Today we left Chernobyl Exclusion Zone to continue our fieldwork in uncontaminated areas around Slavutych. At the end of the night we visited several places and collected 30 new Pelophylax frogs and 3 treefrogs. Everything continues to be really good this year!!

Early in the morning we packed all our stuff at the hotel and the Chernobyl lab, at the same time that Sergey cleaned the car in order to remove any possible traces of radiation before leaving the Zone. Radioactive particles can accumulate in a car just by driving around the Zone and get pieces of vegetation stacked in the front of the car, for example. Since the previous day we drove quite a lot all across Chernobyl, this was a quite important task, so we don’t “export” radiation outside the Zone.

We left our great Chernobyl lab around 10AM, with the car fully loaded with all our stuff, and the field gear we will need to use in Slavutych. When we arrived at the Exclusion Zone check point we faced one of the realities of the Zone right now. A long, very long queue of vans and buses, full of tourists ready to enter the Zone. This is becoming a really big business, no doubt.

All radiation checkings were fine, for us and the car. And at 10:30AM we were out of the Zone. We have spent a total of four days inside the Zone, less than in previous years. But four intense and very successful days!!

After leaving the Zone, we continued our long trip to Slavutych. This is a city, created right after the accident in a location were just a train stop existed. It was built to accommodate most of the people evacuated from the Zone. It is about 50 km in straight line from Chernobyl, crossing a corner of Belarus, something that is not possible for us (too complicated paperwork). So, we needed to drive back south to the outskirts of Kiev, and then back north again. In total, 300km, and around four and a half hours!! We even had our “small” problem on the road. The bottom plate of the car fell down in the middle of nowhere. Too much off-road drive and bumps on the last days… It was time for Sergey to put on one of the white Dyvek protection suits, the first time I’ve seen Sergey that way 🙂 With handy skills and some plastic straps, everything was fixed quite quickly. And we continued the road to Slavutych.

We arrived in town at around 2:30 PM, to a fantastic hotel in the middle of the city (25.000 inhabitants). During this weekend the city celebrates its annual festivities, so we were amazed to see all the center full of tents of small local shop, grills and outdoor restaurants, music stages, and wonderful attractions for the young ones. A great atmosphere everywhere!!

In Slavutych, we are also back to a place where we can move freely, and enjoy some of the restaurants (“Old Tallinn” in particular). So, we had a very late and relaxed lunch on a terrace, under perfect weather. Not bad, at all.

At dusk, it was time to head to the field again. We drove around 20km out of town to a place known by Sergey, with ponds and streams. Waiting for darkness, we sampled environmental microbiome here too. More points for our study, more data!! We didn’t hear any treefrogs, any fire-bellied toads, but quite a few Pelophylax. It was quick and easy to catch more than twenty of them, really abundant species everywhere.

After this, we started to move around looking for other places with amphibians. We drove around and around, stopping in several places for listening. We didn’t find much. It was a bit colder than the nights before. We only heard occasional Pelophylax , but plenty on corncrakes (Crex crex), a bird in sharp decline across Europe, that seems pretty abundant here. We ended up in the last locality we visited last year, looking for the fire-bellied toads. We heard not a single one, but plenty of Pelophylax were calling and even a few treefrogs!! At the end, we collected around ten Pelophylax, we no longer need more, and three treefrogs for completing our coloration studies. We even caught one pair of frogs in amplexus, a huge female quite likely Pelophylax ridibundus, with a P. esculentus male. On arrival at the Slavutych lab, we leave them together, so let’s see if we can have genomic samples of the male, female and eggs!!

The plan for today is do a bit of work in the lab with these frogs in the morning (it should we quick and easy). Enjoy the nice food and the city atmosphere. And it will be time on the afternoon to move a bit far from the city looking for our five fire-bellied toads, and more treefrogs localities. For Sergey, this is an area much unknown than Chernobyl, so finding good places is a bit more challenging, so let’s see. Anyway, we can’t complain about anything this year, everything has been more than perfect so far!!

More info tomorrow!! Have a good day!!