At the heart of every scientist is an obsession with finding out something new. Sure, most of us do science because we want to help the world somehow, or understand something better, but really - we do it for the thrill of discovery. Bush Blitz brought together 18 biologists, amazing organisers, traditional owners and a yellow dinosaur and said, "here - go discover everything new you can about this place". No wonder we were in paradise! Did I ever think I would use the word paradise for a place that included drop toilets, showers from a bag and tents? Well, no. But there's something about opening your tent to sunrise in the Australian desert that pushes all those things to the sidelines. Let me walk you through it.
Mustard and I flew from Adelaide to Ceduna, then picked up 4WDs and joined the convoy to base camp - a 10 hour trip from Ceduna. Being the second time in my life driving manual, I reckon I did ok. I mean, I only managed to stall pulling up in front of everyone at base camp....
Base camp was already set up and ready to go when we arrive. The hardworking Bush Blitz team had set each of us up a tent, and also created some lab tents for us to process samples in the evenings. Robbie and Paul, the amazing caterers, had dinner ready to go! One thing I miss already is having someone cook me dinner every night! On the first day I went hunting for witchetty grubs (marku) with Conrad and the traditional owners. Conrad is completing is PhD on combining the Aboriginal science of the grubs with western science. He's finding new plant host records and looking at the protein levels of the insects. Watching the rangers be able to spot a tree likely to have the grubs in it, then find them within a few minutes of digging up the roots, was really cool. Later in the week, Roger, one of the traditional owners, cooked me one to try. It was pretty good! Tasted like scrambled eggs.
We were on the outskirts of Mamungari Conservation Park to find new species. One of the first things we did was set up malaise traps, as these have been successful at catching the wasps I study in the past.
For the rest of the week we used nets to sweep and beat trees and bushes to find insects, dug holes to find scorpions and spiders, and peeled bark off of trees to find beetles. Oh, and did I mention we got to go in helicopters to reach other parts of the park?!?
One afternoon, a bunch of girls from my old high school, St Mary's, came to visit. They'd been in Oak Valley at the school, on a learning exchange, and came to check out what we do at Bush Blitz! It was pretty awesome to get a chance to chat to them - they were super enthusiastic about everything and embraced all the opportunities we threw at them.
The most remarkable thing about the trip was spending it with the amazing group of people that was there. As a PhD student, there really are not that many opportunities to learn so much, from so many people, in such a short amount of time, as at Bush Blitz. I spent a day with the botanists, and learnt about how they collect samples and process them. I spent many hours watching Dr Mark Harvey find spider and scorpion burrows, and was always impressed at how he managed to find the beastie at the bottom of the tunnel. I learnt that giant nets on top of cars are awesome for catching my wasps, and that different insect scientists collect and process their specimens in different ways. It was so incredible to be able to learn from experts about their techniques, methods and share their passion for their work. Everyone was happy to share their knowledge and pitched into help each other. Bush Blitz goes down as one of the most inspiring and educational times of my PhD, and I'm so grateful for the opportunity!
PhD student and her trusty dinosaur explore the world of science. Check out our Citizen Science Project, The Caterpillar Conundrum!