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Curator of Diptera's blog

20 Posts tagged with the fieldwork tag
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I am sitting at my desk recovering from my first day back in the ‘office’…..my head is thumping. I have had a nasty cold the last two days of my hols (which were fab as I went sailing in Cornwall!) and I was a tad worried that I had the dreaded SF…but as of 6.30 this morning it seemed ok! 

 

So where do I begin? I think I will start at the last bit of fieldwork that I undertook with another colleague Kim. We headed down south to lovely Somerset. It was sooo nice. We went down on the Monday having arranged to see five farms and one animal park over the course of three days.  My friend from Bath Spa University had arranged for us to use their freezers, which although were not minus eighty meant that the dry ice that we kept the dead specimens on would last the distance. 

 

The first farm was a goat farm – it was great. 100s of them (i think 800 to be precise) just staring at us, bleating away with their funny little giblet things dangling from their throats (no idea what they are all about). Then we went onto a cow farm that had a massive outside brush which the cows could use as a type of car wash – brilliant. Both very successful placed for mosquitoes and the second had a house that I would love to live in .

 

Day two and brilliant sunshine and we were off to the animal farm. I love these places and so do the mosquitoes . In with the pigs, the llamas, the sheep, the donkeys- just everywhere!! We caused much amusement to the holiday makers and the very charming owners' son spent the morning with us…a nice bonus! After lunch we went on to another cow herd. Not as many mossis here but the cows were very friendly. The guy that I had contacted was the owners' son and he had forgotten to mention it to his father. We got accosted by a rather confused gentlemen wondering what on earth we were doing wandering round his yard with suction machines strapped to our backs. 

 

The final day we went to a lovely little farm that had cottages to let (beautiful next to a river, hares in the field). We did not find any in the cow sheds. the problem with modern day farming methods is that they are so very clean!! But we did find some males along the river so that was good. The afternoon was at a rather enthusiastic females farm who wanted us to remove every single fly. She was being plagued by house flies but they were the wrong sort of fly for us! But we found some and some larvae and so were very pleased to have a 6/6 success  

 

We drove back to the museum on Thursday. We stopped at a service station on the way back and Kim bought one of those teddies that was in Ice age (the one with the nut..never seen them sorry). We were getting back into the car when a wasp followed us in. You would have been impressed by the professionalism of two museum entomologists. Kim pelted it from the car taking her new teddy with her and I was laughing so much I couldn’t get the wasp out of the car…people just stared at our incompetence..  but we made it back in time for the friends and family event for the opening of the cocoon in the Darwin Centre.

 

Finally saw the game that I helped with and am completely embarrased about myself…how many years will this exhibit be for? I am praying for some minor electrical fault..Apart from that it is looking good. Each time we see it more things are completed. Not long now before the official opening. Not that we Dipterists will be in the building yet as our collection does not move till October. 

 

Then on Friday, Saturday and Sunday I gave 7 talks……I was numb by the end of it…The first five were for our corporate sponsors. I talked to mainly children about venomous and poisonous arthropods..and I think either managed to scare them into never leaving their homes again or creating monsters that their parents will hate after they have poisoned a sibling by making them eating ladybirds (apparently there was a friend of the department who could speciate ladybirds by licking them as they have a unique taste). Still, maybe there will be a few that will start looking around them at the smaller more important things in life.

 

The Sunday talks were about my work in the department. I just get to talk about me collecting and killing which is what most people focus on. Oh and how do I identify and sex them….it is tough talking genitalia to a mixed aged audience.  I needed my holiday.  And then today. I arrived, the Tajikistanis arrived.  And we headed down to Kent to look for mosquito larvae. Which was successful. They turned up however with no wellies, no rain coat and the translator was in stilettos! Oh well, I have taken undergraduate students out in worse! It was a fab British summer day as well, one minute lovely sunshine and then the clouds would open lots of squeals as everyone pegged it to the minibus….It was interesting that they had said that they had all done this sampling before and knew all the procedures and then once in the field they seemed to have forgotten everything (again reminding me of undergraduates). But we got larvae and quite a few of several different species. They are now in the tower of the museum hopefully growing into adults (and then we kill and pin them!)  however my day was not complete until I smacked the hired minibus into the scaffolding of the freezers in the back car park…most annoying and I am blaming it on the blue car parked really close…  I have no idea how the next three weeks will be as this is only day two of their visit. I think that I may be tunrning to vodka…

