Amanda here- I figured it was time for me to add to the blog. I have decided to write a brief segment about everyday life in bohemia and what we have been up to.
We have been in the Czech Republic for two weeks now and find ourselves at home in the lovely village of Lužnice: 396 people, one bus stop, one small co-op grocery store, and at least 5 pubs, all run out of people’s houses of course. We are living in the bottom story of a house with four Czech grad students and have turned it into the barn swallow field headquarters. As the gear is stacking up in the hallway and the spectrometer is taking over the kitchen table- the season has truly begun with 25 nests that are already full of eggs. We are getting along quite well with our Czech collaborators- we have introduced them to important American customs like chocolate chip cookies and peanut butter and jelly as well as field innovations like google docs, and checking nests with mirrors (which has streamlined things considerably). They have taught us important Czech customs like drinking beer at 9 am, eating meat paste for breakfast, having lunch be the biggest meal of the day, and are trying to teach us to speak some Czech (which is slow going).
We have five field sites here and they offer a little more variety then our usual Colorado horse farm- we have a carp farm where we work in a barn full of adorable lambs and their noisy mothers, a guest house/farm for vacationers from Prague where we work in a pig barn and milking parlor (we have found that piglets are much cuter then their adult counterparts). The other farms include one that has milking goats (we are working on getting our hands on some goat cheese!), an abandoned, crumbling, but enormous communist factory farm where we seem to discover new rooms every time we do a nest check (for those of you that have been to our Colorado field sites: we have decided it is a hybrid between creepy shack, maya’s, and autumn hill), and one of the premier jumper horse breeding farms in Europe, http://www.obora.com, (the contrast between the last two could not be more extreme).
Working with site owners has been a bit of an adventure- since we don’t speak Czech and they don’t speak English. Usually we just smile and mumble dobrý den (Czech for good day) and they ignore us- but sometimes young Czech men take our ladder and lead us around the farm while we wonder if we are being kidnapped or shown where more swallow nests are located (luckily it was the latter). One thing is the same here though- after spending several days trying to read color bands on males, Joey and I have discovered that the barn swallows here are just as cheeky as they are at home.
In other news, Joey has almost mastered the stick shift of our little green car- meanwhile I am still a bit rough and seem to stall it at least three times whenever I drive it. I much prefer to ride the bike that I have borrowed from one of the students that live near by. It is a gem (her mothers I think from the 80s) and my banding kit fits just perfectly in my little basket...when I ride it Joey likes to sing the wizard of oz song. We also keep discovering new animals at our field house- the chickens and turkeys were apparent the first day, then we discovered the outdoor aviary with parrots and parakeets- but the best surprise was when we found the ostriches. Inside we have discovered many other, not so alive, animals, including a badger that Joey has named Brennan.
I want to end this post with a word about fishponds, yes fishponds and a little bit of history. This area consists of rolling green fields, thick mossy woods, and dozens of small lakes. Our Czech friends were quick to teach us the story behind these many lakes. This area of southern bohemia was ruled by the royal Rožmberkové family from 1250 – 1611 (makes the US seem pretty young), whose rose symbol can still be seen everywhere. The family has a colorful history that still lingers here. It began when the widow of Wenceslas (yes that Wenceslas) married Jindřich Oldřich II of Rožmberk (try saying that 5 times fast). One of their daughters, Perchta, became a ghost and apparently can still be seen wandering around from time to time. Anyway- back to the ponds- it turns out all of these lakes that we have been seeing everywhere are actually all man-made fish ponds. In the late 1400s the Rožmberkové family decided that they wanted more carp- so they designed and built a whole series of huge ponds that were all hand dug, that can be filled and drained by a series of connecting channels that link to the river. It is quite impressive and clever. When you want some fish- you just drain the water and scoop them up. The fishermen today still use them the way they were built and manage to move all the water without electricity. We have sampled some local carp schnitzel and must say that it is delicious. As Tomáš would say, “carp, the pig of fishes.”
And now we’re off to one of the pubs for some delicious pilsner!
Sunday morning we left Prague and headed to Southern Bohemia where our field sites are located. This may sound like a simple task, but it was Amanda’s first time driving any significant distance in a car with a manual transmission. It took a few tries to get out of the parking lot, but once we were on the highway, it was smooth sailing. Our rental car is a Škoda Citigo that gets on average 60 mpg! It’s lime green and awesome. We stopped for lunch at a pub that served pizza; I expecting a taste of something resembling American pizza, but I was pleasantly surprised to find the menu full of pizzas with camembert, corn, cabbage, and bacon. Getting out of the parking lot was a little exciting as it was uphill onto the highway. Thankfully, Martina was there to help Amanda conquer the hill with a manual transmission.
We arrived in Lužnice and went straight to one of our field sites - an adorable farm with pigs, cows, and chickens. Not long after our arrival, the barn swallows were swirling overhead, singing and swooping in and out of the barn. The difference in color and tail streamer length was immediately apparent and we are both excited to get a bird in hand and examine the differences up close. Tomáš, another collaborator of ours, met us there and we had a look at the nests, noting that several pairs have started adding mud to nests and copulating...and we found our first eggs two days later! We went to two other sites for a quick look around before heading to the apartment (marked with an ‘A’) where we’ll be staying for the next two months.
