Fieldwork fever…

There is a sickness that people can get, usually around the beginning of spring. They say it is common among researchers of natural sciences. The symptoms are more or less the following: Anxiety, Excitement, Impatience, Faster heartbeat, Disappointment, Productivity, Tiredness, Satisfaction… Depending on the agent that caused it, you might get all the above mentioned, or at least some of them, in various combinations.

I think I got it too. It started last week. The night before my 1st day on the field, I found it so hard to sleep. I kept on making all these scenarios in my mind about what could go wrong and how to be prepared. I kept thinking of all the equipment I had to take with me, and make sure I didn’t forget anything . You see, I had to travel some distance by car in order to get to my destination, and forgetting something would be a huge loss. It was obvious I was too anxious about it.

On the day, I woke up very early in the morning (not that I slept much). I wore my fieldwork clothes. I took my sandwiches and water. I loaded the van with all the necessary equipment for my sampling and I was good to go! I was so excited. Driving the van was a thrilling experience as well. Moreover, it helped me spot the oilseed rape fields more easily, since I got to be in a higher place than the rest of the cars and the view was amazing (Picture 1).

Elena 1.png

Picture 1. A typical Irish landscape

It was the first time I had driven to Wexford and I really enjoyed the ride. But, as it usually happens when you are driving to an unknown destination, I became impatient to reach my destination. I drove past endless green fields with cows, sheep, horses, shrub lands, and oilseed rape fields glittering under the sun within their bright yellow dress. Each time I saw one, I could feel my heart beating faster and I kept thinking: where is my field?

It seemed to me like I was driving for ages, when the voice of the GPS on my phone said “in 600 m, you have reached you final destination”. I looked on my right and there it was (Picture 2).

Elena 2.pngPicture 2. Golden beauty: A flowering plant of oilseed rape (Brassica napus)

A golden beauty. A million tiny yellow flower buds were waiting to be collected. I parked the van beside of the field, jumped out of the driver’s seat and ran towards the field to start my sampling. Little did I know…When I reached the crops, I realized that I couldn’t start sampling – the flower buds were completely covered with the early morning moisture, which made them inappropriate for sampling. I cannot describe to you my disappointment. All my planning, my waking up early, so as to reach my destination early and have as much time to collect as many flower buds as possible, has gone to waste… But, you know what they say: when human make plans, nature laughs out loud.

I couldn’t do nothing, but wait. Luckily, the sun was pretty strong  in the Irish sky that day, and the temperature, along with the soft spring breeze, worked as natural dryers and took the moisture away. After a while the flower buds were at the optimum condition for being collected. In the meantime, I had calculated the surface of my field and planned my collection design. I started pinching the buds by their stems, so as to preserve them as untouched as possible (Picture 3).

Elena 3Picture 3. Pinching he flower buds

According to the protocol, I had to collect approximately 1000 flower buds, in order to obtain the necessary amount of nectar and pollen for the chemical analyses. It felt so great being among all these nice smelling flowers that made me so motivated and productive (Picture 4).

Elena 4

Picture 4. A cuckoo bee (Elenious ziogaous), collecting flower buds in an oilseed rape field (altr. Elena Zioga collecting flower buds)

I couldn’t help but wondering though, how bees must feel. I was quite confused in terms of which flower bud to choose, but I am pretty sure they know better. What amazing creatures they are!

Collecting flowers and carefully choosing the ones that will contain pollen and nectar (haven’t been harvested by pollinators), can be a very tiring process. However, each time I was feeling a bit tired, I simply had to follow a cute buzz. I really enjoyed staring at a bumble bee or a honey bee squeezing their little faces inside the flowers in an effort to reach their food, ending up covered with yellow dust – pollen (Picture 5). That felt great and at the same time, it gave me so much strength to proceed with my sampling.

Picture 5. On the right, a female bumble bee (Bombus lapidarious) is drinking nectar, while on the left a honey bee (Apis mellifera) is taking advantage of both pollen and nectar of the oilseed rape flower

After seven hours of sampling, I was finally able to estimate that I had collected the amount of flower buds needed, and I was good to go. A sweet tiredness overcame me when the levels of adrenaline returned to normal. On my way back to Dublin, thinking about my day, I was feeling happy. Happy, and satisfied. Given all my symptoms, turns out, I suffer from fieldwork fever. The only disease I don’t want to recover from.

 

About the author:

Elena Zioga is a first year PhD student working on the PROTECTS project, under the supervision of Jane Stout at TCD and Blanaid White at DCU.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Picture 5. On the left, a female bumble bee (Bombus lapidarious) is drinking nectar, while on the right a honey bee (Apis mellifera) is taking advantage of both pollen and nectar of the oilseed rape flower

After seven hours of sampling, I was finally able to estimate that I had collected the amount of flower buds needed, and I was good to go. A sweet tiredness overcame me when the levels of adrenaline returned to normal. On my way back to Dublin, thinking about my day, I was feeling happy. Happy, and satisfied. Given all my symptoms, turns out, I suffer from fieldwork fever. The only disease I don’t want to recover from.

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