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Friday morning

Posted by Erica McAlister Aug 7, 2009
I have now contacted 6 farms/animal adventure parks for next weeks field work down in Somerset. I wonder what the farmers make of me requesting to suck up their mosquito population! Some refused point blank, others were worried due to TB and swine flu and they were not letting anyone in, but most were most obliging (one even said that she would prefer it if we removed all of their flies…) so we have our field sites, our field equipment is being organised, dry ice is in house, we have a freezer at a local University down south to store our specimens... all we have to do is hope that the weather will be favorable.

As well as doing this, we are finalising a visit from the ‘Tajiks’ – this is work that I am undertaking with Ralph Harbach, a leading mosquito systematist. We have been contracted to help the Tajikistan research institutes with their mosquito eradication program alongside Nigel Hill from the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine. We have already been over there to look at the field sites and see their facilities and their local museum and now we are organising a training trip for them here. It is a lot of work and that is before they have even turned up. We have them for three weeks and it is at the same time that the new Darwin Centre will be launching.

And I have some Brazilian researchers turning up then too….

We also have our synoptic collection to organise (we being Entomology but more specifically I mean Diptera). We are organising labels, trays and drawers but as of today there are not enough trays and drawers!! This is a usual problem as we are always needing these due to incoming material and the need to properly house our specimens.

I am already planning a holiday for after this period... some where very remote with some nice wine
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Pinning flies

Posted by Erica McAlister Aug 4, 2009
We undertook some fieldwork on Bookham Common a while back, which was being filmed by the BBC.  We set up some pitfall traps, a malaise trap (a tent!) and then undertook some canopy sampling. I have finally had a bit of time today to start sorting through these specimens. The beetles have been studied from many years on the common and so it is nice to look at the fly population. There are lots of fungus gnats, Dolichopodids, hoverflies, houseflies, and some robber flies (which are very cool). I have only just started on the pinning of the specimens from the malaise trap and there are several hundred to do!! Once pinned, I will sort to family level and pass them on to the appropriate people to identify if not within my area.  It’s good to be able to look at specimens as most of the day I have been answering emails and constructing lists. Tomorrow I will be spending the entire day making labels to put in our new Synoptic collection.

I have just recieved an internal grant to have someone recurate and incorporate a collection of fungus gnats from Russia into our collection. This was a research collection and all the names are in Russian, some on dodgy pins, there is dried up genitalia everywhere (a common problem!!) and no label saying that the material is ours. Our new assistant has her work cut out!
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And now we are going on fieldwork to Somerset next week and I have just got us in at another crazy kids animal farm down there!! My job is most amusing at times…
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Fieldwork on the farm

Posted by Erica McAlister Aug 3, 2009

Afternoon,

 

We had the most exciting fieldwork on Friday.  The first part of the day was spent on an Urban Farm. There were four girls (including me) and a French man carrying out this particular fieldwork and therefore lots of cooing over the animals. We were looking for mosquitoes and were armed with two backpack aspirators, a hand aspirator and a sweep net.

 

To be truthful, we were not expecting much as sampling can be very hit and miss (that will amaze people who are always being bitten!) but we were most surprised as we sucked up hundreds of specimens (now sitting in a minus 80 oC freezer awaiting DNA/RNA procedures). We also got nibbled by alpacas, screamed at by sheep and gobbled at by a ridiculous turkey – i just don’t understand those animals at all….

 

We then went onto Richmond Park to see if there were any resting adult populations that we could find there. We knew that this would be hard and we did not come across any. However we were also sampling for flies in general and so the afternoon was not altogether a right off (there were ice creams too :) ) It is lovely to get back into the field collecting.

 

The photos are from the farm and show some of the treacherous conditions that we have to sample in…

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Erica McAlister

Erica McAlister

Member since: Sep 3, 2009

I'm Erica McAlister, Curator of Diptera in the Entomology Department. My role involves working in the collection (I have about 30000 species to look after and over a million specimens), sometimes in the lab, and thankfully sometimes in the field.

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