The apartment is on the first floor of a two-story house. The walls are all brightly colored and there are cute decorations in every room. Right now, it’s only Amanda and me, but soon we’ll be joined by several other biologists. The other people that will be working on barn swallows will stay here, and it sounds like we’ll have some other biologists doing work in the area coming and going. It brings me back to my field job days of staying in field houses with lots of people working weird hours. Amanda and I tested all the beds and claimed one of the large beds to share, as it was the most comfortable. Here’s hoping that we can keep from cuddling (or kicking) each other too much throughout our time here.
Later that afternoon, we visited Třeboň, a historic town not too far from Lužnice. As we drove through the town, we had to go through an archway - I think this might have been the high point for Amanda so far! We walked through the square where we stopped for gelato (yum!) and made our way to a large pond called the Svet, which translates to ‘the world’. There is a path that goes all the way around, so people can say they have walked around the world. After dropping Martina off at her house, we braved the grocery store and had a good time trying to figure out what various things were. Most items were obvious, but we weren’t sure if we were getting butter or cream cheese or what we’d find in our bread.
The next morning we went back to the first farm to check all the nests and identify which males had already returned to the site. While the pigs and cows are an exciting change from the horse barns we work at in Colorado, the smell and mess will make us appreciate the conditions when we get back home. While we were there, a group of ornithologists were doing some mist netting for a ringing (aka bird banding) course. We got to watch some of the process and were able to get a close up look at a black bird, several blue tits and great tits, and a few European robins. Amanda and I found the tits to be quite exciting as we’ve read a lot of papers about them, but they are apparently common, unexciting birds for the Europeans. We had an unexciting afternoon/evening of work followed by another day of nest checks. At the site we checked today, we found three nests with eggs - things will pick up quickly and we will soon be quite busy catching and monitoring barn swallows! So far, field work here looks quite similar to field work back home, and Amanda is up to her same antics. However, we have some new helpers over here.
On Thursday, we head to Brno with Tomáš where Amanda and I will give a talk about our research to some biology graduate students. Stay tuned for more!
Favorite things about the Czech Republic so far: butter (it was butter, not cream cheese), yogurt, beer, croquettes, gelato, colorful houses, chickens in every yard, and the lush open country side.
After months of planning, Amanda Hund and I have finally arrived in the Czech Republic for two months of field work monitoring barn swallows. Our adventure began Thursday morning as we left the states headed for Europe. Despite an hour delay due to ice in Minneapolis, we touched down in Prague just before our scheduled arrival of 9:15 am on Friday. We dropped our bags off at the hostel and set off to explore the city (and find international phones). We somehow made it to Wenceslaus square (yes, that Wenceslaus) where many western influences could be seen - Starbucks, Burger King, and McDonalds - and not one, but two “original Czech restaurants”. We wandered the length of the square and took some random, beautiful, small streets and got ourselves thoroughly lost.
As we made our way to the river so that we could orient ourselves, we were stopped by some very large, very armed policemen. Apparently, a suspicious bag had been left up the street and was being investigated - don’t worry it was cleared up minutes later and the officers were returning to the Police headquarters as we strolled by. We made it to the Vltava river, oriented ourselves, and made our way to Charles Square where we met up with one of our collaborators, Martina Soudková. Martina took us to a pub for lunch where we got our first taste of real Budweiser and Czech food. We then walked to Vyšehrad, a famous castle south of the city center. Inside the castle walls, there is the Cemetery of Honor where famous Czech citizens are buried. By then it was after 4 pm and the jet lag was starting to seriously kick in. We made our way back to our hostel. Determined to stay awake until 9 pm in order to acclimate to the time zone, we showered and got some work done. However, by 7:30 we were having trouble keeping our eyes open and we were both out by 8 pm.
After lunch, we met up with Martina and crossed the Charles Bridge, a pedestrian bridge over the river, where we made a wish on the statue of St. John of Nepomuk. The statue has been polished to a shine from all the people rubbing it for luck. After crossing the river we trekked to the top of Petřínská rozhledna, a lookout tower that resembles the Eiffel Tower. While Petřínská is shorter than the Eiffel Tower, the top is actually higher given the large hill it stands on. We took the hard way up through the park, rather than the cable car, and enjoyed the views of the city from all heights.
As we headed to Prague Castle, Pražský hrad, we entertained Amanda’s obsession with doors and windows by stopping to take many pictures. The castle was quite impressive as it is the largest ancient castle in the world occupying over 70,000 square meters. Obviously we only saw a small portion of it, including the church, St. Vitus Cathedral, with some amazing stained glass windows. We were also lucky enough to time our exit with the changing of the guard. From the castle, we could see an intriguing wall of what appeared to be many statues. Wallenstein Palace Garden is home to the dripstone wall, a creepy, yet interesting sculpture with faces and other animals hidden among the drips. There is also an aviary with half a dozen owls. Wandering the grounds are several peacocks and peahens. One of the peacocks was not a fan of Amanda and loudly squawked any time she looked at it. Another one of the males was displaying to a hen, however, when he turned to the side to show her the full glory of his tail, she wandered away and he couldn’t find her. After dinner with Martina, and more large beer, we headed back to the hostel to rest up for our trip to Southern Bohemia.