Every year in July we have had a large fire come up from the south, and this year was no exception…the only difference being that this fire was much more intense and burned a greater proportion of the site than ever before! The fire was 15 km to the south the night before, but fueled by large amounts of gamba grass and strong winds, it came racing through the property and jumping fire breaks easily, including the creek on both sides of the airstrip. The gamba fire to the east of the house was burning higher than the tree canopy, and moving at incredible speeds. This has left a lot of the site completely scorched.
Fire utes putting out some of the flames that jumped north of the airstrip.
Fire behind the Coomalie shed. The fire behind the house was even higher.
IRES students have been taking advantage of the fire to investigate its effects on both vegetation and fairy-wren behavior. We have a number of wrens with radio transmitters in areas that burned, and are excited to be tracking the aftermath of the bird. Many of the birds have moved to the only vegetation that escaped the burn, namely bamboo lining the creek, while some of the birds have moved to adjacent areas that were more patchily burnt, and the social interactions between groups have increased as a result of this reshuffling.
Students interested in vegetation and habitat use for their projects are also doing lots of vegetation plots to document the change in vegetation following the fire. Check out the height of the fire scar in the following picture:
We just got back from spending 4 days in Kakadu National Park, which is twice listed as a World Heritage site and well-known for its scenery, culture, and wildlife. Highlights of the trip included watching the sunset at Ubirr, taking a sunrise cruise at Yellow Waters, hiking around Nourlangie Rock, seeing a saltwater croc in the billabong behind one our campsites eat a fish, and seeing several endemic bird species (including a lifer for me—the Banded Fruit-Dove!).
Pictures below include the group at Ubirr and at Nourlangie.
Before the Ubirr sunset
Hiking at Nourlangie
The past two weekends we have gone in groups to Litchfield National Parks, one of my favorite spots in the NT. Students enjoyed spectacular views of waterfalls, the impressive engineering ability of termites that create magnetic termite mounds, and finished the day with a refreshing swim at Wangi Falls.
The Rogaine is (in addition to being an American hair loss solution foam), an orienteering competition where teams of 2-5 attempt to gain as many points as possible by reaching checkpoints (“controls”) based on a provided map. Each team can determine their own route and make their course as challenging or relaxed as they please. I went with a competitive group of IRES members: Sam, Roxy, and Nicole. The four of us wanted to put on a good show, despite this being everyone’s first time orienteering. The course we mapped was north of our usual study site and it was enjoyable to explore new areas of the property. We started at 2:15 and finished at 7:50 p.m., just shy of the 6-hour limit, garnering 800 points (controls ranged in value from 20 to 120 points, depending on difficulty, distance, etc.). We pushed ourselves pretty hard and did a good job of navigating relatively accurately and keeping our eyes open for the controls (effectively boxes attached to trees). Our course took us all over the map, primarily after the high value controls that were spread out and more difficult to access.
We found marker 100!
A lot of the area to the north was burning, and we crossed the line of fire four different times on our quest (a feature I was much more comfortable with given the burn the previous day at the airstrip). I was the teammate who (in addition to carrying Sam’s 2L of water for her) went up to each control and punched the pattern onto our score sheet. I also was the team member who found it enjoyable to run up the hill to the microwave tower (a tougher haul than the Slope at Cornell arguably) because of my sheer enjoyment of the Rogaine, even though it was already hour five.
After the Rogaine with our bottle of wine for being the top team in the “Come and Try” category
The final point we found in the dark (with headlamps but almost no visibility) at the top of a hill of viciously thick grass, which took a good 7-8 minutes of intense rock scrambling/climbing to summit, and longer to descend safely. Despite it being cool and dark, the hardest we all sweated was while climbing the final hill. There isn’t a sufficient comparison for the thickness of foliage we traversed (it’s an invasive species called Gamba Grass that is important to many of our projects). We then hightailed it back to the finish in time to enjoy a delicious dinner (bolognaise pasta, watermelon, carrot cake, and never enough water. I consumed 4 L during the six hour period). Despite it being our first time (and many of the people present being real pros at Rogaine), we finished in 5th of 16 teams overall with 800 pts (2 teams in the 900’s, 2 in the 1100’s), beating out over ten other teams, which we were thrilled with. The seasoned Rogainers were impressed with our tremendous effort that rivaled their own success.
Nicole and I plotted out the minimum distance we could have traveled during the Rogaine (assuming perfectly straight trajectories between points) to be 18km. We estimate that our actual distance traveled was in the mid to low twenties (!!!). Considering we had already walked 6-10 km that day in the field (average daily distance ranges from 12-20 km I’d say), doing 20+ in an afternoon pushed us pretty hard. The day after, my legs feel pretty good, though I had to pop a few blisters. So, who will join me in some of these events back in the States?!