14 May 2017 We did it. Yes, we did it. I am really happy to correct myself about what I said yesterday regarding the success of our trip. Last night, against the weather forecast, in our last night of field work, we flipped over the fate of our research trip. We collected another 37 treefrogs in two different localities inside Chernobyl Exclusion Zone!!

The day started in a pretty relaxed way. No frogs to work with in the lab, no bird fieldwork of our Ukrainian colleagues. We first filled our dry shipper with liquid nitrogen, starting to prepare it for our trip back with the samples. Basically, you add liquid nitrogen to the shipper and let it absorb the liquid, refilling often, until the special matrix is saturated with liquid nitrogen. On the day of our flight back, we will remove the not absorbed liquid, getting the shipper ready, dry, and safe for flying. After doing this we were fortunate enough to see part of Sergey’s archive of camera trap photos. You can have a look at some here. Amazing. Many hundreds of photos of all the mammals living inside the Exclusion Zone (and many birds too): bears, wolfs, lynxes, raccoon dogs, Przewalski horses, red and roe deer, moose, badger, wild boar… And many, many more, including some incredible footage of wolf hunting!! This archive is not only invaluable for research, but really worth a photo book.. 

The weather forecast for today was cloudy, with chances of rain, and just relatively warmer than yesterday. But, during the morning, the weather started to change. Finally, for the better!!! We had a sunny and really warm morning, wich increased our good mood exponentially.

Even better, just before leaving for the fieldwork we got a message with the link to a report on our work published on the Spanish digital newspaper El Independiente. We have been working on this with América Valenzuela, one of the great scientific journalists of Spain, since our arrival here. 

This was possible through many phone calls, Twitter messages and WhatsApps, thanks to the luxury our hotel wifi, and despite the madness of putting together our lab/field schedule and América’s busy media schedule. The report “El enigma de las ranas negras de Chernobyl” tells with great detail our current work here with the frogs, and some of the issues around wildlife living in the Exclusion Zone. We are really happy with this. Gracias América!! 

You can follow América’s work here, and also on Twitter (@A_Valenzuela) and Instagram. Do it!!

With a happy spirit because of the good weather and the good press report, we headed to the field around 7:30PM. Our target area was the same that we visited last night without success, but an area that we know is really good for treefrogs for our last year experience. As soon as we stopped the car, already with sunny and clear skies, tens of fire-bellied toads (Bombina bombina) were calling. 

Just the kind of good sign we have been waiting for all the week. Some minutes later and the first treefrogs were calling too!! Our first locality was situated in an area of medium levels of radioactive contamination, slightly far from the Nuclear Power Plant, but still possible to see the big structure of the chimney and the new sarcophagus.

After a couple of hours, we got out of the pond with 17 new frogs. It was still 10:30PM. We moved to a second locality in the same zone, but inside high contamination area. Only a few frogs were calling there, on the distance. We decided to move a bit further, towards the border with Belarus, to another locality with medium levels of radiation. Frogs didn’t look to be at high activity rate, but anyway we enter into the system of small ponds and channels. We started collecting frogs, slowly, one by one, even using sometimes a recorded treefrog song in our smartphones to activate them to call and locate them easily. After another couple of hours, 20 more frogs were in our sampling bags…

What a change from previous days… This was, quite probably, our last night in the field for the season. We have no much option for going today, since we will have to leave the Zone early on Tuesday. So, in the last moment, in the last night, we managed to move from a slightly depressing campaign, to a great one. Five localities sampled, and close to 80 individuals with almost a thousand of different sampled collected. A great addition to last year work, and really great material to evaluate the effects that living under chronic low-dose radiation has for wildlife.

We are happy, very, very happy!!

Today, it will be time for a marathon of lab work, with 37 frogs to sample. It will take us the full day, from 9AM to, probably, 6PM. It is going to be exhausting, but it doesn’t matter, that’s the kind of day we have been looking for since our arrival!!

During the afternoon we managed to see moose, red deer and two Przewalski horses (no wolf this year…).

The total radiation dose accumulate during the trip is now at 107 microSv.