Ups and downs of field work

I love doing field work — getting outside and observing, seeing and recording what is going on, noticing what most others over the age of ten or so will walk right past without even a glance.

Part of my joy in this trip has been getting to share this with a group of students. These students did not necessarily sign on because they were excited to see what field work was about–I don’t fool myself that a trip to China wasn’t the big draw. (I do have students occassionally who would go anywhere for the field work, but none were in my radar at the genesis of this project.)

In the first days of data collection, I loved watching the transformation of this group, as will usually occur in any group given a similar challenge. As they stopped to watch the flowers and see what visitors arrived, they began to see what was happening on the flower. Some bees flit from flower to flower, spending significant time only when sufficient nectar is there to hold their attention. One little bee, that we could see often in Shenyang, stayed long at each flower, collecting more and more pollen for its significant store on its mid leg. They started to watch not just because they knew that they had to do so, but because they were interested and curious as to what these six-legged creatures, which previously may have held more fear than interest, were really up to.

Lesa making observations

Lesa making observations

Kyle and Firdous observing in a rapeseed field

Kyle and Firdous observing in a rapeseed field

The past week or so, we visited Sichuan in “southwest” China. We wavered on this part of the trip — permits were difficult to acquire, and would be required for any formal association. But, it is in this province that we found the most reports of human pollination being used intentionally and at a large scale. So, we decided to go, and just see what we could do with casual observations in spaces we could access by ourselves. We spent time in Chengdu, and took an excursion to Aba Prefecture, where Jiuzhaigou and Huanglong Parks draw hordes of visitors yearly, if not daily. I was hoping we could gather many casual observations of flowers, but the weather did not cooperate. We went from the 100 degree (F) temperatures we experienced in Beijing just two weeks ago to snow on the pass of Xuebaoding Mountain (with peaks at 5688m). The parks were at much lower altitudes so that the snow was only rain, but it was a light yet persistent, steady rain that no pollinators (of the six-legged variety) were going to brave.

The team at the pass on Xuebaoding

The team at the pass on Xuebaoding

Sadly, we are in our last two weeks, and did not have the flexibility to wait out the rain. We will have to move on, and hope for sunnier skies in our next destination. This is field work. You get what you can get, and make the most of it. So much can get in the way — not just the weather, but plows and lawn mowers and obstinate landowners, the list goes on and on.

I will say that if we had to take a rain day or two, such places as Jiuzhaigou and Huanglong were exceptional places to take them.

One of many lovely lakes at Jiuzhaigou

One of many lovely lakes at Jiuzhaigou

A lovely view from Huanglong

A lovely view from Huanglong



2 Responses to “Ups and downs of field work”

  1. June 14, 2014 at 10:31 am

    What a lovely narrative and discussion of the challenges of “field work.” Thanks for sharing!

  2. 2 butterflydoc
    June 14, 2014 at 11:20 pm

    Thanks, Wilson! I’m hoping Steven posts something here soon… the lack of comments of late isn’t encouraging…

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