(Originally posted on our 2011 Field Blog — by Chris Thawley)
At long last, our project building the enclosures has been completed. Nicole posted a compilation video earlier, but I decided to give a full walkthrough of the process to show the lengths that we’re going to to ensure that our enclosures last the whole season (and keep all their occupants inside!). Before any real groundwork was done installing the fences, Travis and I spent an inordinate amount of time planning the layouts of the enclosures to make sure that the habitats inside were as similar as possible between the four plots. We dusted off our long-disused geometry skills and checked and double-checked our calculations to verify that the areas of each plot were the same. After our final bout with compasses and tape measures, we began scratching the outlines of each enclosure into the ground with a fire axe (see below).
With our outlines in place, we rented a groundsaw (as seen in the earlier video and below) to cut trenches to lay the fence in. A groundsaw lives up to its name, as it is a device like a huge wood saw blade with a gas engine that is mounted onto three wheels. A screw raises or lowers the blade, and one/two people pull it backwards as it digs a 2 inch wide trench in the earth. Sean and I focused on pulling the groundsaw while Travis and Nicole became experts in the construction of the fences themselves.
Travis was the reigning expert in building enclosures for fence lizards, although all of us have had experience building drift fences for various research projects. Travis planned well in advance for putting the fences together and brought a selection of gear to help him, including a pro-level tool belt with suspenders. Putting in a section of fence involved clearing the trench of any remaining roots and then placing one side of a 50 ft roll of flashing into the trench. We sank 2.5 ft posts of electrical conduit every 1.5 m (or as needed), and pulled the flashing as tight as possible against the poles. While holding the flashing, Travis used a tool he created himself to simultaneously punch a pair of holes in the flashing at the top and bottom of each pole. Zip ties were used to secure the flashing to the pole and the extra bits were clipped of to ensure that enterprising lizards don’t have anything to grab a hold if they attempt to escape the enclosures.
Once the fences themselves were complete, we standardized the amount of cover inside each enclosure by removing extra shrubberies. We also created extra cover for the lizards by bringing in pallets and branches to serve as hides and perch sites. Taking shovels in hand, we carefully filled in any gaps along the fence edges by trucking in dirt and sand. After three solid days of work in the brutal Alabama summer, the shiny new enclosures passed their final inspection and were ready for their lizards occupants. All they lacked was a volunteer fire-ant-fighter company and a slew of lizards to enjoy their stays (detailed in future updates).