Thursday, September 23, 2010

A.I. Field Journal Entry #1

First journal posting
Ah. The familiar scent of waterfowl and wetlands is present on the early morning breeze here at Sand Lake Wildlife Refuge near Columbia,
South Dakota. Dragon flies of various species are patrolling the air space like tiny winged guards. Western grebe young are calling out to their parents who are busy diving for fish to fill their chicks' seemingly bottomless pit of a ventriculus (stomach).

My team and I are anxiously awaiting the cannon-like explosion that
results when 4 rockets, loaded with military grade explosives, are
deployed. These rockets are attached to a large net which, when the
rockets are set off, will blanket a large (hopefully) group of ducks
who were attempting to enjoy yet another free buffet of barley on the
beach compliments of the US Fish & Wildlife Service. The target species
we hope to catch and obtain samples from are Mallards, Northern
pintails, Blue-winged and Green-winged teals Wood ducks and other
dabbling species. These are species that previous years of sampling
have shown are considerably more likely to be carrying either influenza
or paramyxoviruses, especially the juveniles. Did I mention we cannot
even see the ducks or the beach loaded with the barley bait?

My team, a few US Fish & Wildlife staff and I are waiting for the
a big bang approximately a quarter of a mile from where the ducks
are feeding. We set up the rockets and net the previous day with an
additional load from the barley buffet and ran charge wire along the
ground back to a viewing tower in a group of trees nearly 150 meters
away. One staff member will climb a tower and monitor the baited beach
with binoculars. When he feels that the ducks are positioned close
enough and the number of ducks is high enough to justify firing the
rockets he will give the word to deploy. Another staff member remotely
triggers the rockets.

POW! We are all wide-eyed with surprise for a split second before
dashing to our vehicles and racing down the path to the beach where
several hundred ducks are attempting to rush back to the water. The net
is quite large and has a pocket feature on the end nearest the water
which acts as a catch for ducks as they try to rush back to the safety
of the lake or lift the net. We carefully extract the ducks from under
the net and separate them into different crates depending on species.
The ducks will quickly be banded before we collect epithelial cell
samples from the cloaca of the birdb; the swab is placed in special
transport media to taken to the laboratory for virus isolation work .
We record each bird's band number along with the species, age, sex,
weight of the bird as well as a few other measurements. Each of these
bits of data, when pieced together, will provide us with a good
understanding of what condition this particular duck was in and what,
biologically, was going on with it at the time the sample was taken.

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