients into the river is one of the focuses of my dissertation work, so although this was a tragic event, it also was a unique opportunity for me to capture some critical data on the effects of such a large pulse of nutrients into the river. We immediately deployed our water meters above and below the bulk of the carcasses and began collecting water samples. We also walked ~4 km of river bank counting wildebeest carcasses, and determined there were about 5,000 dead wildebeest in the river! 

Wildebeest bodies piled up in the river
 This huge pile-up of bodies also attracted large numbers of vultures and Maribou storks, as well as incredible densities of fat and happy crocodiles, who are seizing this time of fattening to start mating.
Vultures feeding on wildebeest carcasses in the Mara River
Crocodiles mating in the Mara
Although this a huge number of animals to perish in such a short time, it is a relatively small number compared to the estimated size of this herd, which is over 1 million, and these large mortality events are relatively rare. The last die-off in the river of this magnitude happened in 2007, when the Mara Conservancy estimated nearly 10,000 animals had died in the river over the course of several days. We hope to learn as much as we can this summer about how an event like this affects the river and all of the other wildlife that depend on the migration in various ways. 

Thursday, July 21, 2011

JJ's in the Mara!

Amanda's labmate from Yale, JJ Weis, is visiting us in the Mara for two weeks. JJ is a specialist on algae and primary productivity in aquatic systems, so we're really lucky to have him helping us out with our research.

Shimi's Visit to the Mara

As you saw in one of Chris's posts a few weeks back, we were lucky to have his advisor from Yale, Dr. Shimon Anisfeld, visit us here in Kenya. I've been a bit behind on blogging lately due to our crazy schedule, but I wanted to share some more pictures from his visit. Shimi visited our field sites, helped with sampling and gave us great advice on measuring discharge and sediment loads under some very challenging field conditions. 

We also had a great time traveling through the Mara with him, and we got to see a lot of amazing wildlife.

The timing of his visit also turned out to be perfect, because he was here when the wildebeest migration arrived. Driving through endless savanna with wildebeest spread out in every direction as far as the eye can see really gives you an appreciation for the size of this spectacle.

We were really appreciative Shimi was able to take time out of such a busy schedule to come visit us in the field, and we learned a lot from getting to visit our research sites together. Thanks Shimi!

Saturday, July 9, 2011

Dear Elephants...

You can't keep sleeping in our camp.  It is terribly difficult for us to get any sleep with all your stomach grumblings.  Those noises that you make that sound exactly like a lion growling are also quite difficult to sleep through.  I don't think you understand...that we can't get out of our tent to use the restroom while you are sleeping next to it.  This makes for a bit of an uncomfortable situation in the morning when everyone's bladder's are full.  I can see that you didn't have any trouble using the restroom next to our tent last night, so I hope you'll understand my request.  

It just occurred to me...that maybe you have gotten confused by our solar camp shower.  When it is hanging in the tree, it does look a bit like an elephant's trunk.  Maybe you feel comfortable here because of it.  We'll be sure and take it down at night so you don't get confused again.  

Sunday, July 3, 2011