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Wednesday, June 29, 2011

JUNE 17 2011: Okay let me back track from the last post to a past event.

Let go back in 5:30 am on Friday, June 17th. Not only was this day a really big day for our studies in Lesvos, Greece but it was also my little sisters birthday! Sorry you couldn't be here in Greece with me lil sis, maybe someday!

At 5:30am I was a very groggy and un-caffeinated little lady, let me tell you! Just about all of us who weren't driving to the field site took a snooze fest on the road. When we arrived the sun was slowly ascending into the sky, casting the most beautiful, dark, golden glow on everything. The air was crisp and cool and the faint smell of flowers and sea salt hung in the air.

We took a drive to collect flowering Vitex sprigs from bushes in the area, both white and violet colored flowers were used in this experiment. In previous posts I mentioned the trouble in finding flowering Vitex due to changing weather patterns and today was no exception, but we did get enough in order to conduct the study.
Since we had set up two transects the day before, we split into two groups, one for each transect. Dr. Barthell, Carmen, Aaron, Rich and Amanda chose the first transect nearest the bay.   Dr. Hranitz, Maria, Josh and myself made up team two. The experiment was conducted exactly the same at the transects.
The goal was to study honey bee behavior on Vitex and Yellow star Thistle to answer questions of the invasive Yellow Star Thistle in the U.S. and how pollination plays a role. This data will be added to about 5 years worth of studies conducted on the Island of Lesvos.
Behavioral studies were conducted for a timed 2.5 min at every plant (chosen the previous day) adding up to an hour for each study. We started at 7 am and continued to work in the very hot, Grecian sun until 8 pm, with a break for a quick lunch.

Vitex and Star Thistle in the field.

My job was to collect, record the time of collection/notes, pin and roughly identify honey bees every hour from 7am-8pm. It was of course my favorite job ever! I hiked around all day (because I couldn't be within the study range) and collected bees and other  insects that happened to be pollinating the Yellow Star Thistle (native to Greece). With my trusty bug net, potassium cyanide kill jar, journal and water I had a ton of fun. I know this really sounds strange to you non bug enthusiasts but to me it was a blast.

Everyone did a fantastic job and even though we were extremely exhausted we really pulled it together!

Magically we still had enough energy to walk to  town and eat at an Italian restaurant, which was seriously one of the best meals of my entire life (the margarita was amazing too!). Thus concludes another fun filled day !

 <3 M

Feeling fine and dandy.

Have you ever loved a day that was ordinary, where not one single spectacular event happened, yet, you for some reason dreaded to see the sun disappear? Today is that day for me.

I woke up around 6 am an hour after the Muslim prayers slowly drifted into my dreams from a projected speaker in the city. I don't mind the prayers, they make me feel at ease and they are beautiful to listen to. The lyrical songs are projected 4 times a day and during that time most people stop what they are doing, turn off their music and listen. After which they act as if nothing even happened, conversations are continued, songs are turned up and its back to everyday life.

After my first semi- okay attempt at making Turkish coffee (forgot to boil in the sugar= too weird tasting), one sunny-side up egg, baby zucchini and toast, I quickly scurried to the Bee Behavioral and Pollination Lab (@ 15min, uphill ).

When I arrived we assessed the health of the bees that the other group caught for us yesterday. Unfortunately, since they were not accustomed to this task most to our animals died or were sickly and out of the 60 only 9 were usable. Huge set back! So, we learned that collecting the bees is something that our team of three needs to do on our own. Since all 60 insects were to be split between the both of us and only 9 were usable we decided to split our duties for the day. Maria and Rich worked on collecting and feeding the bees while I worked on an experimental bee vibration conditioning project.

The project went  well and I was able to get some interesting data. Tomorrow I'll be working on an idea that I came up with using black light (which has UV light that bugs can see) and seeing if we can use black light as a conditioning stimulus and if so what the learning threshold might be.

Now I'm laying on my bed and looking out my window at the gorgeous backdrop of pine trees,the blue sky and white puffy clouds leisurely drifting by. And even though I am so far from home, I feel at home here for the first time.

View from my Room at Rabia Riza Bicen. The C  makes a "ch" sound so we like to call it Bitchen' but the real pronunciation is more like Beeshin. Oops.

