Wednesday, July 21, 2010

Field Work, Glorious Field Work

Once again, I found myself spending a large chunk of my summer in South Dakota. Over the past six years, I've been coming out looking for fossils in caves, which involves climbing around in the dark, trecking through hot nothingless, screen washing, and countless hours of staring at tiny little bones.

This years trip involved less caving on my part, and more screen washing and bone picking. Which is fine as far as I'm concerned. I also spent some time sight seeing and saw some really neat stuff: prong horn, prairie dogs, bison, various snakes, and burrowing owls. I don't have any pictures of the owls or me holding a snake, but I can get them from people eventually and put them up here.

I did manage to get very close to some bison (from the safety of my vehicle). Now, let me add a caveat: under no circumstances should anyone approach bison. They are NOT cows, and will pummel you if you get too close. The number one cause of death in many parks are a result of people making this mistake. However, I was in a car, and they were all over the road, and you can't really help that. I saw two young males sparring, and several calves, so it was a really cool experience.

The road went right by a wallow, hence the large number of bison. This was also the location I saw a family of burrowing owls (2 adults, 3 chicks). These owls, contrary to their name, don't actually burrow into the ground. Rather, they live in old prairie dog dens, so the best way to find them is to look for prairie dog towns.

During my South Dakota adventures, we (the students and other researchers) usually give a presentation that is open to the public so we can tell them about what we've been up to. This year we had 5 people give mini talks on the Black Hills and our current research. Three of the talks were directly about the Black Hills and the cave excavations. Another was on how animals become fossils in cold climates. The last talk was on sloth teeth and what they ate. This talk had nothing to do with our field work, but was interesting none-the-less.


The night of the presentations came at the end of a very exciting day; however, exciting isn't always a good thing. We had gotten some rain the night before, the road up to the cave was muddy and our van wouldn't make it. We turned back, went into town, and tried to contact the people already up at the cave. When we finally did get ahold of them, we learned that the generator opperating the winch had broken down, and one of the volunteers was stuck down in the big cave (40ft under ground). Other people at the site did pull him out, which just proves that our emergency system for extracting people does, in fact, work.

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