Last week, my Wildlife Management class had a Radio Telemetry lab. Telemetry is the “use of radio waves for transmitting information from a distant instrument to a device that indicates or records the measurements.” In wildlife management specifically, telemetry is used to track the location and movement of individual animal in the wild.
The form the transmitter takes depends on the size of the animal. For fish, a small transmitter is surgically implanted, for larger animals (like bear or deer) a collar is placed on the neck (engineered to fall off the animal at a certain time and/or if the collar were to get stuck on anything – thus it will not choke the animal to death), and my favorite by far is a BACKPACK for lizards. Yep.
Wildlife biologists use receivers and antennas to receive the signals and thereby track the location of the animal. For our lab, our teacher hid collars around campus and we had to find them. We each got a receiver and antenna, which was tuned to the specific frequency of an specific collar, and off we went.
Tracking is more difficult than you might think. When you begin, the strength of the beep is so low and subtle that it is hard to know which direction is correct. You have to listen very closely as you move in any direction to see if there is any small change in the strength of the signal. If the signal gets weaker, you have begun to go off course. As you get closer to the transmitter collar (i.e. the collared creature), you can turn down the RF gain (a sensitivity filter, which reduces noise in the receiver without reducing the power of reception – sounds like static)and better hear the strength of the signal. When you are really close, you are able to turn the RF gain all the way down.
It felt a bit like a scavenger hunt or a new sort of hide-and-seek. A triumphant trek.
My Dendrology class took a trip towards the coast to look at plants native to the chaparral / coastal region . The trip included a stop in Mt. Madonna County Park as well as numerous stops on road sides to tramp around and collect native plants for our herbariums.
Not only was it spontaneous fun to be walking around as a group at random locations you would most certainly have missed and not paid attention to at all if you were not in a dendrology class, but it was nothing less than thrilling to suddenly find you are starting to be able to identify species on your own. Our teacher pointed out and identified numerous species to us as we walked, and the ones that popped up more than once I was finding I can now identify when asked. Perhaps that sounds silly, but this has been one of the top things on my “forestry list” to learn, if not the top. I long to be able to identify plants when I see them, and going into the field and having an expert show them to you firsthand is so much different and more impactful than going on your own and using a plant guide alone, at least at the start.
I got so many specimens that my plant press is currently overflowing, and my bedroom smells like a giant herbarium. Herbal essence. Plant perfume. Green aroma. The scent of my searching.
Each student in my Dendrology class was assigned an individual tree species at the beginning of term (in fact, sometime during roll, we are called by the scientific name of our species instead of our birth name). Our task was to find that specimen, collect a sample, and then write a report and create a presentation board about that tree.
I was given a species that is a bit uncommon, and hence a greater challenge to find. I was glad to be given a challenge, and challenge it proved to be. I logged over 7 hours in hunting for it, will two failed outings before my successful discovery (but 3rd-times-a-charm, right?). This seems like perhaps not that much time invested relative to what botanists likely log in hunting for a plant, so I almost didn’t mention it at all, but did only to give context to my celebratory glee upon at last discovering it (with my teacher’s help and written instructions).
I finally found my Torreya californica hidden behind a Acer macrophyllum in a drainage, on the side of a forest road in the Sierras. She (“Meg”, as I call her) was quite hidden, and there were only two specimens in this location. A successful seek.