(Originally posted on our 2011 Field Blog — by Nicole Freidenfelds)
The 2011 field season of the Langkilde Lab began with a fabulously uneventful drive from State College, PA to Cookeville (with an “e”), TN, our base camp for exploring Edgar Evins State Park and Standing Stone State Park, our two field sites in central Tennessee. The starting lineup of the Field Research Team consists of two seasoned veterans, lab manager Nicole Freidenfelds and post-doc Dr. Travis Robbins, and one greenhorn, incoming PhD student Chris Thawley. After intense negotiations, we secured excellent accommodations at the Thunderbird Motel (rooms complete with microwave, double sinks, mini fridge, and snore machine).
Our opening day in Tennessee was packed with several firsts, both research-related and otherwise, as we checked in at Edgar Evins State Park, a site where we had caught lizards last year and knew the ground well. Conditions were not promising, with heavy clouds and a high temperature in only the mid-50’s, but we gamely scouted throughout the park, scanning for lizard silhouettes on trees, rock walls, and picnic tables. At a promising lakeside forest, we took to the hunt on foot, working across slopes of boulders and drowned trees dappled with occasional splotches of sunlight. In spite of the rather bleak conditions, Nicole soon spotted a large female sheltering in the cleft of a boulder. After some tense moments working her lizard snare into the recess, Nicole pulled out a gravid lady lizard and popped her into a cloth sack.
While we stood discussing strategy, Chris noticed another lizard clinging to the top of the same boulder and put his capture skills to their first test with a freshly-tied loop of dental floss. In spite of a stiff headwind, Chris managed to snag the lizard quickly, although his quick success was likely due to the torpid condition of the lizard itself. The remains of the day yielded little lizard-wise, as Travis managed to spot only one more juvenile, and clouds rolled in, eliminating even the scarce patches of sunlight.
Returning to Cookeville, the team worked up the first two catches of the trip. While the procedures for collecting morphological data have remained the same as in previous years, we also collected our first blood samples using filter paper. As seen in the picture below, Chris has a difficult time identifying the proper “pie slice” in which to put the samples.
As the day’s work wound down, we began the quotidian debate about where to have dinner for the evening. After some quick internet searching and ground-truthing, we settled on the Gondola (Gon-“doe”-la, accent on the second syllable; source: Travis Robbins) Restaurant, a local option specializing in Greek and Italian cuisine. We all raved about the generous portions and tasty food, and Nicole had her first-ever taste of both spanakopita and baklava (photos below). We’ll definitely be returning for the moussaka later in the week. Full and sassy, the team returned to homebase at the Thunderbird to digest and rest up to continue the hunt in the following days. The night did bring one more first to the team, as Chris successfully slept through a full deployment of Travis’ arsenal of nuclear-powered snores in his first attempt.