Sage Clegg and the "Mysterious Gross Stuff"
Sage Clegg is a thru-hiker extraodinaire and wildlife biologist from Bend, OR pioneered the new Oregon Desert Trail this past summer. She worked closely with the Oregon Natural Desert Association - a wild desert advocacy non-profit that created the Oregon Desert Trail - as well as ASC participating in our pika, wildlife and diatoms projects. Along the way Sage collected a new species of diatom!
Every time I got to take slime samples I felt like I was a six year old kid playing with the mysterious gross stuff I wasn't supposed to touch. Without fail, pausing to scrape scum off of stream-side rocks or squeeze liquid from bubbly green algae helped me notice something I would never have realized existed. One spring I collected a sample from was up on the side of a steep grassy slope in the Pueblo Mountains. The spring looked unremarkable at first, but as I knelt there scraping at a rock with my spoon, I started to notice there was moss growing between rocks, as well as tiny little yellow monkey flowers. Bees and flies were buzzing by, mites and other small insects were crawling around. By the time I rolled the top of the sample bag closed a whole new universe had been revealed to me, and that didn't even include the micro-world of diatoms and algae that I had just shoved in a 2oz baggie.
One of my favorite wildlife sightings of the trip was on a hot afternoon in the Trout Creek mountains. I was slogging up a two-track with a bunch of water on my back, and I noticed a Badger running down the track. I stopped and the badger just kept cruising towards me, sniffing from side to side. I was able to grab my camera and snap a pic, but it spooked from the camera sound & vanished into the sage scrub. This was my first badger sighting during a hike, and it was such a treat to see it cruising along just being a badger.
Along the Oregon Desert Trail I saw a lot of rattlesnakes, so many in fact that I had a hard time remembering to count them as wildlife sightings (the ones I recorded represent about 50% of the encounters). On my first day of a 50 mile canyoneering stretch in the West Little Owyhee drainage I encountered 9 rattlesnakes. The next day I saw 5, the day after 3 or 4, the day after I actually accidentally stepped on a small snake. When I went back to check on it, thinking it was a baby gopher snake, the snake was coiled and rattling it's mini rattle at me with all it's might. Rattlers and sage scrub go hand in hand more than I ever imagined.
Collecting wildlife observations for ASC helped me pay more attention to the animals I encountered during my hike. It also made me re-define a wildlife observation. I had many miles to walk or bike each day, and I didn't always stop to jot down every bird or bug. I tried to record every time I saw a bigger mammal, anything I knew was a species of concern (Sage Grouse, Big Horn Sheep), and birds & reptiles I could easily identify.
Taking photographs of each animal was a big challenge for me, often the animals were so far away I knew they wouldn't show up in the shot. In retrospect, I should have snapped a shot anyway so the landscape and weather could be shared more easily, and I would have more to go off of than a strange waypoint name in my GPS.
iNaturalist seemed like a great idea, but on my expedition I had very limited battery and cell service capabilities. My choice to take wildlife observations on my GPS turned out to make my data a big hassle to share with ASC. I think ASC and I have both learned a good bit about converting waypoints into csv files and uploading them to iNat. I think my next adventure's data will be a bit smoother.
Collecting diatom water samples was straight forward, added less than a half pound of weight to my pack (when full of water), and was super fun. I was able to send in the samples from little post offices along the way. Dr. Bahls sent me a bunch of extra sample baggies and I hope to continue to collect slime from water sources I visit in the future.
ASC is such a cool concept, and I hope to have a project component on all my future adventures.
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