<3 M

Monday, June 27, 2011

June 16, 2011 Preparation for Experiments in Kalloni Bay

The bright eyed and excited field team....wait no....let me start again... The exhausted/drowsy, curious field team headed back to Kalloni Bay in order to:
 #1 the availability of our plants
 #2 set up and clear transects for the behavior study that as to take place the following day
 #3 get nectar readings from the Yellow star-thistle (Centaurea soltitialis)

#1: There was no problem with the yellow star thistle BUT Vitex agnus-castus was still not very abundant. So waiting another day for the behavioral study isn't a bad idea. 
Vitex agnus-castus, a much more pleasant plant compared to the Yellow Star Thistle! (thanks M. Butler)

#2: As a said before Yellow Star Thistle was everywhere in a field. Imagine a field filled with needles, syringes and little bitty knives, that is what it was like. Everywhere you walked little pokey things would stab you. It was as if they reached out and did it on purpose. I definitely could not hold back my automatic yelp followed by some kind of curse word. In order to limit our study range we found two transects, one near the beautiful bay and one located further away tucked into the field of Yellow Star Thistle. 
I have come to the conclusion that if I ever need to protect my home, I won't get an alarm system or even a huge dog, instead I will plant a row of these to surround my home. Id like to see someone steal with a butt full of thorns!!

The worst part about this day is that we had to clear a path in order to get to our study plants. We chose plants within the transect that appeared to be more lively and had a plentiful array of flowers with healthy florets. Once the plants were chosen, we (basically) got down on our hands a knees in a field of needles and trimmed the surrounding flowers that could interfere with the "chosen ones" . Meaning, we cut other surrounding yellow star thistle plants and plants/ bushes that had other colorful flowers that would attract bees. This eliminated the bees range to our transect plants. This part was horrible because we got stabbed repeatedly with the Thistles sharp edges. Scraped arms and bumpy rashes appeared all over everyone's arms and legs (or where ever else you got poked! Backing your butt into a plant held a definite YELP factor!!) BUT that's the price you pay for science! RIGHT? I have to admit being in the Greek Country side surrounded by a beautiful bay DID take the pain away ( a little). 
I mean come on..look at this! This is near transect one. (thanks A. Barnett)

Yikes. Thank goodness for socks...this isnt even thistle but it is what everyones socks looked like! (thanks A. Barnett)

#3 As we finished up the last transect and started bagging up our thistle plants for nectar readings 
( mesh bags served as a control on our experiments) a storm started peaking out over the mountains. 

A paired plant for our experimental study on nectar flow.
 A tagged and numbered plant in our transect
 A paired and bagged plant for our study
 A single bagged plant for our study.
Carmen, a plant lover, checking out the florets. (Thanks A.Barnett)

Before we knew it thunder and lightning threatened our day, so we packed up and relocated ourselves to a rustic and quaint restaurant that hugged the bay only about 10 min away from our field site. We sat outside and ordered a typical Grecian meal of salad (have I mentioned that Greek salad consists of Tomatoes acting as lettuce??) and fish. I decided to skip fish and I ordered a zucchini and cheese dish.  
Storm over the mountains!

 Greek Salad~ no lettuce! Im getting used to tomatoes...slowly and with a lot of cheese!
 The Zucchini and Cheese cakes

Its customary to meet your meat and your cooks! (thanks A. Barnett)
Fish everyone ate. I just cant eat something that looks so damn alive!! The eyes are still very much there! But, I was told they was delicious!

 Greece is for dog lovers! They are everywhere and belong to no one! This day a small puppy joined his cat friend in entertaining sweaty hungry scientists during lunch. ( They worked for scraps!) I couldn't resist the cuteness. If I had received a rabies shot and didn't mind getting worms, fleas and ticks I would have snugged them so hard!

Thankfully, the storm cleared without a single drop and the remaining clouds offered us much relief from the hot, dry sun. With a full belly we headed back to our field site and started taking the nectar samples on our Yellow Star Thistle. We collected good data and sluggishly headed back to the Mylemi Hotel, where sleep was much needed for the long day ahead of us.

Morning in Kalloni Bay

Thursday, June 23, 2011

June 15, 2011

Yes, yes, I know Ive been out of touch, but traveling and walking all day + traveling really makes a girl not want to blog. I can honestly say Ive never slept more soundly in my life after a long day. So Im backed up on posts but here I go yet again trying to play catch up.

