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I participated in the Mammals of Nova Scotia expedition offered through Earthwatch. The purpose of the project is to study the impact of climate change on small mammals in Nova Scotia. The Primary Investigators (PIs) met us, on time, at the airport. We, as volunteers, made a huge difference. If it hadn't been for the volunteers, the research the PI's are doing now might not have been possible. The PIs trained us before going out into the field. I definitely feel that we were prepared for the work that we were going to do. The morning after we set the traps, we checked to see if any animals had gone into them. We were taught how to handle the animals that were in the traps. The most exciting thing was when I was able to hold a red back vole and a meadow jumping mouse. When I say ‘hold,’ I mean that I got the animal out of the trap and was able to hold it and then I returned the animal once its gender and age was determined. We were always given an opportunity to hold the animal. If we thought that we had trapped a chipmunk or red squirrel we let one of the PIs handle the trap. Red squirrels are highly sensitive to stress so; to reduce the stress the PIs would handle the trap. This was to reduce the risk of having the animal die. The chipmunks were handled by the PIs because they have been known to bite. There are plenty of opportunities for you to take pictures and I definitely recommend that you take pictures. You may have the opportunity to go beaver watching a time or two. One day, probably during the second week, you will have a BBQ and go searching for bats (with a bat detector).
We did quite a bit of walking but it isn’t terribly difficult. The hardest thing about the experience was the high humidity. The humidity is really nothing to worry about though. If you have ever experienced the heat and the humidity of the southeastern USA then you will appreciate the cooler temperature. Of course, I do recommend that you have at least 2 liters of water with you each time you go into the field. If you go during the summer, be sure to take some insect repellent and sunscreen. Also, be sure to check yourself everyday…for ticks. If you find ticks, kill them. If you don’t know how to kill them somebody there will, especially the PIs. If you are afraid of dogs, then this might not be the expedition for you. The PIs have a Husky/German Shepherd mix, named Lycos. He is a sweetheart of a dog and is very friendly. Lycos has actually found volunteers when they got lost. Apparently, that doesn’t happen often but it when it does, he can find the people. The accommodations are excellent. They have two houses (one is green and the other is yellow) where the volunteers sleep. People of the same gender will share a room. A single room is possible if the team isn’t full. If you are a married couple, it may be possible to share a room. Of course, I think that it may depend on the team size. You can bring your own hairdryer and laptop. The green house has wireless internet connection. In addition, a computer can be used by the whole team. So, if you want to share your pictures with the other volunteers you can. If you do share your pictures then you will need to put them on your laptop first. If you don’t bring your laptop, then you will need to email them to yourself or have a way to get the pictures off the computer (cd or flash drive). I mention this because I put some pictures on the computer, not realizing that it took my pics off the SD memory card. I hadn’t had a chance to put them on my laptop yet and didn’t realize that this had happened until after I was at the airport to head home. Fortunately, it was pictures from the day before so, I should be able to get them sent to me. I would also recommend that you take an alarm clock with you. This way, you can be sure that you get up on time or so that you can give yourself some extra time in the morning to do some wildlife viewing in the morning, before going out into the field. The PIs will cook bacon and eggs for breakfast, if you want it. A variety of cereal is also available. Lunch is simple, which is eaten in the field (weather permitting) and consists of sandwiches, potato chips, cookies, and water. The PIs also cook supper and is always wonderful. We had pizza the first night. We had Sheppard’s pie, beef stew and rice, etc. We also had a variety of ice cream to choose from and some nights we even had a pie (apple, blueberry, etc.). Some evenings, on the way back to the house from the research site, we would stop in at a mall. There is a pharmacy (or chemist depending on where you live), a department store (similar to Kmart in the US, and you can get a Canada t-shirt for less than $10 (US)), grocery store, and a liquor store (if you are old enough to drink – 19 in Canada). On the inside, you can get to a few other stores, if you have time, which include a bookstore, Tim Horton’s (similar to Dunkin’ Donuts in the US), a dollar store (similar to the Dollar General in the US), etc.
The Mammals of Nova Scotia expedition was my first experience with Earthwatch. I think that this is a great expedition for someone who has never volunteered through Earthwatch, especially if you have never been outside of the US. If you are familiar with the food from the US, Canada, and the UK then you should be fine. I had a great time and hope to go on another expedition with Earthwatch.

Posted: July 24, 2010
By: Anonymous