Today we achieved something rather unusual in a field research campaign. Thanks to our work in the ponds during the morning and night, we completed all our goals for this season. Every single thing we wanted to do, is now done. In all the previous years working in Chernobyl, our campaigns were quite successful but always there was something that we didn’t managed to complete, some fewer localities sampled that we wanted, some fewer individuals… not this year. Everything is done, and we still have one day left. We can’t we happier.
During the morning, we quickly sampled the treefrogs collected the previous night. Photo, morphological measures, and a tissue sample to add to our collection of about fifteen treefrogs localities in northern Ukraine, both inside and outside Chernobyl Exclusion Zone. This work, growing year after year, has reached a really great sampling size and locality distribution, time now to get deep into population genetics!!
Around noon we went back to the car with the simple objective of releasing these treefrogs and sample environmental microbiome in this pond, and the one at which we collected 3 treefrogs and some Pelophylax (including our +150g ridibundus Beast) on a previous night.
On our way, during daylight, we were able to see where we drove the previous night, in the middle of darkness, following treefrogs calls from more than two kilometers away!! Simply amazing where Sergey is able to go with the car!!
Once in the pond, we released the frogs, collected microbiome, water parameters, and at the moment we were abou to leave… a fire-bellied toad called nearby for a few seconds. We looked at each other, smiled, and said “Ok, we need five of these, so let’s have a look just for five minutes”. Collecting these small, brown amphibians at midday, when they barely call, in a big, brown pond is almost impossible, but… Quickly Pablo found one, other called for a few seconds, a bit far. We finally spent way more than an hour under scorching sun to get the second one, but we did it. The three of us surrounding a small patch of vegetation for half an hour, for locating the toad on the very same moment we decided to leave 🙂 Two toads in the pocket!!
We drove to the other pond, released the frogs and sampled microbiome. Just moving around for sampling water parameters, Pablo saw again another toad. And then another. And another. Totally unexpectedly, we were there, at midday with the five toads we needed from outside the Exclusion Zone for our genomic analyses!! We will compare these toads with the ones collected at the Zone, and the samples we have from 1987-1990. Incredible good material!! What should have been a quick and easy one-hour visit to two ponds, ended up in a more than three-hour work, but a very important thing was done. Another big goal crossed for the campaign!!
We had four hours in Slavutych for late lunch, rest… and back to the ponds, for (probably) our last night in the field. We drove to the east of the city looking for treefrogs. Now, we only needed this species, the work with toads and Pelophylax was finished. We drove and stopped for listening, drove and stopped. No treefrogs.
In one of these places after many years listening to corncrackes (Crex crex) while collecting frogs in Ukraine, Poland, Latvia, Lithuania, Estonia… I managed to see one!! A bird just flew from my feet’s for a short move. This is a species in sharp decline all across Europe, but apparently abundant in this area. A great moment for any birdwatcher and a good start of the night!!
We drove even more across meadows, with no roads, no paths, and tall plants blocking the view from the car in some cases. We stopped in what looked like a small pond for listening. Treefrogs were there!! We jumped out of the car, waders in, and off to the water. The place was bigger than we thought, beautiful, with the perfect amount of water, not too little, not too much, enough to move around everywhere without getting too deep. Frogs were calling but not to intensively. After moving across all the pond, we finally managed to catch eight males. A fantastic catch to complete all the studies with this species, the genetic and coloration ones in particular. We leaved the pond tired after a very long day, but with a huge smile in our face.
Now, everything is done. All the Pelophylax, fire-bellied toads, and treefrogs that we wanted to catch, are caught and sampled. All the localities we needed to complete our studies, sampled too. What an amazing feeling. Everything has been so good this time, it’s almost unbelievable. Of course, we are more than exhausted after seven consecutive days of 4-5 hours sleep, and about 16 hours expended everyday in the ponds, the lab, or jumping in the car from one place to the other. But we are happy, incredibly happy!!
Today, we will quickly sampled these last treefrogs, and… off to the ponds again. Don’t think we are finished 🙂 We will release the treefrogs and sample environmental microbiome on the pond in the morning. For the afternoon, we will drive far away, south of the city, to sample microbiome at one of the localities we visited last year. And that should be all. Back in Slavutych in late afternoon for relaxed dinner. This will be our last full day in Ukraine. Tomorrow, on the afternoon, we will fly to Madrid. Back to Spain, bags full of samples, and heads full of great memories. Let’s go for a last day with more ponds, beautiful landscapes, and a bit of work.
More tomorrow. Enjoy the day!!