Last week I was on my final field trip of my degree for the third year behavioural ecology module!!
We went to Slapton in Devon for a week and stayed a field work centre there.
We arrived on the friday and had a short introduction talk about what the trip would entail, before having dinner. The food for the whole week was provided by the field centre. We had a buffet for breakfast with full english, cereal, porridge and fruit. At breakfast we also made our packed lunches, usually wraps, sandwiches and salads. Dinner usually had 3 or 4 options and at least 2 were vegetarian, it was great to always have a choice. At dinner, the meal options were always written on a board and alongside them was a number which represented the carbon footprint of the food, so you had the option to choose more sustainable options. The whole site was designed to minimise its environmental impact. All the tops, including the showers, were push taps so they turned off automatically and couldn’t be left running, they had a composting toilet (they had normal ones too), and all they had comfortable pots for the salad and paper bags for the rest of the lunch items.
During the week we had to conduct a study investigating an animal behaviour. On the saturday morning we went for a walk as a group and the lecturers pointed out species we might be interested in looking at. In the afternoon we went out in our pairs to have a look for ourselves.
On Sunday we made some preliminary observations and decided we wanted to study the behaviour of jackdaws at two sites in the village (the church and the tower). The tower had many jackdaws nesting and also some gulls, which are predators of the chicks. The church had much fewer jackdaws and no gulls. We wanted to see if the jackdaws at the tower spent more time being vigilant than doing other things because there was a higher risk of predation and competition. We used a method called scan sampling and basically recorded what each bird at each site was doing every five mins. We found that the jackdaws at the tower did spend more time being vigilent than the those at the church.
After we had got enough data from the scan sampling and could make conclusions abiut the jackdaw behaviour at each site we decided to extend our project. We came up with a couple of ideas and eventually decided to study a related species (rooks) and looked at foraging behaviour. We noticed sometimes rooks foraged as a pair and sometimes alone, and we wanted to see if they were able to spend more time foraging if they were in a pair because they didn’t need to spend as much time looking out for predators. We recorded how long the birds spent in the foraging area and how much of that time they were actually foraging, and whether they were on their own or in pairs. We found that when they were in pairs one kept watch and the other foraged, which meant the one foraging could do it more efficiently than if they were on their own.
Throughout the week we had to keep a fieldwork journal and record what we were doing, what we observed and any conclusions we came to. At the end of the week we presented our projects to the group and handed in our journals. Together they make up 40% of the module (the rest is an exam).
It was an intense week, but its always good fun being on a field trip and the trips to the local pub were definitely a highlight! Field trips are a great part of my course and its a great opportunity that I definitely recommend taking if you can.