A day in the field

Written by: Ciara Hovis

Primary Source:  Human+Nature Blog

3:00 a.m.

My alarm goes off. I open my eyes and see the Heilongjiang sun starting to rise. I close my eyes just for a minute more… (Editor’s note – China, while geographically spanning five time zones, follows only one for unity. That means far eastern locales like Heilongjiang see daybreak early.)

3:15 a.m.Heilongjiang sunrise - 3 a.m.

My second alarm goes off. I awake in a panic, fearing I overslept. However, this alarm’s intention was to overcome my habit of closing my eyes for “just a minute” which turns into another hour of sleep. I begrudgingly go to brush my teeth, silently cursing the fact that birds don’t share our concept of a 9 to 5 workday.

3:30 a.m.

I hastily pack my equipment and rush to the hotel lobby to meet my research partner, Long, and our sleepy-eyed driver. I hesitate to say assistant, because without his help I would probably be lost somewhere in the Heilongjiang countryside by now. Long tells the driver where to go in Chinese, and I sit back and nurse my instant coffee (a necessity but a poor substitute for real coffee) and watch the sun finish rising.

3:50 a.m.

We arrive at our destination, wave goodbye to the driver who is ready for more sleep, and start looking for places to sample bird biodiversity in different types of farmland. Before getting to the field, I had a solid method for sampling: a nice even spread of the five different land cover types I expected to find in Heilongjiang. Then I got to Heilongjiang, and my plans quickly changed to, “That field looks good, isn’t too far to walk to, and is mostly corn, let’s go with that.”

As a wise PhD student once told me, “sometimes we must lower our research standards and apologize to our advisor later.

5:30 a.m.Ciara birdwatching

We’ve only done two point counts so far due to a “malfunction” with the recorder (I thought it was out of power, but was just locked) and lost 15 minutes of precious bird-counting time.

6:00 a.m.

Just finished the third point and realized I do not have my camera (not the expensive camera I borrowed from my lab, but my personal device). I panic and tell Long to wait while I race to our last point. I find it, but not until a mini panic attack. I tell myself that this is the last time I forget something in the field and happily accept this lie to calm my nerves.

8:00 a.m.

We are done. A total of six points collected. We get a call from our team members telling us to find our own way back to the hotel. No problem, as Long can easily flag a cab down and tell them our destination. I have Ciara and Longanother moment of gratitude that this grad student agreed to help me and wonder what his advisor threatened him with if he did not (that’s a joke… kinda).

8:30 a.m.

Long and I retreat to our hotel rooms for a much-needed rest. I collapse into bed, but begrudgingly get up as I remember I am filthy from four hours of field work and need to shower.

9:00 a.m.

No longer a muddy mess, I go back to bed as the rest of my team are just starting their work surveying farmers in the surrounding area.

11:30 a.m.

I wake up and pack up the explosion that is the contents of my suitcase, as we are heading to the next site this afternoon after lunch.

1:00 p.m.

The rest of the team heads off to survey more farmers, and I hang out in the car with the drivers as I am not really helpful at this point. I attempt to work on transferring and backing up data but I end up falling asleep again.

6:00 p.m.

We have arrived at our new hotel for the night and have dinner as a group. I attempt to follow the conversation, but mostly fail and just entertain myself by stuffing my face with delicious Chinese food.

8:00 p.m.

I pick tomorrow’s site using Google Earth and some remote sensing images I just learned how to read at the beginning of this trip (I had no idea what the different colors meant). I attempt to finish backing up the data I started earlier but fall asleep at my computer.

11:00 p.m.

I wake up in yet another panic thinking I slept through the night. I have not, and I sleepily set out my things for the next day and go to bed for real, ready to start the process all over tomorrow at the ungodly hour of 3 a.m.

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Ciara Hovis
Ciara Hovis is a PhD student in the Fisheries and Wildlife Department and works primarily in the Center Systems Integration and Sustainability under Dr. Jack Liu. She attended Penn State University for her undergraduate degree and began her PhD work in the summer of 2016. Her research focuses on the environmental effects of global agriculture trade, focusing on soybean cultivation in northeast China.
Ciara Hovis

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