Thursday, 29 May 2014

Useful people

I've finished the first, two-month, leg of my field trip. One month is left. While waiting for the photos from the last bit, I will take this opportunity to mention some very cool people who have helped me so far.

Local knowledge is essential to my collecting work, so wherever I go I make sure that people know why I'm here. Most people are surprised that anyone would want to collect spiders on purpose. But others will go out of their way to help me, or give me support. The people in Stewart Island were extremely supportive. Rakiura Charters went out of their way to help us get to our (sometimes rather hairy) collecting locations, and picked us up early if we asked. Local people told us where we might get lucky looking for the spiders, and talked to us for ages about them. A shopkeeper rang the Stewart Island News editor while we were in the shop, so that I could write an article and get the word out more effectively that I was looking for trapdoors.

Other people were just good fun. Some showed me interesting invertebrates they had found, or took photos of trapdoor spiders and let me keep them. Some let me search around their gardens and houses. Some came with me for a short while on the road and I learnt a lot about a diverse array of subjects, from law to viticulture. I had some great field assistants too, who put up with being damp and cold a lot, and were patient with my single-mindedness. A top bloke from Otago, who has been surveying the conservation statuses of Cantuaria, met up with me in Dunedin and we looked for a few local populations. He also showed me an effective way to dig them up.

The most memorable of all the people who helped me was Burns Pollock. On the way to Kakanui, I stopped off at the Vanished World Museum in Duntroon. Burns started talking to me about trapdoor spiders, and I noticed he had a couple of posters on the wall of the museum, explaining what trapdoor spiders are. Burns turned out to be an old friend of Lindsay Irish, who wrote the only book on Cantuaria (The Minefield Spiders), and was totally dedicated to their study and conservation. Burns gave me a copy of The Minefield Spiders for a small donation to the museum. He also told me where he had seen Cantuaria before, where there might be suitable habitat, and some observations he had made of their burrowing habits. Most of the locations he gave me yielded spider populations. He rang around a few landowners to ask if I could search on their land. And, to top it all off, he gave me a sandwich.

While many people can't get past their arachnophobia, there are a good few who are genuinely interested in invertebrates and nature in general. There are also those who recognise passion in other people, and the need to find things out, no matter the subject area. Those people make fieldwork a lot more efficient, and a lot more fun.

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