On Wednesday, June 15th, we woke up and had a really great breakfast at the hotel Mylemi. I can say that the breakfasts in both Turkey and Greece are probably my most favorite meal. It is simple, nutritious and so yummy. They usually serve a hard boiled egg, feta cheese, bread ( they love bread), strong coffee, cucumbers, tomatoes, yogurt (it is served all sorts of ways with every meal), and a fruit mix. It really gets you going in the morning! 
After breakfast we took a ride to the area where our field work would take place which was only a short drive to Kalloni Bay, known to be a place where the great Aristotle lived and worked on his studies. 
This day was more of a day to hunt down the flowering plants we were interesting in;  Yellow star-thistle (Centaurea soltitialis) and Vitex agnus-castus. Due to changing weather patterns this year in Greece which was cooler and rainier than usual, our experimental plants were not as abundant as they were in past years. This provided us with a small problem, but like any field study you have to adapt to changes in the environment. We did locate the plants in some areas but we decided to wait a couple days in order to see if more plants would flower. Transects (areas of research) were established for the following days of study, which was conducted on a farmers land.
Some of the day was dedicated to some of the students learning how to collect and preserve bees. Since I have had more experience in this I helped teach some of my fellow REU's on techniques to use in collection and I also pinned some bees in the back of the rental car, much different from mounting them in the lab. 

Later on we had dinner with Dr. Theodora Petanidou from the University of the Aegean in Lesvos. She teaches geography, pollination and plant ecology. Since much of the city was closed because of strikes due to the declining economy. On this day a huge riot broke out in Athens, but thankfully we were far from danger and didn't see anything out of usual other than businesses being closed. 
She called the owner of a restaurant in advance so he could open his doors to us. We had a great meal served in rounds of appetizers, salads, main dish and dessert we also had a local beverage called ouzo which tasted like licorice.. not my favorite but interesting! The following day: Research day #1!

 Kalloni Bay (Aristotle's Beach)

Saturday, June 18, 2011

Our Journey from Canakkale to Ayvalik to Kalloni Bay

*June 14 2011*

From Canakkale we made our way to Ayvalik Province, Turkey in order to wait for the ferry boat that was going to take us to the Grecian Island of Lesbos or Lesvos (never sure on the spelling, Ive seen it both ways). The reason for our travel to Greece was to conduct some of our field research on native solitary honey bees. Particularly, we are interested in bees that feed on the nectar/ pollinate the native vitex and yellow star thistle plants in order to do a comparative study on them with an application for use in the U.S. where the plants are considered invasive.

We ended up getting to Ayvalik sooner than expected so we had time to waste in this seaside town over looking the Aegean sea. We found a great restaurant that let us pile up all our luggage in a corner and eat while overlooking the ocean. It was so picturesque! 

 We had such a great meal! Look at this pita bread, ughhhh I love Mediterranean food!
 I got some of these things, I cant remember what they are called, but they are like a flaky egg roll with feta cheeses and spinach (it tastes nothing like an egg roll, its sooooo much better!)
 Amanda ordered this interesting dessert. It was made out of egg noodles, butter, sugar and pistachios. It sounds crazy but I promise It was really good and I would never be able to make it, ever!
 The Restaurant.
 After we ate some of us needed to exchange our dollars for euros, so we walked about 10 minutes to the nearest bank. I was so proud of myself, I conduced my first fully Turkish exchange with the bank teller and it was successful! Haha! It was really strange, but I think I did pretty damn well. :)

Around five the ferry arrived to take us to Greece! We sat on the very top (3rd level) and had a spectacular view of Turkey and of Lesvos. The journey was something I'll never forget, we defiantly felt special for being able to see such beauty.

 AS soon as we crossed the Turkey-Greece border this flag went up!
 The Mytilini Port where we docked in Greece.

After a very stressful encounter with security in customs (whose drug dog tried to attack all of us) we successfully made it to our amazing hotel, cradeled between mountains, in the city of Kalloni. 
I've never slept harder in my life than after a full day of traveling and lugging around our bags...which consists of 12 bags for 9 people not to mention our hiking packs! 
I feel very lucky that I can take part in such a fantastically beautiful research trip with great people, although we do work hard, I promise!
<3 M