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Showing posts from 2011

a shout-out to Solomon

I just want to give a shout-out to our armed guard this year, Solomon (he's the one on the left in this 2011 research team photo). We've worked with a different guard each time we've been here and they've all been great. Solomon has a particularly good sense of humor with a great laugh; keen eyes that can see elephants from a few hundred meters away as well as bones seemingly hidden in the grass; and is always patient as we ask him questions about animal behavior and footprints while we're tromping around the bush. Thanks for keeping us safe out there, Solomon!

sometimes, a better offer comes along

Fire and I are really enjoying getting a lot of bone transect work done this week, while we don't have to share an armed guard with the Earthwatch team. But today, a better offer came along in the afternoon. What do I mean by that? We were planning on doing a transect in one area of the conservancy, but it looked like the sky was about to open up (it's rained in the afternoon or evening the last few days) so we decided to drive somewhere else to do a transect. On the way, we saw a young female lion walking down the road - so we took this "better offer" and spent about 2 hours this afternoon just watching her! She walked *right* next to the car, and was stalking prey a few times, but never quite managed a hunting attempt.

But... aren't you an archaeologist?

Why are an archaeologist and a paleontologist doing research in a modern game reserve?
We’re not digging up fossils and artifacts, but we’re looking for modern animal bones. Let me back up for a minute and explain… 
As paleontologists and archaeologists, our work often goes something like this: Dig up animal fossils. Identify what animals those fossils came from. Use “uniformitarianism” (the idea that the present is the key to the past, or that ancient animals generally had the same behaviors and habitat preferences as their modern descendants) to infer what habitats were present in the past – for instance, if we find an extinct zebra, we assume that means that somewhere near this prehistoric site was the kind of habitat that modern zebra like (open grasslands  - check out Nick's photo of a common/plains and grevy's zebra below... in open grasslands). Put the information from all the fossil animals together, and voila, we have a habitat reconstruction for our fossil site!

But han…

Let the bone data collection commence!

We’ve spent the first several days on the conservancy getting our new digital data collection strategy worked out. Despite numerous emails among Fire, Nick and I, we haven’t had a chance to 1) sit down and *talk* about what we’re doing! 2) actually do some practice transect so we can figure out exactly what data we want to record, and the most efficient and effective way of recording it. While this can feel frustrating – chomping at the bit to do research but not being quite ready to get to the field – we’d rather have this all worked out beforehand. So much of the last few days were spent like this:

But finally, today, we did our first bone transect!  We still had some technological glitches, but it was generally successful. Fire got well acquainted with her handheld GPS,

and Fire and Nick tried to work out some of the kinks in her iPaq-bluetooth GPS system.

There are still some glitches, but we were able to get some good work done. Here are some photos that Nick took of Fire and I on t…

The Monkey Ate My Buns

We left Nairobi yestoday - not too early. We had breakfast at a nearby hotel to fortify us for the drive, loaded the vehicle, and... blast off! Here's Fire ready to hop in.

Let me mention that there's a lot of road construction going in Nairobi. It also turns out that there's a lot of road construction going on on the road we take out of Nairobi towards Nanyuki (the nearest town to the place we're doing our research, Ol Pejeta Conservancy), the Thika road. It was quite a bumpy trip for the first hour or so. The other thing that was different about our trip this year is because I sold my own Land Cruiser last summer (, we rented a Land Cruiser. And because it's a rental vehicle, it's technically a commercial vehicle. And a few years ago, a new regulation was instituted: all commercial vehicles need to be fitted with speed governors, which are devices that cut out the fuel that goes to the engine …

A Kenyan taxi adventure

Whoops, has it really been about 3 weeks since I wrote a post? I've just been working on fossils in the museum, nothing too exciting to report. Except that I have almost 55,000 fossils in my database. That's a *lot* of broken bits of bone. :)

On the recommendation of a colleague who lives here, I found a great OB and had an appointment with her last week. She was very thorough and friendly. The next day I went for my gestational diabetes test (standard at this point in pregnancy - 25 weeks down, 15 to go!), which came back negative. Then the day after that I had a sonogram, as advice from the home docs was to have one every month of possible. (I have uterine fibroids and they just want to make sure the baby's not too crowded in there.) Sonograms are great - getting to see your baby moving around, hear that everything is normal (breathe a big sigh of relief), and getting to see a glimpse of what they actually look like.

The doc remarked on his "prominent nose" (se…

2011: extra baggage, but the good kind

No, the title doesn't refer to the fact that I had to check one of my carry-on bags on my way to Kenya this year because they actually weighed it and it was too heavy (whoops!), so I had three bags checked coming over... it refers to the little boy growing in my belly! Every year brings its own adventures, but this year will be especially different because I'm pregnant. I'll be in Kenya - and briefly, Ethiopia - between weeks 22 and 32. Here's a portrait of the Pumpkin, which is my current nickname for him since he's due in October (~10th), at 12 weeks:

I'm being more cautious this trip, given that I have another life I'm entirely responsible for. Wow. This all also makes me miss my wonderful husband even more than usual.

I've been in Kenya a week already, and I've been meaning to write a post for... a week already. But I've been much more tired than usual, so I just waited until I was feeling more energetic (sort of). Probably the jet lag, alti…