The Life of Grad Students: Field Equipment Testing

My semester ended the first week of May. For many students, the end of a semester signals the beginning of summer and a time of relaxation.  For myself and Dave the end of the semester signals one of the busiest times of the year for both of us – the field season. Dave’s field work is a bit more intense than mine. As mentioned in previous posts, he spends his field seasons in a remote arctic field camp on the Hudson Bay studying various aspects of the ecosystem. Every year Dave leaves at the end of May and returns to Utah towards the end of August. Weekly, brief satellite phone calls are our only means of communication. Meanwhile, while Dave is trying to keep from getting eaten by a polar bear and/or swarms of mosquito, I spend chunks of my summer doing field work in whatever national park or protected area I have a project. This year, starting around July 1, I will be alternating my time between home in Logan and Grand Teton National Park.  I will be trying to not get eaten by a grizzly bear, gored by a moose, or driven insane by summer park visitors.

The lull between the end of the semester and the start of field work is usually taken up by days and days of field work preparations including ordering equipment, organizing gear, and testing equipment.  Most of the time this work is boring and a bit of a hassle but this year Dave made testing some of his field equipment a bit more fun. Dave will be taking more than few high quality game cameras into the field this summer to examine predator/prey interactions.  Having never used these cameras before, Dave brought a few home and decided a good way to familiarize himself with their use was to try them out on our cats!

Capturing Fern's inner demon at the food bowls.

Capturing Fern’s inner demon at the food bowls.

For a couple of days we had game cameras set up around the house – the cameras took a picture every 30 seconds and captured an image when triggered by movement.  Overall, the majority of the pictures were empty space or pictures of our legs as we moved about the house (they were positioned at kitty height). But Dave did manage to capture a few gems and being the slightly crazy cat people that we are – I figured I would share some of our “research” with you.

The first thing that we learned is that Fern (our calico) is an insomniac. Dave placed a camera in our office facing the cat tree that sits under the office window. Fern spent from 11pm until about 4am visiting the window every 10 to 20 minutes and spent her time there intently watching outside.  Fern is always the first one to alert us to a neighborhood cat in the yard and now we have discovered that she spends her nights on the look out. Below is a sampling of Fern’s nightly habits:

2am – Arriving at the window to begin watching intently for the neighborhood cat

2:24am – taking a quick nap after a 20 min watch

2:35am – after a brief “cat nap” (haha..) off to another window to resume the watch. This behavior repeated all night long.


Macey spent the night that we had the game cameras set up asleep at the foot of our bed.  But we did capture a very good representation of Macey’s personality the next afternoon. Dave and I spent the afternoon on campus and before leaving the house, he moved one of the game cameras from our office to the living room.  Turns out the cats don’t do anything too exciting while we are away; a bit of walking around and a ton of napping. However, Macey being the intelligent and mischievous cat that she is, quickly discovered the “new object” in the living room.

Finally, one of the last things caught on the game cameras was pretty entertaining.  It’s spring in Utah which means the weather is warming up and pets are shedding their winter coats. With cats, winter coat shedding results in hairballs. While sitting in the living room, I heard the telltale sound of cat gagging that indicated impending grossness. I promptly picked up Fern and threw her on the nearest hard surface which happened to be our kitchen floor. Earlier that day, Dave had positioned his second game camera aimed at the cat food bowls. These series of photos is what resulted from the incidence:

Fern hacking up a hairball:



Me coming in to clean up the hairball (blah!):


Macey coming by to check out if there is anything left….cats are gross…


Conclusions from the field equipment tests:

Fern is crazy.

Macey is too smart for her own good.

Cats can be gross creatures.

Oh yeah, and Dave’s game cameras work really well!

Dave leaves for the field in two days. Hopefully the real science that he does with the game cameras this summer result in findings as exciting as our mini home experiment with the cats.  And just for the record, despite my reputation as a crazy cat lady, it was Dave’s idea to test the game cameras on the cats. 😉

Fern, Dave, and Macey. I love these three.

Fern, Dave, and Macey. I love these three.


2 thoughts on “The Life of Grad Students: Field Equipment Testing

  1. Pingback: Science Communication and National Geographic | The Average Visitor

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