This morning we went into the reserve with Tariq, a student who is doing an internship with PWN over the summer. The task for the day was to find the bison herd, identify the female who wears the GPS collar, and record her activity throughout the day. The GPS collar has an accelerometer in it, which records the movements of the animal’s head. Tariq’s research will match up the data that the collar records with the actual observed behavior, so that in future the researchers will be able to tell what the animal is doing just by looking at the data from the collar. This will let them build up a good picture of bison behaviour and feeding patterns when they are not being directly observed.
Tariq told us his special method for finding the bison, which is to “follow the shit” (ssh, don’t tell anyone). We were walking for about 20 minutes when we stumbled on them lying in a small copse. They’re so hard to see! Unfortunately they were surprised to see us too, and soon moved off. This was the pattern for most of the morning, us catching up to them, and them moving off within five minutes! It was hot so they wanted to stay in the trees, but when they are in the trees they are more wary and you can’t get as close.
The woods were nice for us to give us some shade, but the ticks there were insane! Anna’s trousers were covered, and a few time Tariq stopped to pull off his wellies and search for ticks on his ankles. It’s awful, they’re individually easy to brush off, but there were so many, a proper swarm. If they bite you they bury their heads in your skin, so they’re a pain to get rid of. They also have a habit of climbing up your clothes or legs until they find a nice soft bit to bury themselves in. Nice. They can also give you Lyme disease, which is treatable if you catch it early, but still not exactly on the bucket list. (You can find out more about ticks and Lyme disease here: http://treesforlife.org.uk/forest/species-profiles/deer-tick/#.)
Eventually we managed to get a good view of the bison at a distance that they were happy with, so we settled down for some observation. Tariq heard something overhead and we all looked up to see a pine marten carrying some prey through the treetops. It went right above us and settled down for lunch in a tree close by. It was awesome to see it, they are pretty rare in the Netherlands (and in the UK), I’ve never seen one before, so I couldn’t believe my luck. We managed to snap one decent picture of the slippery bugger.
The bison herd finally moved out of the forest, but they were too quick for us to follow so we decided to stop for lunch. After that we went back to the office to swap guides. Dario is a volunteer at the project, he has done three internships with PWN and is now hoping to get a job there, so he is volunteering to keep in touch, and spend time in the reserve. He’s also running his own gardening and renovation business to make money. Such dedication!
We went back into the park with Dario to check some camera traps. These are cameras that can be left outside and are activated by heat or movement (or a combination of both). This is another brilliant way to get great data on the fauna of an area without disturbing them. In the Faia Brava reserve in Portugal they got a positive identification of the first roe deer in the reserve using a camera trap. Dario showed us some of the footage that has been captured in the reserve, we saw badgers, foxes, fallow deer and several bird species. It’s different from seeing these animals directly because they don’t know they’re being watched so they behave naturally.
The job for the afternoon was to go round and change the batteries in the camera traps. It was another good excuse to walk around in the sunshine and chat to someone who loves the reserve!
One of the camera traps was positioned right next to a massive tree that had come down in the storm last week; it had a lucky escape! Sadly the camera didn’t capture the tree falling, but it had recorded a few up close and personal visits from the Konik horses and fallow deer!
When we’d finished in the park we had a quick shower then went to the beach for dinner and drinks with some of the team. We chatted to Esther, who is Yvone’s colleague on the bison project, and Ruud who is one of the rangers in the reserve. He’s worked in the park for 30 years, and obviously loves it!
When we got home we had to have one last tick-searching session in the tent. Anna found two on me, but she was clean, which is good. You need to remove ticks within 24 hours to minimise your chance of contracting Lyme disease so it’s important that you check yourself thoroughly after a walk in the long grass or bracken!
It was amazing to meet so many people today who are absolutely loving what they do! Dario likes it so much he’s prepared to stick around and volunteer in the hope that a job will come up. I hope it does, he deserves it.