Critters and cramps: musings from a newbie field biologist

This is our first post from the 2018 IRES field season! This year, we’ll be peppering our blog with posts from each of our 6 wonderful undergraduate students as they navigate their journey in Australia. Our first up is from Nathalie Clarke, a junior from Tulane University:

I’ve dreamed about doing field work for what seems like an eternity. Like all idealistic young biologists, I imagined life in the field as a walk in the park, complete with magical creatures and fun-filled research. Fieldwork IS a walk in the park—if you remember to watch out for spiders as you traipse through prickly lantana bushes towering over your mere 5’3” stature until your legs cramp up. When I first learned about orb-weavers in EBio 1010 at Tulane University, I never imagined that I’d get used to seeing them (yes, friends and family, the huge spiders that I’ve been sending you pictures of 24/7). The first time I saw one in the field, I almost jumped with excitement.

“OH MY GOD! Sexual cannibalism at our field site! THIS IS AMAZING!” I thought to myself.

By day 5, I’d probably swallowed a whole pond of spider web while attempting to follow the elusive red-backed fairywrens, which oddly made the “magical” spiders lose some of their appeal. On day 9, the fateful day I will remember all my life, a group of three tiny birds led me through what seemed like an endless stretch of lantana until suddenly I found myself surrounded: in front, behind, to the right, to the left. The beautiful, lovely, dazzling orb-weavers were on every side of me. Not wanting to plow through their beautiful webs, I decided to edge around them carefully, climbing over the lantana. BAM! I landed on my butt, with 3 enormous spiders falling onto my rain jacket.

I’m rather ashamed to say that I screamed and ran away as fast as I could. My point: there are many, many, many things about the field you can’t imagine from the lab. But, luckily, the best parts of field work are also a surprise. I never realized I’d make amazing friends in the field, Tim-Tam slam (an Australian delicacy that involves turning a mere biscuit into a gooey, delicious straw), laugh until I cried about limes and lemons, become a part of weird, wacky inside jokes, and fall in love with chasing elusive birds.

-Nathalie Clarke


Another Season Been and Gone!


Time flies in the research world, another IRES season has come and gone! Due to a transfer of leadership this blog didn’t get looked after much during the field season, but here are a few photos that shows some of the fun experiences we have. Students for the 2018 season have been selected and we’re looking forward to next year!

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9 weeks goes by fast

It seems like only yesterday that the students were arriving in Brisbane, but yesterday I dropped them at the airport for post-IRES travel.

We finally remembered to take a group photo on our last day at the field site, and also went out with a bang by winning trivia at the Samford Hotel! Here we are with trivia master Mark Shiels–all of the hats were won at trivia throughout the last 9 weeks.



Christmas in July!

Since it’s winter here, we decided to celebrate Christmas in July! The festivities started on July 23 (Festivus in July; shown here are Sarah D. and Taylor participating in feats of strength while Joe holds the festivus pole), followed by Christmas cooking making on Christmas eve and a Christmas dinner and a secret santa gift exchange on the 25th.



Byron Bay!

IMG_8903For our last day(s) off we took an overnight trip to Byron Bay, known for it’s lazy surf vibe and humpback whale migration! It was a great break before our last two weeks of non-stop data collection! Here are some of the students from the lighthouse watching for whales and dolphins.


From PNG to Brisbane

In June, we were fortunate enough to host our friend Serena from Papua New Guinea. Serena helped us out in the field, and is pictured here holding everyone’s favorite red/black male, Greg (GRG, so named for his green, royal purple, and green color bands). Read more about the white-shouldered fairywren project, of which Serena is a key player, at the WSFW blog: